It was always called "Christmas music," and it was always the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Nothing put us in the mood for Christmas more--not the tree, not snow, not shopping, not candles or cookies or lumpy sticky ribbon candy. We loved Christmas music so much that we tried to play it, sometimes, in July, just to recapture that feeling, and so at some point Guv decreed: No Christmas music before Thanksgiving, and no Christmas music after Epiphany.
In between, we made sure it was nonstop.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving, maybe as early as 8 in the morning, Up went the lid of the record player, and Out slid a black record from its jacket, and On went the disk to the turntable and Down went the needle and Scratch went the sound and then the melodic choral voices burst forth from the speaker and Whoosh went the joy that instantly flooded our hearts.
No John Denver, no Elvis' "Blue Christmas," no Santa kissing anyone--no, no, no, those were worse than a travesty; they were anti-Christmas. Give us "Bring A Torch, Jeanette, Isabella," and "Joy to the World" and "Angels We Have Heard on High."
I didn't know what Mormons were, nor a Tabernacle, but those words belonged together in my mind, and any tabernacle needed to have a Mormon, preferably a bunch of Mormons standing on risers and singing.
I sat cross-legged on the living room floor in my red feeted pajamas, my back against the window seat, and lost myself in the record jackets. One in particular entranced me--the picture showed pine trees heavy with snow, and the sky behind the trees an intense, vivid blue. The scene looked both familiar and much more peaceful and beautiful than anything I'd ever seen. In my world, deep snow on branches was always knocked off by small boys, and deep snow on the ground was trampled by children in boots, including me, and the sky, while blue, was never indigo.
And then the needle scratched over to the middle, lifted, returned to its resting place, and it was time to get up and flip the record over.
There was always tension at Christmas, ten children, too many presents to buy, too little money, the house hot and crowded, the Mormons forever in the background, singing away, not a moment's peace for anyone, and one year Guv had had it, maybe he'd heard "The Little Drummer Boy" more times than any person could possibly stand to hear (except, maybe, me), and Guv swatted the needle off the rcecord (Scriiiittttch, went the scratch) and grabbed all of the albums of Christmas music and stormed out through the back door to the garbage cans and tossed them in.
The house was utterly silent.
I wept upstairs, quietly, in the Girls' Room. How could there be Christmas without Christmas music?
My mother waited a day or two before acting. She walked out the back, lifted the garbage can lid, rescued the records, and then stuffed them behind the refrigerator. Relief filled my little heart. All spring, all summer, all fall, I walked through the kitchen and gave the big autumn-gold fridge a friendly little nod. Come winter, Christmas would be back. The music had been saved.