I am a Christmas junkie. There. I said it. I revel in all things Christmas, unless there is an abundance of glitter involved in which case I dislike cleaning up the mess—and being all sparkly. And of all things Christmas, the thing I like the most is Christmas music. It’s all I listen to from the day immediately following Thanksgiving (never, never, never before) until New Year’s Day. And every year, I’m scouring the aisles at Wal-Mart looking for the latest CDs or preparing to replace the ones I’ve managed to destroy by hauling them around in my storage building on wheels (also known as my van). My Christmas musical taste is extremely varied—although I’ve managed to avoid country compilations so far—and ranges from Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Mannheim Steamroller to John Denver and the Muppets and Bing Crosby. Those last three don’t actually sing together; John Denver did an album with the Muppets and, of course, Bing Crosby never had the chance or I’m sure he would have, too. If you haven’t heard the Muppets version of The Twelve Days of Christmas, I highly recommend it.
The exceptionally nice part about my addiction is that no one values Christmas CDs very highly, so for around $5.00 each, I can pick up one or two or ten (depending upon what I find that I don’t have) and give them a good home. I will troll the music section at Wal-Mart or dig through the bin in the middle of an aisle in the Christmas decorations and usually manage to find something I don’t already have. Although I may not sound very discriminating in my tastes, I do have a few criteria that a CD must meet prior to landing in my buggy, the main one being that the Starlite Singers cannot be involved and some original artist well known for his or her version must be.
One particular evening found me digging through the cardboard bin in the midst of the Christmas section and happily finding several CDs to add to my collection when, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but The Carpenters Christmas Portrait CD. I have always enjoyed the music of The Carpenters while envying Karen Carpenter’s voice. The smooth silkiness of it coupled with her wonderful range and the heartfelt emotion conveyed … but I digress, as I usually do. I picked it up, delighted with my find, and then I stopped.
My father loved music and had always loved The Carpenters. They were probably his favorite group and he would often sing along if one of their songs happened to be playing on anything anywhere. His range could equal hers so keeping up was never a problem and he always commented on the beauty of her voice. As his health declined and his mobility became non-existent, gift-giving became even more of a challenge than it had already been. What do you give someone who has been relegated to a bed, wearing nothing but the top of a pair of pajamas, unable to do anything other than stare out a window or gaze listlessly at a television? At that point he could still communicate, although what was said might be based on the fantasies of his failing mind—so what does one do? One day I decided he needed a CD player and something to go in it. He loved music … he loved The Carpenters. It seemed to be the perfect idea. He would still sing sometimes, lying in his prison of a bed. And his voice was still as wonderful as it had been although more tentative as his health declined. So, on whatever gift-giving occasion we were celebrating, we presented him with a CD player and several CDs, one of which contained The Carpenters greatest hits. Knowing how much he enjoyed them, I opened the case, inserted the CD into the player, turned it on, and pushed play. The room was instantly filled with her beautiful voice and my father’s eyes lit up … and then he started to cry. When I laid my hand on his arm and asked him what was wrong he said, “It’s so beautiful. So beautiful,” and, through his tears, he began to sing with her.
I looked at that CD for a very long time, turning the case over and over in my hands. And then I very gently laid it back in the cardboard bin, looked at it for another few seconds, then placed my hands on my shopping cart and moved away. I couldn’t do it. Not yet. Maybe someday I can buy that CD and listen to it over and over and over, as I am prone to doing with any CD. But not now. Not today. Not yet. After three years it still hurts too much. It is still too soon for some things, including The Carpenters . . .
I wrote this post on December 22, 2012. My father had been dead for almost three years and one month, having taken his leave on November 23, 2009. Today it’s been a week or so beyond eleven years—and I still haven’t purchased any Carpenters CDs. I haven’t downloaded any of their music to my Amazon Music account or set up a Pandora station that would be Carpenterish. Because even now . . . eleven years and nine or ten days later . . . it’s still too soon . . .
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.