Little Red Shoes

…a Christmas tale I’ve been meaning to post….

Little Red Shoes (Christmas 2012)

This year was a big one for me and my son, Jude. He started middle school and he turned TEN, marking a full decade on the earth. He’s getting big, as people note, but he’s also becoming even more of who he is meant to be. Some of his interests remain the same, while others fade into the past. Where it used to be Magic School Bus and Max and Ruby and Scooby Doo, now it’s Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. Yes, sometimes change is good….although I do like Miss Frizzell.

This past Christmas, we got our Fraser Fir up early, went to Opryland to look at lights, watched Christmas movies (Christmas Story, It’s a Wonderful Life, Bishop’s Wife, Charlie Brown, and others), toured the trees at Cheekwood, saw the Ornaments play Vince Guaraldi live at the Family Wash, made Christmas cookies, and went to my pal’s annual Christmas night party. Up in Chicago, we did our Lincoln Park Zoo Lights tradition, toured the Museum of Science and Industry, and opened gifts with family. These are traditions. But, there was something essential that was different.

There was no Santa involved.

Actually, I did play Santa for a friend Christmas morning (full suit and beard), but that’s another story. What I mean is that Jude wasn’t buying the whole Sinterklaas. St. Nick, Guy with the White Beard schtick. Last year, he was on the precipice – he didn’t believe, but he didn’t let on. This year, we had full disclosure. Of course, there were certain advantages to this. I didn’t have to sneak a note on the table with a plate of half-eaten cookies in the middle of the night. I didn’t have to have a friend write out all the gift labels in her handwriting, “from Santa,” so Jude wouldn’t recognize mine. And, I didn’t have to ship the presents up to Chicago, so we could fly in on Christmas night and they’d be waiting for us, because Santa had left them.


On the other hand, the little guy in the animal print pajamas, waddling through the living room, reading Santa’s note with wonder, and opening one present at a time….was nowhere to be found. Gone. Forever. “Oh, my goodness!” he used to say with every turn.

“Oh my goodness!” I thought, late one night, about a week before Christmas. I was wrapping a few last minute gifts, listening to Christmas CDs, and yes, drinking hot chocolate. The compilation of the moment was an obscure collection called “Holiday Heroes”, full of rock and soul Christmas songs by people like Dan Penn, Graham Parker, Mavis Staples. There’s also a tune by Jerry Butler – the amazing Jerry Butler, formerly of the Impressions, Chicago alderman, smooth as silk singer they called the Iceman. The older I get, the more I appreciate Jerry. His version of “Moon River” slays me, I can put it on auto repeat

No matter how many times I’d listened to “Holiday Heroes” over Christmases past, I’d never realized that Jerry was on there. I’m kind of ashamed to admit it. But, that’s one of the great things about music that mirrors one of the great things about life. There are songs (or truths) that come to you early and stay with you your whole life, meaning things at different times. But, there are other songs (or truths) that you simply don’t pick up on, even though they’re out there, tugging at your ear. They’re waiting for you to get hip.

The living room was nearly dark and the lights on our towering tree cast small pearls around the room, against the walls in circular shadows. “You will always be,” Jerry sang, “a little boy to me,” as I gazed at our tree, intently, the shape of the branches pointing up and down, weighted by all the ornaments Jude and I had picked up on our adventures, the one he made when he was a first grader; the one I made when I was a first grader. There was an ornament my mom made when I was a boy and another that was on her family tree as a child. Jude always put his favorite at the center and that was a train with the date 2007 and the words “Jude” and “Daddy” on it. That was right when it became judeanddaddy even more than before.

As I took all this in, Jerry Butler went on in his smooth baritone, caressing a story about a father remembering his son as a little boy at Christmastime. The boy is grown and the father is waiting for his son to come home to visit for the holidays; he will always love his boy, his young man, and his love will always be there for him. It’s funny, because I always tell Jude I’ll be in his heart forever and vice-versa, no matter what. I don’t know if I ever completely believed in those sorts of things until I was a father. But, then I realized, it’s true – there is no beginning or no end, we are always there, with the ones we love. Next time you’re out walking, look around you because your loved ones are there with you, in the trees, on the wind, and among the sounds. Listen to those sounds.

From the time that he was born; He meant the world to me
And not so long ago, he sat upon my knee
And as the years flew by, the joy of watching you grow
I knew there’d come a time, when you would have to go

Oh you will always be a little boy to me and
At Christmastime, you’ll always find
My love beneath the tree

I’m reminded of the years, making angels in the snow
Childhood memories, and the little red shoes you wore
And as the years flew by, the joy of watching you grow
I knew there’d come a time, when you would have to go

Oh you will always be a little boy to me and
At Christmastime, you’ll always find
My love beneath the tree

When Christmas comes, it’s a happy time of year
and I’m looking toward the door, knowing soon that you’ll here

Yes, the music is as good as the words, and Jerry, the Iceman, delivers. “Oh my goodness!” I thought as the track faded to silence. Life is impermanence and happiness lies in embracing every turn, every part of the turning of seasons and years. We’re different people than we were yesterday, and that’s a good thing.  Who would want to be remain the same?  Imagine high school.  This is a good thing.

So, this past Christmas, it was great to open presents with my son in Nashville, and it was great to open presents in the house I grew up in, with my brother, parents, and my son. I remembered the Christmas mornings from the past, the time the snow mounds were taller than I, the years I always got record albums for gifts (George and Ringo, anyone?), and even the back half, when I became too cool for school. This time, Jude and I spent a night at my brother’s, as well, and went trolling at a hip record store called Dusty Groove, where fascinated with my brother’s soul and jazz lingo, Jude bought his first vinyl. I picked up a  great album of Jerry Butler and Betty Everett duets.   It all comes full circle, you know.   So, I don’t think it mattered that Santa didn’t make his mark.

But, as I tell Jude, we can never be sure. Maybe there is a Santa, in the trees, on the wind, and among the sounds. And, he comes with an indefinable magic that lands on your doorstep at Christmastime…or anytime. Sometimes truths only come to you when you’re ready. Maybe this is one of them.

Hope you’re having a great year so far,

Love, Doug and Jude

(jerry’s tale at the link is a little sadder than mine, but the song is the thing)

Published by Doug Hoekstra

Father, wordsmith, musician, creative.

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