Every once in a while, when he was in the appropriate mood, my dad would open his mouth and Bing Crosby’s singing voice would spill out. Sentimentality is not clouding my judgment on that statement. My jaw dropped every time I witnessed the transformation.
Strangers tended to underestimate my dad at their peril. They’d see a short, slightly built, truly unassuming man and they’d start to draft the wrong profile. Dad actually was a multi-sport jock with a tremendous competitive fire — the kind of guy who would trounce you and make you feel like it was a fluke before he clubbed you five more times at, oh, golf or basketball or horseshoes or even ping-pong. He went from junior accounting clerk to vice president at the utility company where he spent his entire career; he raised seven (seven!) children; he fought — really fought — in the Pacific in World War II; friends and acquaintances treated him with an air of respect that was impossible for me to miss, even as a young child.
But of all those surprising traits, it was his singing that shocked me the most. There was nothing in his slightly nasal, very Midwestern speaking voice that made you think he could channel Bing. He steadfastly refused to sing in public (a terrible shame that bothers me to this day). But when the Christmas season came around, and if dad was in a good mood, he might suddenly start singing “White Chistmas” to the dog. It was pitch-perfect, right down to that amazing Crosby vibrato.
The Washington Post published a sweet editorial today about the song and its composer, Irving Berlin. “What he captured in that simple and sentimental song was the universal longing for times past and familiar faces, voices and places,” the Post writes.
That’s what “White Christmas” does to me, too — but not for the reasons that others might assume. Merry Christmas, everybody.