I ran across a good friend of my father’s recently and after some general pleasantries and a little catching up, he commented that he missed my father’s Christmas poems. In particular he mentioned the poem that I shared in my column in 1998, the year my father died, and the remarkable backstory behind the poem. For those of you who don’t know, my father wrote a Christmas/holiday poem each year that was printed on a postcard and mailed out to friends, family and bookstore customers. But with his death, my mother and I were left wondering what to do as Christmas approached in 1998.
So, at the behest of my father’s friend, here is the story of the 1998 Christmas poem, excerpted from a column that originally appeared on Dec. 28, 1998 in the Door Reminder.
As most of you know by now, my father died this past May and, among the many issues left for us to resolve, was what to do with this year’s Christmas card. My mother made some plans, but as often happens in the busy process of living, these plans did not work out. Thus, at the beginning of November, with the time to get the cards printed rapidly approaching, we found ourselves in a quandary.
November was a special month for my father: he was born near the middle of the month and he was married at the beginning of the month. I haven’t asked my mother whether this was the impetus or not, but – for whatever reason – she sat down one day (or night) and began paging through one of my Dad’s notebooks of doodles.
Anyone who was ever at a meeting of any sort with my father knows about these notebooks. They are filled with page after page of multi-colored geometric designs which he would carefully draft as he listened to the proceedings. Those unfamiliar with him, who saw him at work or saw one of his meticulous doodles, might have assumed that he had ignored the entire proceedings, but they would have been wrong. My father heard and noted every word spoken and the doodling was not an escape, rather it was a means of focusing his attention.
So one day, or night, in early November, without a poem for this year’s Christmas card, my mother sat down with one of these notebooks and found a Christmas poem none of us had ever seen, dated February 1998. We’ll never know what possessed my father to write a Christmas poem in February and it really doesn’t matter. We – both his family and by extension all of you – have one last Christmas wish from Hal and you’ll pardon me if I feel that there aren’t too many Christmas stories better than this one.
Amid the carols, even the symbols
Of stars, trees, and virgin birth
There is something making year’s end
A blessed respite.
It is the children
And their laughter, theirs, yours, ours,
Driving off not only winter chill but
All darkness and cold, outer and inner,
Real and imagined, suspending
For a while, the nagging imponderables
That undercut our waking dreams:
Where we came from
And where we go.
For moments Where did we
Come from?, Why are we here?,
Where are we going?
In a youngster’s laugh.
Harold M. Grutzmacher
So that’s the story of 1998’s Christmas poem. Since I believe I have a little more room in this issue, however, I thought I’d share one more of my father’s poems that was distributed 24 years ago. This is one of my personal favorites and I hope you all have a very merry Christmas.
The signposts change just when we think
We’ve learned the way. All, it seems, is
Flux, as we wander filling out some plan.
Then that blessed breathing space:
Year’s end, the balm of loving time,
Time slowed as if rich honey were poured
Into the great clock. In this small peace
There is left acknowledgment of what is past,
Passing, and to come. And, once more,
For every one of you:
if wishes are horses
May yours be Arabs; may your garlands wax
Green, bearing edible berries; may you feel
Now the warmth of our concern and affection;
May you smile, square the shoulders,
And carry on.
Harold M. Grutzmacher