Today’s short story comes from Kristine Lowder of Roads Diverged: In A Yellow Wood. Head over to her blog after you’re done reading her story here. Don’t forget to show some love for Kristine by leaving a comment or two below.
By Kristine Lowder
My Uncle Norm didn’t just like books. He LOVED books. Devoured them. Ate them up with a spoon. If it came down to a choice between dinner and another chapter, you may not see Uncle Norm until after dessert.
Whenever Norm, his wife Dorothy and my three cousins headed south to San Diego from the Bay Area to visit, I took full advantage of his bibliophilism (that’s a new word I just made up). To my delight, I discovered that Norm was a great believer in reading aloud. He put heart and soul into every page, bringing characters to life with different vocalizations, gestures and facial features. Reading a book with Norm was like having a front row seat at a private command performance.
Realizing this, I’d climb into his lap, laded to the chin with an armful of books. Deep bass voice booming, Norman and I burrowed between the pages of Dr. Seuss, P.D. Travers, C.S. Lewis, Margaret Wise Brown or the Brothers Grimm. We shared many summer hours with Stuart Little, Billy and Blaze, Peter and Wendy, Black Beauty, the March and Ingalls families. So many others.
. It was 1960-something. I was in the second grade. One November my mom bought me a book that I couldn’t figure out. “It’s a Christmas book,” she explained. “The holidays will be here soon.” Lavishly illustrated with beautiful graphics, I could read the words just fine. There was only one problem: they were song lyrics, and I couldn’t read music.
Figuring that Uncle Norm was omniscient in all other matters bookish, I pulled on his sleeve one November morning when the troops were visiting for Thanksgiving. I thrust the dark blue book into his hands. “Can you read this to me, please?” “It’s a singing book. I don’t know how it goes.”
We retreated into the living room, plopped onto the sofa and Norm opened Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabelle. He paged through, “ooing and ahhing” at scenes depicting a young girl with a torch, the Holy family, a village stable and lots of stars.
“Oh, this is a good one!” Uncle Norm said. He always said that. To a world-class bibliophile like Norman Naas, every book I offered was “a good one.”
“Let’s give it a try, shall we?” Norm said, perching his black-rimmed glasses atop his nose. Norm started at the beginning and began to sing:
Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabelle!
Bring a torch, to the stable run
Christ is born. Tell the folk of the village
Jesus is born and Mary’s calling.
Ah! Ah! beautiful is the Mother!
Ah! Ah! beautiful is her child.
A French Christmas carol that originated in the Provence region in the 16th century, Bring a Torch urges visitors to the stable to keep their voices down so the newborn Babe can enjoy his dreams. There’s a brief pause after each “Ah!”
I’m told that children in the Provence region still dress up as shepherds and milkmaids, carrying torches and candles to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve while singing the carol. The doleful tune has also been recorded by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Joan Baez, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Mannheim Steamroller, among others.
Uncle Norm and I never recorded Bring a Torch, but it seems we sang it over and over each holiday season for years. I didn’t fully understand the lyrics for some time. I just knew that my uncle chose to spend time with me.
I don’t know what happened to that book, but Uncle Norm passed away several years ago. I think of him often, especially when prowling the stacks of the local library. When trees shed their summer garb, cherry-cheeked winds scrub autumnal skies and November ignites the hills, I sometimes catch myself humming. And as autumn prances onto the calendar and the holidays knock on my door, memories of my Uncle Norm and Jeanette-Isabelle’s torch come home.
Kristine has authored several books and contributes to numerous ezines. Her short stories have appeared in a variety of venues including Heartwarmers, Mamapedia, A Long Story Short and Warm Fuzzy Stories. Visit Kristine’s blog and website, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
Web site: www.KristineLowder.com
Facebook @ Kristine’s Klips
Twitter @ RoadDiverged