It’s the Saturday after Thanksgiving and what better time to dig out the holiday decorations. A trip to the attic with the fall wreath and garland and mantelpiece spray, and a trip or two down with the pre-lit artificial tree in its handy box, a box of ornaments, the winter wreath, a pine bough-berry spray for the top of the china closet, and the menorah. Looks like we won’t be here in the country during Hanukkah, so it’s going back up. We’ve got to get the New York place ready for the painters in ten days.
In my family, we always trimmed the tree with music on the hifi (high-fidelity, monaural vinyl record player system, for you younger readers). There was an album of traditional carols and popular songs. We always sang along.
Then there was the album by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians playing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” where the whole sleigh cracks up with car-wreck sound effects and when I was really small I used to cry, thinking that Santa was a gonner. It’s a great album, though, and I highly recommend it. It’s available to stream right now on Amazon Prime Music.
Anyhow, tonight I got out the iPad and Bluetooth speaker and put on Amazon Prime Music’s Holiday 2015 playlist. We put up the tree, lit the lights, and started putting on the ornaments. We didn’t know a lot of the songs. My husband, joking a bit, asked if I could find “Kol Nidre” on the app. Sure, I said, and we listened to a very young Johnny Mathis sing it. Then I found an instrumental recording of “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem. After that I played Sophie Tucker singing “My Yiddishe Mamme,” in English and in Yiddish.
From there we played a remastered album of the music of Al Jolson, a wonderful trip down a shmaltzy musical memory lane, the lyrics familiar to us both, despite the fact these songs go back to the early 20th century. I guess we both grew up hearing them at home as kids, and so tonight we sang along, sometimes with lumps in our throats and tears in our eyes. The link above takes to YouTubes of all 18 songs.
My husband grew up hearing Yiddish from his grandmother and his mother, and I learned a little from my father who found Jewish culture and music very compelling. He had a lot of Jewish friends, clients and business associates in Los Angeles and he knew a few Yiddishisms. He loved Al Jolson from his childhood. The story he told was that as a little boy he and his family went to a theater to see Al Jolson in a movie, and when it began, my father was so disappointed because he’d been expecting to see a cartoon with “Owl Jolson.” Jolson is buried at Hillside Cemetery in Los Angeles, and his mausoleum is quite spectacular. We always passed it on the way to the airport, and Daddy never failed to belt out “Mammy” as we drove by.
It was wonderful to play those Jolson songs and remember our families as we put the shiny ornaments on the tree. Then we put on the gas fireplace and savored the cozy, holiday look. Now you can too.
May the season be all you hope for and even better than you remember,