Yuletide music lifts my spirit.
While I love to jog to old and new rock 'n' roll and slow dance to a Righteous Brothers classic and groove to West Coast jazz from the 1950s and '60s, nothing moves my spirit like Christmas hymns and carols.
It's Christmastime again. 'Tis the season, and Christmas melodies are constantly emanating from my television, CD player and the car radio – CBS's local Fresh 102.5 FM radio becomes St. Louis' Christmas Station during the holidays. It's all Christmas music all the time.
I fondly remember the old-time television variety shows broadcasting holiday specials at Christmastime when I was a kid. Famous groups like the Andrews Sisters and such crooners as Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole and Andy Williams would sing us the Christmas classics.
However, it was more fun when I got to sing the classics – like "Silent Night" – in church or during our children's Christmas program at our church. Speaking of the Christmas programs, I believe I was one of the Three Wisemen almost every Christmas. I think Terry Stark was always Joseph. Oh, well, whatever. Terry was the leading-man type. I enjoyed the music.
One of the most fun nights among my Christmastime music memories is from the year I was about 13, and a cute girl, who was a year younger than I, invited me to go caroling with her and other kids from the First Methodist Church in my little hometown of Lebanon, Ill. She was really cute, but I had no self-confidence, so I was surprised when she invited me. Holy Christmas carols! I was going to get to sing beautiful music with a beautiful girl. Was it a good night? Ah, it was joyous. Unfortunately, that was our last so-called date. Maybe that was because I was not a Methodist but rather a member of the St. Paul United Church of Christ congregation, or maybe it was because I was still a nerd. It was probably the latter.
"Silent Night" is my all-time favorite Christmas song. I recently heard a wonderful rendition of it sung by Kelly Clarkson, Trisha Yearwood and Reba McIntire. If you haven't heard it, discover it and listen to it. It is beautiful.
My two warmest memories of "Silent Night" linger melodically in my Christmastime recollections of the Vietnam War. The first was while on patrol in the bush, on a hilltop somewhere west of Da Nang. I described it in a Dec. 22, 1967, letter to my parents:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I just got in from my third patrol. We were on an OP (mountaintop observation post) overlooking Operation Citrus, being conducted by the grunts in the Quan Duc Duc Valley. We were out for five days, and I was dry the whole time. The weather was beautiful in the valley. Usually I'm always soaked and so cold at night, and my toes look like mushrooms. ... A small plane flew over a village below us on our third day, playing "Silent Night." I was sitting with Doc and said, "Doesn't that make you homesick?" All I had to do was look at him and could tell.
Doc was Gus Villanueva, our Navy corpsman. A couple of nights later, on Christmas Eve, we sang "Silent Night," as we sat together in the battalion chapel back in the rear. I wrote about that, too, in a letter to my parents dated Dec. 25, 1967, Christmas Day:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Last night I went to the candlelight service at the chapel. It was nice. Myself and another man from Charlie Company (not Doc) were the ones to go up front and light our candles and then go to the end of each row and light the other men's candles. The first hymn we sang was "Silent Night," and tears filled my eyes, but I couldn't help it – a lot of guys couldn't help it.
Doc and I became lifelong friends. We lost Doc last year, when he passed away after a long battle with cancer. I will always think of Doc Gus whenever I hear or sing "Silent Night."
This year, I'll try to make it to a Christmas Eve candlelight service. I know we'll sing "Silent Night." And, once again, I'll probably get a little teary-eyed.