A Little Louder, Please

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A Little Louder, Please

Susan Zahl Bono

Christmas 2005

I must be going deaf. It’s the season when yuletide TV ads are louder and brighter than the shows they’re interrupting, but I don’t seem to be hearing their message. December is swinging into its second week and I haven’t bought any presents. Last weekend, my husband wrestled the fake tree into the living room and wrapped it with lights, but if that’s as far as we get, I’m not going to be heartbroken about it. At night with those little lights glowing, I can almost forget the ornaments are missing.

These are my dark ages. My kids are too old to believe in Santa and too young to make grandchildren. They stopped caring about trees and holiday trappings about the time we gave in to their dad’s allergies and went artificial. As far as their gifts are concerned, there are only so many ways you can wrap money. My husband likes to order his own gifts, and all I really want are my closets emptied and my left eyelid to stop sagging enough to let me see out of it in the morning. I’m not inspired to do much baking. Everyone my age knows about the dangers of letting Christmas cookies into the house.

A few days ago, a three-year-old took me to lunch. Her mother drove, but the little queen was obviously in charge. Giuliana, dressed like a Victorian monarch in a flouncy skirt and short velvet cape, issued orders from her crash-tested throne in the back seat.

“A little louder, please,” she said, indicating the car stereo. The queen’s mum, like any good mother, pretended to comply by touching the volume knob.

“A little louder, please,” our sovereign commanded, with only a trace of irritation in her voice. Soon, such seasonal favorites as “All I want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth” and “Frosty the Snowman” engulfed us.

I suspect Giuliana’s mother was afraid I would condemn her daughter’s musical tastes as well as her own lack of parental control. On the contrary. The sappy rendition of “Jingle Bells” took me back to yuletides past when my own kids demanded the volume cranked on Dr. Demento’s Christmas Novelties, payback for having tortured my own parents. As a child, my favorite holiday album featured Jack Benny’s halting violin and someone loudly lisping, “I thaw Mommy kith-ing Thanta Cloth.” Little ones really do know what Christmas is all about.

“A little louder, please,” the Good Queen said again, this time for our benefit. She was having no trouble singing along with a relentlessly cheery “Deck the Halls,” and she wanted to make sure we heard the music, too. Any fool could see that her mom and I were so busy dissecting the past and worrying about the future we were completely missing out on the fa la la la la.

A wiser woman would have joined in on a couple of verses of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” or “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” I’m sorry, Giuliana. I wasn’t ready to listen.  But it’s not too late. Sadly, my own collection of holiday music is heavy on a cappella versions of “The Holly and the Ivy,” “O, Come, O, Come, Emmanuel” and carols played on antique German music boxes. But maybe if I play them loudly enough, I’ll start to remember what the fuss is all about.

Susan Zahl Bono is a California-born mother, teacher, writer, and editor who’s lived more than half her life with the same man in the same house in Petaluma. She published Tiny Lights: A Journal of Personal Narrative for twenty years. She facilitates writing workshops, including Jumpstart with Marlene Cullen. Her own work has appeared online, on stage, in anthologies, newspapers, on the radio, and in several Write Spot anthologies. Her book, “What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home” was published in 2014. 

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