"Favorite" songs have a way of being exchanged for new ones as time goes by, and so it is with my favorite Christmas song. One year, "O Holy Night" held the honor. Other years, Silent Night or "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day". Even "Little Drummer Boy" has been my favorite a time or two. The one that seems to settle into the place of honor this year is "I'll Be Home For Christmas" as sung by Bing Crosby.
The song was written the year before I was born, to honor homesick soldiers across the sea in battle. With that in mind, there have been times it felt like a sad song to me as I pictured my uncle and my brother-in-law on the battlefield. This year, though, I play it and think of a different one of my many childhood homes each time, along with the homes of relatives back then, and I'm transported to a carefree time in my life: Sometimes in my imagination I visit Guss (Nodaway), Iowa. I see my sister and brother, with their families, gathered around the tree; and we're all opening presents. I remember some of the gifts I got, even that long ago, and the anxious wait for Christmas morning to see what Santa Clause brought.
Other times the song takes me to Eagleville, Missouri. It's Christmas vacation and my friend Maria Lynn Holcomb and I are spending the night at Grandma's. There was snow on the ground. Maria's family for some reason didn't have a Christmas tree, and she and I decided to go out in Grandma's pasture and cut one for her family. Those scrub cedar trees are notoriously sticky and dry, but her parents dutifully set up the little tree and decorated it when she got it home.
I recall the Stevens clan gathering at Grandma's little house, crammed in there until you could hardly have squeezed in one more person. The family drew names for gift-giving some years, but Grandma always had a gift for every grandchild, usually a pair of socks and a candy bar, wrapped together. It doesn't sound like much, but Grandma didn't have much income. Just something called "old age pension".
After that, Christmas lost a lot of its magic, although sometimes I'd get brief glimpses of the old Christmas spirit. My children came along and once more Santa made an appearance on the scene. All those times were so fleeting, looking back.
I know it isn't good to live in the past, but I think it's OK during this season. So I'm going to play "I'll Be Home For Christmas" one more time. I think I'll transport myself back to Iowa again, when Daddy and Mama did the worrying, scrimping and saving, and all I had to do was enjoy life. No wonder I thought we were rich.