Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Carols and Apricot Brandy

Merry Christmas

This morning it was 22 degrees. It warmed up to 32, and I was called upon to shiver outside on crunchy, white grass, still covered in frozen fog.

It reminded me of Christmas caroling with my family, years ago. We used to snuggle into ski jackets, hats, scarves, and brave the winter cold in the Bay Area in California, caroling around whichever neighborhood had not yet called the police on us. Sometimes we’d enlist the help of friends, telling them people loved to hear us sing. This was not true. We were the only ones who loved to hear us sing. Everyone else threw the dead-bolt, pulled their curtains and turned up their televisions.

One particular year, the temperatures dipped below 50 and our breaths blew white puffs in the glow of streetlights and blinking green and gold bulbs. We had made up books with the words to carols we could sing in harmony, and we strolled along the quiet neighborhood, blasting out our Christmas cheer, ignored by all humanity. Our heads were covered with the usual assortment of Santa hats, reindeer hats, moose hats and polar bear hats and my mother’s hand-knit mittens covered our hands, but the cold seeped through our jackets and reddened our noses. We began to wonder if it was all worth it.

My mother slid a hand inside her parka and extracted a flask of apricot brandy. My mother, the woman who warned against the dangers of alcohol, and only broke out the wine at special occasions. A little brandy mixed with a cup of eggnog once a year was the extent of my brandy knowledge. “Well, look what I have here,” she said.

“Where did you get that?” I asked, my mouth dropping as wide as my frozen jaw allowed.

“It was a gift,” she smirked. “I think this is just the time to open it.” And she did, right there in the middle of the sidewalk, with red, green, yellow, and blue Christmas house lights reflecting on the brown glass. She tipped her head back and took a swallow, like a hoodlum from West Side Story. My mother! She plucked a white, embroidered hanky from her sleeve and wiped the rim, holding up the bottle. “Who’s next?”

I was probably twenty-one, and possibly still in college, and contrary to the stereotype college student, I rarely drank, and only if there was a designated driver.

But we were walking.

My hand extended toward the bottle. “Lemme have a swig,” I said, in my best gangster drawl. Surprisingly, apricot brandy was yummy out of the bottle. The hanky wiped away any deadly germs and I passed the bottle to the next person. It was like being part of the cast of “A Pocket Full of Miracles.” We sang, we sipped, we strolled, we snickered and we sang some more. What is more, we no longer cared when someone drew their drapes and doused the lights. We harmonized, giggled, crooned and guzzled, until we’d circled the block.

As I shivered outside today, listening to the lecture, and noticed the other people huddled in jackets and coats, teeth chattering and feet stamping to keep the blood circulating, I thought about that apricot brandy. It was not the place to sing Christmas carols, or tipple a toddy, but I smiled when I thought of that evening of Christmas caroling with my family and friends, and I felt the warm flush of memories.

May your Christmas be filled with warmth, and music, and family and friends. And perhaps a nice, hot, buttered rum.


  1. Oh, Melanie! This is such a good piece. I love your family so much now, even though I've never met them. Merry, Merry Christmas to you, Dear, and the best New Year you've ever had! <3<3<3

  2. Dear Jewell,

    I love them, too. You would fit right in with us. Too bad you don't live closer. We'd have some good times.

  3. Pam said: Ah yes, I remember those days...minus the apricot brandy; although I think my mom, dad, 2 sisters and I shared a quart of beer when we got back home.It was a celebration of family more than anything else. Thanks for the memory, Mel.

  4. Pam,

    A quart of beer? Well, that is probably just as good. I tried apricot brandy once after that, but is wasn't the same. You must be right about the celebration of family.


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