Friday, December 20, 2013

Ironic Advent Meditation #20a: My First Noel



When I was a kid, I didn't know much of what we were singing in those Christmas carols. Donkey? Check. A little town? Check (lived in one). Round young virgin, check. Holy infanso, check. Other than that, it was all a little nebulous. 

Except for one song, my favorite Christmas song of all. I just couldn't understand why everyone else was so excited about it. But, then again, why not? My baby brother Noel really was a special little kid (even though at home we called him wet-wet baby because he still did things that we had outgrown).

Ah yes, one of my earliest midnight mass memories, and when you grow up Catholic that's pretty much the same as one of your earliest Christmas memories, is belting out at the top of my four year old soprano "Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah dah-EL." And Missy and Gordon and I would get our faces in his and say, "that's you wet wet baby, that's you."

I don't think I remember mom being pregnant (for the story of her miraculous conversion/conception experience, check out my earlier meditation called Eudora Juanita's Long Parentheses). Although since Advent is about waiting, maybe I could say (given Lauren Winner's advice about true-ish writing) that I did know a baby was coming and that we were all waiting expectantly for the baby to be born.

I'm sure someone had been waiting. Mom and Dad one assumes. Maybe even Missy who was both older than me and a girl. But, honest to goodness, one of my absolute earliest memories, and it's still clear to me, was sitting in dad's car (a Studebaker, made in South Bend--go Irish!) outside a big building, which turned out to be a hospital, and him saying "look up there kids, see at that window? That's momma and your new baby brother." 

Of course, I already had A little brother, Gordon, but he was just . . . "there"--part of my life. As far as I knew, he had never been a little baby. I guess I was unconscious or something when he first showed up. So, this fuzzy face up at the third floor window hit me as quite a surprise. An unexpected crazy addition to my previously not much more than blank-slate existence.

And then (I see those skeptical faces out there but I am NOT making this up), Christmas morning as we are anxiously waiting to open our presents (cowboy hat, shirt, boots, and gun for me that year, I have no idea what anybody else got), the door opens up and in walks Eudora Juanita (also known as momma) with a little bundle of joy and noise and poop, my new little brother, Noel. Or Noelito, as I still call him and as I called him today when I got him on the phone, catching him eating birthday cake across the country in New Jersey.

At some point (I say this because it's another of the clear memories amidst the general fog of distance), I got to sit on the couch and hold him very carefully. The tender, delicate, fragile, miraculous, absolutely beautiful, darling . . . thing. My brother. 

Except for the unfortunate nickname, it soon became clear that we were going to spoil the heck out of him. And we did. I don't think Missy or Gordon or me needed much in the way of toys for the next year or so. We had an amazing great gift, unexpected (at least to me), but, if memory serves, not unappreciated. He's gone on to be an amazing person, a loving father of a couple of great kids, a credit to his parents (not to mention the siblings who spoiled him).

I guess this Christmas I won't get to dress him up in a goofy outfit, or teach him funny words, or make him laugh by acting silly, or even get to hold him on the couch. I kinda wish I could, though he's really quite a big baby now. But I can still feel the wonder and love that came with My First Noel. Still makes me want to sing. Sort of like the shepherds who, I'm pretty sure, weren't looking for anything special, weren't waiting and singing some minor key O Come O Come song wailing for the coming of the King of Israel. They were just looking . . . at sheep and such. But they got a huge surprise. SHOCK! Good one, though.

I guess Advent too, in one way, is about NOT being prepared, NOT waiting, or realizing that you can wait all you want and prepare all you want and you are still going to be surprised. If any of this is true, that is.

I was surprised another way today. After a long day of shopping (oh, I can hear the sympathy in your voices), and after talking to Noel about his cake and talking to Jenny about Christmas present ideas for the boys, I stopped by a place called Mad Anthony's where a friend of mine, Mike Conley, hosts an open mic on Thursday nights. I didn't even have my guitar with me, but I thought I'd stop by anyway before heading home. 

Just as I arrived, two friends of mine Wayne and Jane were setting up to play (on guitar and cello). Of course, obviously, because I live in that kind of universe, they started to play "The First Noel." I think I distracted them just a little when I got out of my seat, walked towards the stage, and held my cell phone up to the speaker so the wet wet baby could hear it in New Jersey.

Alright angels, thanks for getting us started. Certain poor shepherds and big brothers and sisters can take it from here. 

*This piece was first posted last year on Noel's birthday, December 20. He died this year on November 23. I'm glad I called him. Starting on Christmas Day, I'll be writing about him all twelve days of Christmas.  

1 comment:

  1. I also remember being in the car looking up at he hospital window and seeing Nita with the baby Noel...he was so sweet...I had to leave work early yesterday, just couldn't get present for others, sitting with the loss of that sweet boy/man, the pain keeps him near me.