Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Christmas Song

I thought about writing two serious posts in a row, how that might make me seem dark. At the risk of being type cast, it felt right to put this one out there because of the season. Next time, something light. I promise.

I was going through my musical archives the other day, playing my new guitar. It’s actually the same one I’ve had for ten years or so, but the action was just lowered considerably, so it feels new to me. I was digging through a file of old originals and I found these lyrics. I don’t know if it is the same with you, but when I write something down I can remember better, not just the words – the feel and the images. So I played it and the feel came back to me…

A long time ago, when we first moved to SC from the frozen northlands, I wrote this little Christmas song. It was inspired by a Christmas family trip back to Indiana. We had exchanged gifts with Heidi’s family and decided to take a drive into downtown Indianapolis to see the Monument Circle in the middle of the city. They had the monument strung up with colored lights in this huge Christmas tree shape. It was pretty dazzling. I was wearing a long wool coat I had just gotten and we were all feeling pretty cozy and fat. Big old Christmas dinner behind us, (Heidi’s mom can really cook), fairly extravagant gifts already exchanged, midnight church ahead of us. All seemed right in the world.

But it was really cold that Christmas Eve. And windy. At or below zero. The kind of cold that we never get here. The kind of cold that hurts, then quickly numbs. It stung your nose to breath outside and in that kind of weather you didn’t stay out for long. But we were in my in-laws Buick all content and warm and happy, full of food and family. Ah, Christmas.

Then, as we were riding around the circle I saw a homeless woman pushing a shopping cart. She had to be homeless. She was puffy with shirts and sweaters and wore two or three ragged wool caps. Her hands and feet, I remember, were wrapped in rags. I could not see much of her face, but I remember almost feeling embarrassed by how rich I was at that moment. Maybe that isn’t the right way to put it, but it suddenly felt almost too decadent. She had her stuff in that shopping cart and was walking around the circle. I couldn’t see what was in her cart, but it had to be modest. More than likely, I had received more in Christmas presents than she owned.

Her shopping cart had Christmas decorations wired to it.

Plastic mistletoe and holly and poinsettias were strung across the front of that shopping cart. As she struggled along in that bitter cold, pushing her belongings through the frozen snow – her cart was decorated for Christmas. That’s it. Just a ten-second image and then we were around the circle and on our way. It left me with a feeling that I will never forget.

Anyway, I wrote this sad little song. It’s fiction, but based on the image of this cold woman on that long ago Christmas Eve.

Some tinsel and some mistletoe on her shopcart

The holiday spirit touches her as well

It’s Christmas, and she’s homeless and alone

But the season still reaches her soul

Visions of her friends and family from the past

Flood through the gates this time of year

She’s touched many, many hearts in her time

She’s laughed through showers of tears.


How does she make it through?

What can she be thinking?

Where does she go for love?

And how does she stop from sinking?

So now she expects the sideways glances

The stares that children often give

It’s all just a part of her life

The life that now she has to live


How does she make it through?

What can she be thinking?

Where does she go for love?

And how does she stop from sinking?

Her humble belongings there – by the street

In the cart for all to see

No way they can show her spirit

No way they can show her dignity


Shelter for the night

Then back on the street

By the morning light

Maybe a day old roll

That she can take with her…


How does she make it through?

What can she be thinking?

Where does she go for love?

And how does she stop from sinking?


Chris Hass said...

What a strong image - the cart decorated for Christmas. It reminds me of something I one time read about the power of creating images for a reader. The author pointed out that it's far more powerful to provide a vivid picture than to tell about something- say, a child's bloody sock lying in the middle of the street vs explaining the horrors of war. I definitely agree. You must also, just at how long you've held onto that image.

I don't know that it's dark, though. That cart could have been used to tell the story of how well off you were and how unfair or unjust the world may seem. But at the same time the decorations could have told the story of someone unwilling to give up or give in. Or the power of the Christmas season.

I think it's funny you were wary of writing two serious pieces in a row. I worry about writing too many silly or superficial pieces - especially after reading your posts. Pressure's on!

Mamafamilias said...

I agree with Chris - I can see this woman clearly through your words.

Even as a child, the part of the Mary Poppins movie that stood out to Kelly the most was the homeless woman feeding the birds.

I need reminders like this one, when I start whining about things in my own life.