"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Zitherklang Interlude

(Many years ago, so many that I forget whether it was by neglect or design, I needed to put the evening’s meal on the table in a hurry. I pulled containers of this and that from the refrigerator, doing my best to repackage them into an appetizing smorgasbord. Then I called my husband to dinner.

“Leftovers?’ said he, his tone more a critique than a question.

“No, I replied. “Hit Parade! A review of the week’s finest.” And ever after, leftovers were always Hit Parade.

So, with both neglect in having written anything new and appropriate to the season, and design by knowing these stories were out there, I offer story number two in the Hit Parade, a review of the Season’s finest.)

Zitherklang Interlude

The weather gods were messin’ with us again. They had the mercury in the thermometer stuck in the vicinity of zero for more than a month, until they unleashed their latest mischief.There’s an upside to that, of course. We don’t have to shovel the crystalline hoarfrost on the tree branches, and the clear skies provide an infinite canvas on which the aurora aorealis choreographs a ballet in greens and reds.

The gods let it warm long enough to drop a half foot of snow, then they sent the mercury to the nether regions once more. Now, and I can almost hear their muffled chortles of glee, they have the mercury on a yo-yo string, bouncing it up and down and keeping us on our toes. Literally. When you stretch those rubber ice grippers over your shoes or boots, you have to walk with your weight forward so the little cleats can stick into the ice and grab hold.

Yesterday warm Chinook winds arrived and the temperature shot to forty degrees, melting all the snow and turning my driveway into a 500 foot long skating rink. Gray light, gray skies, gray rain washing over gray ice. Gray, gray, gray.

Thus, with a feeling of, well, yes, grayness, I pulled the truck from the garage, rotated the knob to four wheel drive, and drove the six miles to the post office in Moose Pass. I could hear the studded tires scratching for purchase on the ice and the gray silty slop from the road sand coating my beautiful burgundy truck.

I had a few manila envelopes to mail, and the postmaster and I exchanged greetings and money. I gave her the paper stuff and she gave me a few coins in return.

Having finished that bit of postal business, I walked around the corner where the banks of gray numbered boxes wait with their window envelopes, junk mail, and catalogs proclaiming the holiday season. Taking the key with the pink Hawaiian key tag from my pocket, noticing how incongruous its bright color seemed on this gray day, I inserted it into the proper slot and pulled open the drawer. I wasn’t expecting much more than the regular stuff—half of which usually gets deposited in the circular file before I even leave the building.

Right on top of the stack was something odd: a small gray and blue bubble mailer measuring about seven inches square. Must be the CD on writing that I’m expecting from Amazon.com, I thought to myself, and turned the envelope around to look for the Amazon address.

Hermann Hastreiter, it read. Tucson, Arizona.

Oh, my. Could it be? Is it really? I tried to tear it open. I tried to unstick the sealed surface. That gray and blue envelope required an instrument of serious safe-cracking ability. I retreated to the postmaster and pleaded for her help. She produced an implement worthy to the task, applied it appropriately, and handed the precious envelope back to me.

Carefully, almost reverently, I withdrew the small plastic box from its mailing vessel.

It was. It really was. “Zitherklang auf Weihnachten.”

I didn’t have a clue what that meant.

But I knew what was on that silver disc inside that sparkling box because there on the front panel, dressed to the nines and looking oh-so-sophisticated in black tux with red and green bow tie, was the silver-haired German we know as Hermann.

Wow. Zowie. Oh, my.

“I have to go home,” I said to my postmaster friend.

“Can’t you play it in the truck on the way home?” She responded.

“No! The CD player eats them. It already ate Polka Dan’s CD, and it won’t play them before it takes them forever, either.”

Out the door I went, up the highway towards home and the CD player. Through the silver light, under the silver skies, watching the silver rain washing across the silver ice. Silver everywhere and golden magic in a little plastic box with the handsome friend in a black tuxedo on the front.

Which is my favorite track, I wondered, as the sounds of the Christmas season filled my house. Surely it is O Holy Night I decided as I sang along with the zither music, and thought of my high school days in the senior choir, performing in the huge school auditorium to a capacity crowd. Tears came to my eyes and my teenage friends were beside me again as we watched Miss Horton, our choir director, wave her arms and baton in the hope that we would follow her direction.

I sang along as the music continued, giving Pablo the Parrot reason to stare in bewilderment at the strange noises coming from my throat.

No wait. That haunting Czech carol The Little Drummer Boy stayed with me long after the tune ended. Just the right phrasing, just the right register. Maybe that was the one.

But back to, “….fall on your knees, O hear the angel voices….” How can you not say that wasn’t the one?

There are thirty songs, some exquisite, some fanciful, some joyous, some reverent. Over an hour of silver melodies, capped by Hermann’s interpretation of “Winter” as the last selection.

What about the “Zitherklang auf Weihnachten?” Down from the shelf came the German-English dictionary. Its corner was a bit ragged, as if a sharp beak had been nibbling on it.

The “Zither” part was easy, and “klang” meant sound.

Auf: on, upon, in, at, of, by.” Okay, we had multiple choice there.

Then Weihnachten. Great! Only one definition: Christmas. That one was easy.

Now, all this reminded me of the fellow who was a great and famous writer, and who locked himself daily in his study to write, agonizing over each and every word. One day a friend found him distraught and asked after the cause. The author replied that he’d written eight words that day, to which the friend responded, “Why, that’s great for you! What’s wrong with that?”

And the famous man answered: “But I don’t know in what order they go!!!” I felt his pain.

How can I possibly reply in kind, or even express my thanks?

And then I knew. Up the stairs I went, pulled the bookcase aside and gained entry to the secret room. It was right there on the top, a once-black folder, now a bit warped and moldy with age, crammed with sheet music from 45 years ago, a slice of my life. Into the pre-paid mailer it went, padded with bubble wrap to protect it, and another trip to the post office was planned for tomorrow.

The sweet strains of zither music continued and once again I’m 17 years old, holding a new black folder filled with sheet music, dressed in a black robe, unsteady on new high-heeled shoes, standing on the risers of the stage under the bright klieg lights. The school concert band and orchestra are assembled in the pit, the auditorium jammed with proud parents, teachers, and fellow students. Look closely and you can see me in the second row, between the second altos and tenors, eyes sparkling as I sing my heart out:

When I was a child, I do believe

We decorated de house on Christmas Eve,

With trinkets and tropical fruit, for you see,

In de island we had not a Christmas tree.

Sing, hal-le-lue, Oh sing Christ-o,

Hal-lue-lue, Oh sing Christ-o,

Hal-le-lue, Oh sing Christ-o,

It’s Christmas in de tropics.

The Calypso tune has loosened us, taken away our stage fright and performance anxiety. The audience enjoys the bouncy humorous song that speaks of Santa in a Panama hat and white linen suit, hanging stockings on the bed post tree.

After the applause dies and the lights dim, the combined band and orchestra begin to play andante maestoso, slowly with feeling, the music to words penned more than 250 years ago by a French wine merchant.

The soprano soloist, alone in the spotlight, her voice pure and effortless:

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining,

It is the night of the dear saviour’s birth….

Soon the full choir of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses are singing the chorus with majesty:

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

O ni-ight di-vine! O night___when Christ was born,

O night!___di-vine!____O night,

(poco rit) O-o-o-o-o night di-vine.

Eyes, music, words, all sparkle with silver. Zitherklang auf Weihnachten: Divine, indeed.

© 2006 Gullible

(Ironically, the weather today is exactly like the weather I described in the first paragraphs of this story.)


  1. Happy Holidays from Sunny Florida......Love your wonderful writing....Ms Millie

  2. Im smiling as I write... what are the odds that MY copy would float to the surface just in time to play today? Happy and Merry all together!