O my God, thank You for a great time at the American Christian Fiction Writers conference. Four days of glitter, glamour, and fun in Nashville nearly converted this classical music lover. Returning home, I considered dancing through our front door in new cowboy boots, singing, “Achy, Breaky Heart.” OMG, do You think Hubby would have upped my medication?
I spotted curlicue iron tables and chairs my size. Glass cases held hundreds of chocolates, hard candies and jelly beans. Had I reached heaven early? The adult friend who brought me confirmed this with ice cream I didn’t have to share.
Tired of the rock-hard chair, I pattered across the gleaming black-and-white floor to the counter’s red stools. They turned round and round! My friend’s objection didn’t surprise me. Even if a stool was designed to twirl, grown-ups always said you shouldn’t.
An enormous 1908 orchestrion — a self-playing pipe organ with drums, cymbals and triangles — fascinated me. Did jolly ghosts fill the high-ceilinged room with music?
Occasionally, Mama took us to Zaharakos. How I longed to dig into that pile of roasted cashews! But even a small packet cost too much.
My mother’s generation had frequented the place during their teens, so we cool adolescents of the 1960s avoided the fountain as if it radiated fallout. Still, celebrating my first job, I treated my little sister at Zaharakos.
I said grandly, “Order whatever you want.”
We ate huge sundaes. I played the orchestrion and bought cashews, toasty and delicious beyond belief.
Later, newly engaged, I chose fabulous Zaharakos candies for my future in-laws’ Christmas gift.
Fast-forward a few years to a visit by my mother. Adulting had drained away my coolness, so we visited Zaharakos. The mirrors gleamed, but the near-empty soda fountain’s stained counter, dull woodwork and damaged tin-patterned ceiling didn’t brighten our day.
Decades later, I shared a similar feeling when visiting the area. I stopped for a treat, but Zaharakos, a landmark since 1900, had closed. The orchestrion? Sold to a California collector.
Not long ago, though, as I traveled past my childhood hometown, something sent me off the interstate.
Miracles do happen.
Inside Zaharakos, red stools flanked gleaming, marble counters, and mirrors glimmered amid rich woodwork. Pint-sized curlicue tables and chairs again held little diners. The original orchestrion played, grand as ever.
She no longer remembered events of five minutes ago, but she recalled Zaharakos.
The soda fountain had worked its sweet magic once again.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite soda fountain treat?
Though I never would have told him, my eight-year-old grandson resembled a cherub, with blond, adorably mussed hair and big blue eyes.
Instead of wings and a halo, however, a choir T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes betrayed terrestrial origins. Fifty other similarly-clad choir “angels” appeared equally earthbound.
A couple possessed wild hair that defied mom-smeared pomades. Some faces betrayed streaks of hastily gulped suppers.
All had practiced at 7:15 a.m. for weeks. They weren’t even paid overtime.
Weary, yet eager parents awaited the first song. Sleeping babies hung around necks like 15-pound ornaments. Surrounded by tantrum-throwing toddlers and texting teens, these mothers and fathers still showed up to support their kids.
With the first tuneful voices, quiet spread like a sweet epidemic.
Grandparents sucked in the children’s fresh melodies, a Fountain of Youth elixir. We wouldn’t trade these seats for any in Carnegie Hall.
People behind me might have preferred that, too.
So whispered my daughter as she yanked me down.
“But those grandmas do it.” I pointed toward other seniors, poking up through the crowd like prairie dogs.
She hissed, “If you don’t sit, no ice cream.”
Gasp! I obeyed.
An older choir, wearing favorite team hats, sang a spirited rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”
They even sang harmony. If only someone would send these kids to Chicago to do the seventh-inning stretch.
When the third-grade choir strutted their vocal stuff, they sang a memorized song in German. On key, even — unlike many restaurant servers who attempt “Happy Birthday.”
But my grandson’s choir gave me fresh hope that good singing won’t become a lost art.
So did his director, who with gentle, iron words and sweeping gestures, inspired beauty in a hundred kids. Plus, she kept them from killing each other.
Thank God for my little choir boy, who patiently endured a photo op afterward. His great-grandparents sang as they worked, played and prayed. Ditto for grandmas and grandpas, who grew up harmonizing with their families in the car and singing in school and church choirs. So did his golden-voiced daddy and mama.
Maybe, as I did in the past, this little guy will strike deals with fellow servers, earning extra tips when he solos on “Happy Birthday” to diners.
Surely, more applause will await him in his musical future as he shares the song in his heart —helping other hearts sing, too.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What were your favorite grade-school songs?
Once calendars change to December 1, airport authorities turn their attention from averting terrorists to halting the escape of Christmas program directors. Many seek asylum in remote jungles. The most desperate sign up for space shuttle flights.
Why this seasonal exodus? Until Advent, optimistic directors delude themselves that Christmas program rehearsals are going well. Yet choirs have forgotten their music every week. Sixth-grade clarinet players blow the wrong end.
With a turn of the calendar page to December, however, …
Christmas program directors run screaming from holly wreaths and The Salvation Army bell ringers.
Experts say victims of this psychosis, like Grandma, were obviously run over by reindeer. Which explains why anyone would become a Christmas program director in the first place.
The real drama begins when soloists and speaking roles are chosen. Most Nativity plays include only one Mary, and 49 hopeful candidates — backed by 49 equally hopeful mothers — eye the role. Choosing an Infant Jesus from the cute babies in a nursery is a task no Middle East negotiator should tackle.
Amidst controversy, enter the Advent flu. …
It never picks off a candy cane who speaks one line. No. This deadly illness wipes out leads and entire tenor sections. The Annunciation loses something when a nauseous-looking Gabriel delivers his lines holding a barf bag.
Standing defenseless before hacking, germy choirs, instrumentalists and casts, the courageous director battles a shower of viruses unmatched anywhere in the universe.
But by law, directors are not permitted to die during Advent. So, gulping remedies and popping pills, they face weeks of practices. It is said there are no atheists in foxholes. This also holds true during Christmas program dress rehearsals.
Finally, the Big Day arrives …
… and the cast stuns the director with an incredible performance. They were actually listening when she begged them to warm up horns, annunciate words and not pick their noses.
To be sure, no production escapes imperfection. The angels suffer from static cling. Joseph still doesn’t know how to sit while wearing a dress. And as Wise Men and Shepherds adore the Baby, a borrowed donkey leaves offerings on the hay-strewn floor.
But flawed performances only remind leaders that the original event took place with no rehearsals, except in the Mind of God. And as weary directors everywhere breathe a deep sigh of relief and shelve Christmas music until next August, no one needs to tell them Christmas miracles still happen today.
Are you ready to sing Christmas songs?
I am! Though each Advent, I’m reminded some Christmas songs are just plain … odd.
Have you tasted a chestnut? Ever?
I sampled my first when someone at Taylor University, concerned that thousands of good, Christian people were singing lies every Advent, roasted chestnuts over an open fire after a Christmas event.
They tasted like smoky, boiled lima beans.
The immortal Erma Bombeck suggested we sing about popcorn in the microwave instead.
Accuracy does not necessarily make a song. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” originally began with a homesick guy’s lament about his sunny, palm-tree-dotted Christmas Eve in Beverly Hills.
If a guy in Frozen Nose, Minnesota, had heard that original version, he might not have helped make that song a best seller. A more likely reaction as he shoveled snow off his roof: “You want a white Christmas, buddy? Turn around, and my boot will send you on a free trip to Santa!”
Who hasn’t warbled, “Oh, bring us some figgy pudding”?
Do you hear a “please”? The mom in me bristles. How rude.
Worse yet, “We won’t go until we get some,” sounds like holiday extortion.
Besides, who wants figgy pudding? News flash: It’s fruitcake!
Most carolers would run away screaming.
We sing about reckless driving. Given the second verse of “Jingle Bells,” Miss Fannie Bright’s parents probably had something to say about her date’s driving the nineteenth-century equivalent of an unsafe jalopy. And the unrepentant driver urges other guys to pick up girls and whip fast horses into winning.
Christmas drag racing?
Consider “The Little Drummer Boy,” in which he offers the only gift he possesses to the Christ Child. Lovely.
What mother of a sleeping newborn wouldn’t welcome a kid banging on a drum?
Mary probably would have preferred a “Silent Night,” though most births are anything but. Ditto for babies. Jesus was a newborn who needed feeding, changing and cuddling.
Did He say, “Excuse me, Mom, but I would like a snack”? Perhaps, “I need clean swaddling cloths.” And, “Please lose the cold hands.”
The Bible doesn’t say. It does say that thirty-plus years later, Jesus cried when His friend Lazarus died.
Yet we sing, “The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.”
Hmm. Sounds a little odd to me.
Do any Christmas songs strike you as a bit strange?
Music exerts a profound effect on me. Not surprising, as my family sang songs of faith on all occasions. I distinctly remember strains of “God Works in Mysterious Ways” sung around my cradle upon arrival home from the hospital. …
Musical or not, 99.783 percent of humans are susceptible to a mysterious melody malady that defies both art and science. No research has yet produced an effective cure for Silly Song Syndrome, or SSS. At the disease’s onset, a motif or musical phrase appears, repeats itself, then overruns the brain. The National Center for Disease Control reports this virus acts like audio poison ivy. Once it spreads, 24/7 itching sets in, which sufferers cannot scratch.
Unbelievably, our culture fosters the growth of SSS. We, who supposedly value our children, provide toys that encourage destructive repetition. These high-tech days, when an infant pukes on his teddy, it sings “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round” in Spanish, French and Chinese. Three hundred and four times each.
Or until a parent flushes the batteries.
Educational authorities claim children need repetition to learn. Oh, please. How many times did you drill your child before she could sing the Viagra jingle to your minister?
The SSS problem is rooted in the past. Remember the songs we Boomers learned? Why didn’t at least one of our brilliant generation compose alternative words to “There’s a Hole in My Bucket,” non-repetitive lyrics in which dear Liza threw the singer, the song and his stupid leaky bucket into a deep, deep well?
Even classical musical exposure cannot counteract SSS. I play it almost daily, yet do you think the “Hallelujah Chorus” or “Gloria” fill my thoughts? No, “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy, I’ve Got Love in My Tummy” takes over my central nervous system every time.
Sundays prove particularly traumatizing. Once I awoke not with “Amazing Grace” looping in my mind, but “Barbara Manatee,” as sung by a neurotic cucumber named Larry. It is my least favorite from the Veggie Tales DVD I purchased for my grandchildren — and my husband, who requested it for his birthday. In this seemingly harmless tune, an obsessive manatee with a quavering soprano longs to attend a ball, but her love interest cannot dance.
Exactly what I want to consume my thoughts as I enter church to worship God.
Immediately, I counter by feeding my brain a mind-drilling gem from my college years: “Give me gas in my Ford, keep me truckin’ for the Lord.” Despite its commercial side, this ditty was somewhat spiritual.
It beat the heck out of “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”
Having read this, what song will assault your consciousness for a year? If not, how did you get rid of it?
Oh, my God, yesterday our Energizer Bunny grandkids needed to rest. Not as much as Grandpa and I! We parked them before an old “Veggie Tales” video. This morning, my brain has replayed “Oh, Where Is My Hairbrush?” 157 times — so far. OMG, maybe you’re teaching these grandparents a lesson?