By Peter Marino
Anthony did not like choral music or churches, and he hesitated when his friend TeriSue insisted on driving all the way to Schenectady to see a men’s chorus at the cathedral. But he went. It was Christmas time and Grandma was dead, and even though he hadn’t left the house they’d shared, he was always feeling homesick.
He wasn’t good company, yawning through most of the performance. Choruses, particularly those composed solely of men, pricked at an unfamiliar dread in him, bringing about images of posses and vigilantes.
The chorus sang “Rudolph,” hardly threatening, but Anthony whispered to TeriSue that they should go as soon as it was done. She nodded. But then some miniature choral singers made their way to the stage, young boys in maroon blazers, to join the old men. He and TeriSue couldn’t leave now.
The plaintive piano introduction to “O Holy Night” began, and he felt an unexpected comfort. The boys’ melody was sweet, slightly off-key in places where they had to reach for a high note, but a nice contrast with the lower registers of the old men. He watched the little boys, their hair neatly combed, their complexions shiny and innocent. He noted one particularly Italian looking youngster chirping with great enthusiasm. And then he remembered how his long-dead father had lassoed Anthony’s neck with his belt, that one time he’d tried to run away from a beating. His father had caught him that way, and pulled him back.
The memory disappeared just as quickly, and Anthony was back, the boys’ melody gently echoed by the old men. He knew he was crying, and he didn’t want TeriSue to know. Then another memory dropped, this one of Grandma raising the BB gun on Carl Waffle and his gang who’d come to taunt him on his front lawn. He almost laughed now at their terror when they realized the danger they’d put themselves in. Grandma had been a surprisingly sharp and unrestrained shooter. Anthony had paid for their wounds to and from school for years after, but it had almost been worth the price.
The final refrain of the song called him back to the cathedral, and he realized it had become a glorious confluence of all five parts, strong and imperative: Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices! O night divine!
Anthony turned to TeriSue to see if she was likewise moved, but she was gone. The entire audience was. He turned back to the singers, but he could only hear them. All he could see was the triptych manger scene. In the rightmost third, he saw that the plastic statues were moving. He was confused, but it was the full thrall of wonderment. Mary was pulling the sheet in the manger, Joseph assisting. It was not Jesus, though, but Grandma they lifted up, fully old, and wearing her swaddling hospital clothing. Her sainted parents remained kneeling as she stood.
Looking up to the martyred Jesus beckoning her, Grandma began to rise, confident, steady, no awe or treacly adoration. Her hand grazed His as she ascended.