Reminiscing over Christmas traditions

lighted marquee family sign

The beauty and wonder of this time of year makes us all think of family and olden days of time spent together, and inevitably, music is a big part of our holiday memories.

My father-in-law was born in to a very musical home, and my husband recalls his grandmother teaching each of her grandsons to play the piano. It felt like punishment at the time, but all of the boys now say they wish they had paid a bit more attention instead of gunning to get off that piano stool for the great outdoors.

“Back then, we’d rather do the dirtiest farm chores than sit at the piano,” my hubby says.

He and his brothers wanted to be out in the farm fields and the woods, but each took their turn under their grandmother’s direction. Grandma Sutherland was a music teacher to the heart, because she found great joy in the old musical masterpieces.

Sitting still

Just hearing an opening chord could prompt her to light up and sing along to her heart’s content. Her only son, my father-in-law, was not too keen on sitting still long enough to learn the difficult piano pieces that she so wished to share with her pupils, either.

It may have amazed her, then, when this young man learned to play the saxophone completely by ear.

“I can’t read a lick of music,” he once told me. “But let me listen a time or two and I can play a piece for you.”

When he landed in the Navy during World War II, Don and an enormous group of young men were asked who among them played a musical instrument. He was one of only a few who answered the call, saying that he was naively hopeful that he might stand a chance of playing in the Navy band.

Instead, what they were searching for was a man who could listen and recognize tone, and that gift landed him in sonar patrol on a Naval destroyer.

Back home after the war, as his own children came along, Don and several friends put together a band, and nearly every weekend was filled with musical engagements at various locations.

Like family

The square dance band was in high demand, and the families of the band members became like family. The happy memories from those years are filled with great stories, with many joyful connections to good people.

I remember the grandchildren asking, “What in the heck is a square dance?”

The sound was foreign to them, though it was such a large part of the generations before them. Those were fun times, wonderful family time, the children involved in helping set up and they would then do-si-do right through the evening until it was time to help clean up.

Christmas traditions

My husband and his brothers all remember practicing Christmas carols around the piano to their grandmother’s delight, wrapping gifts for those who would likely receive nothing if it weren’t for the kindness of others, and delivering cookies and breads, apples and oranges, with a song to be sung when the door was opened.

On this chilly evening, swing your partner ‘round and ‘round, then recall the days when all were together with not much in the way of dollars and cents, but all were rich in family foundation, when holiday harmonizing around an old piano was a wonderful part of the season.


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.



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