Dan Conradt: When caroling, a smile makes it all worthwhile
She seemed to burrow down into the folds of a lilac-colored bath robe that might have been royal purple when it was new, and she was wearing a pair of carpet slippers that probably had more miles on them than my car did.
She stood on the front stoop clutching a lacy handkerchief, and even from a distance she smelled like Vicks VapoRub.
Gently falling snow couldn't soften the harsh light that came from a bare bulb above the front door, and through the window I could see a Christmas tree in a corner of the living room, next to a TV that was showing "Wheel Of Fortune".
Behind the thick lenses of her glasses her eyes were glistening, and I didn't think it was because of the cold.
For the first time I was glad I came.
I'd regretted saying "yes" as soon as the word came out of my mouth, but peer pressure is a powerful thing.
On Wednesday I started wishing for a snow storm.
On Thursday I started hoping for laryngitis.
On Friday I nearly volunteered to work over the weekend.
But I'd given my word, so with just a smudge of daylight remaining on Saturday evening I put on my heaviest coat, two pairs of socks and a stocking cap with a poofy ball on top, and told myself that in two hours it would be over.
We had a list of a dozen homes we were going to visit; the list had come from the church, with the names of people who might especially need visitors during the holidays.
A man who looked like a skinny Henry Fonda answered the door at the first house, listened politely to "Jingle Bells," then informed us that his dinner was getting cold and closed the door before we could sing the rest of our repertoire.
"I'll never go Christmas caroling again," I muttered to myself as we trudged down the street.
We'd put together a list of half a dozen songs, and practiced them for 10 minutes before leaving the church — songs like "We Wish You A Merry Christmas," "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Deck The Halls" don't require a lot of rehearsal.
"The Twelve Days Of Christmas" was dropped from the song list when no one could remember what came after the maids a-milking.
We stopped under a street light so the group leader could read the list of homes we were going to visit.
"Mrs. Smith is next," he said. "She must be getting close to 90 …"
We walked to a tiny home in the middle of the block and formed a half-moon on the sidewalk in front of the house.
The group leader rang the doorbell, the bare light bulb came on, and the VapoRub lady stepped out :
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly …"
We sang the last of the fa la la la las, and she tucked the lacy handkerchief into the pocket of her bath robe and bravely attempted applause with hands that had become gnarled by arthritis.
Her eyes began to glisten during the first verse of "Silent Night;" by the second verse she was mouthing the words with us.
We finished with a rendition of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" that was more enthusiastic than musical, and as we said "good night" and turned to head to the next home on the list she stopped us: "Would you like some cookies? I just made them this morning …" She shuffled back into the house, and returned a moment later with a covered tin filled with sugar cookies.
I chose a star with white frosting.
Snow flurries swirled around us as we ate our cookies, then we thanked her and explained that we still had several homes to visit.
She stepped back into the house, but before closing the door she looked at us with the kind of wistful smile that can only be caused by fond memories.
"Bless you," she said.
And I knew I'd just gotten the best gift I was going to get that season.
As Linus said, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."