beeswax, pine cones, redwood crosses

The Singing Man

       A Christmas Story

He was already sitting in front of the post office when we pulled into the parking lot. All I could see was his head and a large piece of plastic draped over his body. Who was this person, and why was he sitting there? Was he going to ask us for money or to sign a petition? I was already a bit nervous about taking Ian into the post office, and I didn't really need a distraction on my way in. I briefly considered coming back later, another day even, then decided to take my chances. We just needed to mail a small package and purchase some stamps. I prayed that the line would be short but knew that the chances of that on this December day were pretty slim.

Ian and I got out of the car and began to walk, Ian holding firmly onto my right arm with both hands, his version of "sighted guide." Passing the flagpole, I began to hear the sounds of the man's accordion, playing a distant, yet familiar tune. Ian heard it too and began to jump a little bit, losing his focus. We came around the corner of the building, both seeing him and hearing him at the same time. He was singing 'O Holy Night' to the postal patrons as they bustled in and out of the door, on their way to somewhere. Many were burdened with Christmas packages to mail. The line stretched to the door. 

Ian stopped as we came abreast of the man and cocked his head, to better hear the singing. He began to bob up and down from the waist, a sure sign that he was very happy to be here right now. The singer smiled at me as he sang his song, and Ian and I stood, entranced by his glorious voice, by the message of the song he sang. Thanking him briefly, we entered the building and made our way to the end of the line.

Our post office is not a large building. It is big enough to serve our small community, though, and standing in line can take 15 to 20 minutes on a day like this. "Keep your hands to yourself and stand here by Mama," I told Ian as we opened the inner door. He did the best he could. I know he tried, but he just couldn't remember what it was he was supposed to be doing for very long, and within a minute, he reached out to touch the woman in front of us in line. "Hello," I said, as Ian grabbed her arm; before I could stop him, he brought it to his lips and blew a big razzberry on the back of her wrist. The sound filled the room, and my heart leaped into my throat. I quickly pulled Ian toward me and stole a glance at her. Smiling as I apologized, she said, "Actually that is the best thing that has happened to me today." 

I held Ian with a grip of steel as we moved forward in the line, and he began to squirm under my hands. "Do you want to hear the singing man again, Ian?" I asked him, hoping to bribe him into compliance. "Huh huh huh," he replied, his breathy sounds telling me, "Yes, yes yes. I want the singing man again." 

"Then stand here quietly and keep your hands to yourself." One by one the patrons ahead of us completed their tasks and moved on. Finally it was our turn at the counter. Ian grabbed the stapler and some change of address forms as I handed our package to Tina. She put it on the scale. "Remember the singing man, Ian," I said again, prying the paper out of his hands, propping it back into place, and hoping that he could somehow keep it together for another few minutes. "Hands in your lap please."

Receipt in hand, we said goodbye and walked out into the main lobby, where Ian helped me mail our letters. One slot for local mail, and the other slot for all other destinations. Pull the door down, put the mail in, let go of it now, yes, let go, and close the door. Each instruction has to be so carefully spoken, broken down into the simplest commands, so that he can understand one step at a time. "Shall we go and hear the singing man now, Ian?"

"Huh huh huh," he responded and darted for the door. "Wait," I said, grabbing his arm. "Wait for mama." With one hand on Ian, I dug around in my purse, looking for a few dollars to put in the man's bucket. "Do you want to give the man some money?" "Huh huh huh." Yes. I knew he would want to. He took the bills and began thrusting them out in front of him, offering them to anyone who would take them. "Here, Ian, over here. Let's give them to the singing man." 

As the doors opened in front of us, the strains of 'Silent Night' filled the air, one of my favorites. We stopped outside, and Ian finally found the hole in the top of the big blue 5-gallon bucket where he could at last put the money. He bobbed up and down again, happy with himself and with the world, and I joined in on the next verse of 'Silent Night.'

Standing there on that cold December day, singing the song of Christmas, I melted into the glow on the singing man's face and the light shining from his eyes. My son stood there too, bobbing up and down by my side for the whole world to see, and life suddenly felt a whole lot brighter. Everything around me felt absolutely perfect.

"Does he like any particular song?" the man asked me. "How about 'Jingle Bells'," I replied. His fingers flew over the keys and the accordion sang along with us. Pure contentment was in the air. Thanking him, I took Ian's hand again and led him away to the car, hearing the haunting melody of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' begin behind us. "... How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given...." 

As we drove by on our way to our next stop, I looked over and saw him one last time, a simple man, covered from the neck down in a huge piece of clear plastic, an angel among us, come to share his love.

c. 12/99 by Mar Goodman

Note: Ian was a 10 year old boy when I wrote this story. He experienced a severe lack of oxygen to his brain as an infant, which affected every aspect of his life, including his ability to think, see, communicate, etc. "Sighted guide" is a technique which enables visually impaired people to move through space and involves holding on to a sighted (visual) "guide".



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