NORMAN — This is not a story about a Red Ryder BB Gun. Neither is it a story about the magical way our family’s Christmas tree looked surrounded by brightly wrapped packages on Christmas morning when I was a boy of 12 — although that was certainly the case.
It is, instead, about a song I once heard in my head back one Christmas Eve — a song and a moment to never be forgotten.
I grew up in a land of deep snow winters — very deep. So deep, in fact, that after the county snow plows came through the narrow, backwood winding roads where our family’s farm was located, it wasn’t unusual for my sister and I the next morning to have miles of rows of new snow banks — some higher than a one-story building to play in.
They were so tall that from the summit, you could actually look down on the roof of the school bus. We’d dig complexes of tunnel systems all through them with multiple openings laying out inner chambers in all directions — some even having anterooms or maybe shelves excavated out of the walls. The snow responded like moist clay.
But the best project we ever completed — the architectural wonder of my youth — happened just prior to Christmas 1965. After we finished the inside, we’d sat down together on the bank across the road to marvel at the disjointed chain of some nine or 10 different circular entrances. It looked like one of those ancient cliff dwellings or maybe a gigantic drift of Swiss cheese.
On top of that one, we constructed an intricate fortification with parapets and ramparts. It was capped off with a huge terrace wide enough to park a car, that is, if anyone could have ever managed to get their car up on top of a 15-foot snow bank.
We confiscated a skinny piece of timber from an unused fence gate and erected a flag pole in the middle of the terrace. It was magnificent.
To say the least, it had taken my sister and I a few days’ work before our splendid project was finally done. Our father subscribed to National Geographic magazine, and that’s how I came up with the name for it. That afternoon, we ceremoniously christened it the Pueblo. It was still daylight, but it was Christmas Eve.
After glorifying in our accomplishment, we went home to get warm and see what mom was up to. Christmas records were playing. Our house was very old and had large rooms. There was a staircase in the living room, and my mother used to scotch tape every Christmas card we received to the wall along that staircase as part of her holiday decorating. Every afternoon, I liked to go review the latest arrivals.
For some reason that I’ll never grasp, I still remember one card she’d just taped up that day. The color of the card was a rich, dark midnight blue, and against that backdrop, the three wise men were depicted in their noble finery following the star on their single-file way to Bethlehem.
There was something about the star in that picture, golden and round, like the sun, that captivated me. Then it just so happened that at that same instant, my most favorite ever Christmas song, “The Little Drummer Boy,” started on the record player. Haunting and beautiful, it was the perfect soundtrack to me soaking up the image from that card’s picture, making an almost spiritual impression.
That night after dinner, I don’t know why, but I bundled up again and went out into the night. The sky was clear as a bell and awash with stars. The snow-covered landscape reminded me of the desert in that Christmas card with the three wise men.
Straight up above me was the brightest, widest, most perfect full moon I’d ever known — which made me think of the little drummer boy’s drum.
It was a mystery how things could seem so connected.
I walked slowly down the road to our Pueblo alone with my thoughts. I climbed to the top and sat down next to the flag pole, transfixed by the awesome full moon. I couldn’t tell you how long I sat there with my face upturned in that quiet glow.
And to this day, in my mind’s eye, I can still picture that silent winter night, me sitting there alone atop our snowy kingdom staring at that bright, perfect moon — the sublime “Little Drummer Boy” playing clearly in my head — in wonderment of Christmas.
Pa rum pum pum pum. Me and my drum.
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