It’s Christmastime in the City

poster-39 As soon as I hear the opening strains of “Silver Bells” I’m transported back to the vestibule of Wild Woody’s discount store in Independence, Missouri. I was six, and dad would bring his electric guitar and play and sing while I rang the bell at The Salvation Army’s red kettle.

Dad’s velvet baritone voice and his smooth jazz chords would echo in that vast space as shoppers scurried in and out:

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks,
Dressed in holiday style;
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas.
Children laughing, people passing,
Meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you’ll hear.

Silver bells, silver bells;
It’s Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring,
Soon it will be Christmas day.

But I was drawn to the sweet warm smell from just inside. I could press my face close to the glass windows and watch little rings of dough drop into a lazy river of cooking oil where they would float to the far end. As they rounded the corner for the return float, they would be flipped, exposing the golden brown steamy goodness.

After dutifully ringing the bell and greeting shoppers for what seemed like forever, dad would take me inside and buy me a cup of hot cocoa and a fresh hot donut. Looking back I can understand istock_salvation-army-kettle-bell-ringhis fingers probably needed the break from pressing those cold guitar strings. But to my six-year-old heart, there was nothing that could be better than those few minutes sharing hot donuts and cocoa with my dad.

Strings of street lights, even stop lights,
Blink a bright red and green,
As the shoppers rush home with their treasures.
Hear the snow crunch, see the kids bunch,
This is Santa’s big scene,
And above all this bustle you’ll hear.

Silver bells, silver bells;
It’s Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring,
Soon it will be Christmas day.

At the end of the night my father would give me a nickel to put in the gumball machine that looked like those “Strings of street lights, even stop lights,” blinking their bright red and green. The balls of sour cherry and sour apple flavor were only there at Christmastime. Three more nickels would be pressed into my little hand so that I could get a gumball for each of my brothers as well.

There is something amazing to me that with just a few notes from a song I can suddenly smell those donuts, taste those sour gumballs and feel in my heart the joy of hanging out with my dad and helping him greet those busy shoppers.kettle xmas pic-crop-u14835

Years later, I can only begin to understand dad’s fatigue in being a small-town Salvation Army officer during the busy Christmas season. I never realized how tiring it must have been to drag his guitar and amp and his squiggly kid into that store along with the bucket and bell. Or how sore his voice and fingers must have gotten after a few hours of performing.

But I can’t hear “Silver Bells,” without my heart being drawn back to that moment of Christmas joy and peace.

4 responses

  1. Well written, Curtis. I remember Wild Woody’s donuts. And I remember your dad singing and playing his guitar. He taught me some of those jazz chords but I could never play like him. Merry Christmas!

    1. Thanks John. To this day I don’t think a donut tastes as good.

  2. Thank you for sharing from your heart at this time of year. It sure touched my soul and brought back memories of my own childhood. Always enjoyed hearing you and Sandy add a special touch at NHQ with your music and singing. Sending my love and wishes for a very Merry Christmas and blessed New Year!

    1. Hi Anita. Thanks so much for your words. It’s great to hear from you, and it’s good to know that our music was appreciated … and is still remembered! 🙂 Please say hello to everyone there for us. We have such great memories of our years there, and the wonderful folks we had the privilege of working with. Merry Christmas.

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