Friday, November 18, 2011

The Little Drummer Boy


Christmas, a time of Yule and Noel, a brief moment in childhood believing in a man delivering presents while you’re nestled in your bed; where in retrospect seems like a long history of memories.  As a parent, it was for me to make my son, and later his sisters as well, happy and keep alive an age-old myth.  It is a time of wondering what Who-pudding consists of, or how to cook a who-beast; an attempt to explain to a little girl a hundred years ago that there is a Santa Claus because he lives in all of us during this time of thanks and giving.  It is also a time for telling of a ghost story and conclude Scrooge’s redeemer was not himself but Marley who is fettered to the bonds of avarice.

Despite how I see the world’s seedy and dark underbelly that does not rest even on Christmas; it is from a song that I would find some solace – some humility.  Knowing that despite my own childhood, there is redemption in the innocence of how my son saw Christmas.  He saw the humor as he listened to stories of pranks I played on my siblings at Christmas, and worse when I shared sentimental moments of my own childhood – friends and family now gone; toys broken and now possibly buried in some landfill.  I shared with him the Christmas specials that aired each season of my youth, and how I played Charlie Brown in 8th Grade when our school drama club preformed A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Of course other holiday movies would come and go.  My mother would play National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  We got our own copy to add to the Christmas movie collection.  Tim’s favorite part was when Eddie (played by Randy Quad) was with Griswold as they were about to try a new cooking spray on round sled.

“They had to replace my metal plate with a plastic one.  Every time Catherine would rev up the microwave, I’d piss my pants and forget who I was for about half an hour.”


Christmas also comes from a brief parable told in the form of song as a little drummer boy who has nothing to give a new born king but a few rum pa-rum pum pum’s on his drum, giving only of himself as Mary nods her approval, the ox and lamb kept time; the baby smiles at him all along acknowledging such a simple and unique gift.  The holiday animation from Rakin/Bass first aired on television when I was four years old.  I remember as I sat in front of my family’s color television with combination stereo and record player horrified at the thought of being orphaned and losing a pet.  Greer Garson’s grandmotherly voice narrated the tale soothing the horror to a happy ending.  The special never became as popular as Frosty the Snowman.

The boy, Aaron is orphaned after marauders killed his parents and burned his home to the ground; a hatred of all mankind takes root and grows in the boy.  Aaron is soon conscripted to play his drum for two bumbling and conniving troupe performers seeking fortune and fame by using Aaron’s ability to play his drum, that as if by magic, enchants his small parade of animals, a donkey, a camel, and lamb, to dance and perform.  It is later in the story, while seeking patronage from the three kings, Aaron learns the kings are following a star that would lead to a new born king in Bethlehem.

Soon after the Magi, along with Aaron and his animals, arrive in Bethlehem, the lamb is gravely injured after being hit by a chariot.  Aaron desperate to save his lamb goes to the kings.  He is told that the lamb is beyond their knowledge of care and will soon die, but if he goes to the newborn king the lamb may be saved.  Aaron heeds the advice, goes to pay homage at the Nativity where the infant Jesus lies with shepherds standing guard.  With his pride humbled and his anger dissipated from the sight of the innocent baby, Aaron plays his drum.  The first Christmas miracle is revealed as the lamb regains his health – perhaps as a thank you from the infant Prince of Peace.

It’s from that song, this parable, that Tim found also humor – in me!  The song was originally known as Carol of the Drum, written in 1941 by Katherine K. Davis, based on a Czech song.  In 1958, The Little Drummer Boy became a famous and favorite Christmas song when the Harry Simone Chorale recorded it.  It was recorded many times after; David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s cover is amongst my favorites.

Whenever the song would play on the radio during the Christmas season, and it would never matter which cover or version, I would turn up the volume and sing along.  It is my favorite Christmas song since I was little – because of the television special.  I would get choked up – misty eyed.  Tim would lean forward from the backseat to see if a tear was forming and giggle.  Here is his dad, who is supposed to be a bastion of strength and confidence, getting teary over a song.  But thank God, it was an annual thing…for about six weeks.  If Tim happened to be seated in the front of the car and heard the song as he pushed the pre-set buttons or scanned through the radio stations, he would tune in and pump up the volume.  He would then grin and giggle.

“I’m daddy,” he would say.  “This song makes me cry.”  Tim would then laugh and ask when the tears would start.

“Shut up.”  I would glance over at him.  It was said with a combination choke and giggle.  “It’s not good to make fun of your father’s vulnerabilities at Christmas time.” 

It was worse after I bought the DVD of the Christmas show.  Tim would rewind the scene over and over.  

“Boo-hoo-hoo.  I’m daddy and I cry over the little cartoon lamb that got run over.”  He would put a finger to his cheek and trace a path of an imaginary tear, or mime a crying baby rubbing his eyes.

Now its six months after my son was taken from me.  This morning, I got in my car and started to drive to work.  Gi had used the car the night before and tuned the radio to B101.  I don’t know if it was a sign, Timmy teasing me, or what not; a cover by Restless Heart of The Little Drummer Boy had just started.  I turned up the volume but did not sing along.  On my way to work, I just simply cried listening to the song with a few brief chuckles as I remembered how my son would tease me over a song.  After the song, I just cried some more.  I wonder now if his sisters will pick up the mantle of sentimental teasing.  I held off writing until it was a little later because I didn’t want the girls to see me cry.  I wouldn’t have been able to finish because they would want to comfort me, not understanding that I am enveloping my thoughts with good memories despite the loneliness I feel without my son.

Little Drummer Boy
Katherine K. Davis
Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see,
Pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
So to honor Him
Pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.

Little Baby
Pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too,
Pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring
Pa rum pum pum pum
That's fit to give our King
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for you!
Pa rum pum pum
On my drum.

Mary nodded
Pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time
Pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him
Pa rum pum pum
I played my best for Him
Pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me
Pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.