One of the things I love most about Christmas is the music. It’s a genre defined by familiar lyrics, jingling bells, and deep baritones. The comfortable melodies wrap everything in a memory while setting the table for more.
I remember myself as a girl, staring into our family room and seeing my father enjoying the quiet, his face lit only by the roaring fire and the twinkling white lights of the tree. The next morning, I strained to see the driveway over the hills of snow that blocked the windows. The opening chords of any Bing Crosby carol push those images to the front of my mind, as if I’d lived them only last year.
Music can be equally evocative any time of year, in any type of style. The older I’ve grown, the more I appreciate that a recollection, and its contours, depend upon the musical accompaniment. Without realizing it, I’ve amassed a catalog of songs that represent the hits of my life.
The music of my childhood was Lionel Richie, Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen. Richie was for a weekend night, when my parents were home with us, but wanted to instill some calm. I think Richie was my first inkling that maybe, some day, I’d want someone to say me, that I was their endless love, because I was three times a lady.
I danced with my sisters in Joel’s river of dreams one summer night. We pushed the furniture back and moved until we were sweating. My parents and our babysitter joined in, hands waving over their heads. I remember feeling so happy, and that I was smiling the whole time.
Springsteen was what my dad turned up loud in his car. Bruce made the noise that vibrated around me in the back seat. Bruce made me want to run, and find glory days without melancholy, and dance in the dark.
“The Sound of Music” taught me that my mother might be Julie Andrews. I tried to sing like The Reverend Mother in my closet, where I echoed. I tried to scoot up the stairs backwards while singing about the sun going to bed, indicating that I must too. I tried to imagine myself learning anything wearing a curtain.
I spent several summers at an overnight camp on Sebago Lake. I can still sing all the camp songs. When I do, I think of the flames of campfires, the tall pine trees swaying in the wind, and the waves hitting the sandy beach.
High school was for the Indigo Girls in a car full of friends, hoping we were closer to fine. A certain depth was achieved by listening to a full Counting Crows album, where December really did start to feel long. Achievement could be measured by singing along to every word of Blues Traveler’s “Run-Around.”
My mother took my sisters and me to see “Les Miserables” in Boston. I heard the people sing, and I saw her dream her dream. I still haven’t recovered.
When my husband and I got married, we listened to music on the small stereo he bought for college. In our fourth-floor apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, we somehow fixated on Julio Iglesias. I hear his songs today, and I think of the dining room table we inherited from my grandparents, and the stove where I burned my hand trying to cook dinner, and a bookshelf we carried home more than a mile from the store.
The stereo moved with us to New York City, where our bedroom had a large desk. We put a baby chair on the desk, and our daughter in the chair. We cranked Katy Perry’s “Hot n Cold” to keep her entertained while we got dressed for work. Four years later in Maine, we watched our son try to dance to “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars.
Wake up, Maggie, I think I’ve got something to say to you. I confess it, I’m shy. You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight.
Music. It’s the soundtrack of a season, the soundtrack of a life.