On my way to work this morning, I stopped in at this great little bakery to pick up a scone for lunch and a loaf of their fabulous cinnamon raisin bread for Christmas Eve day and Christmas Day breakfast. They usually aren’t open on Mondays, but it being Christmas week, they were. Typically there might be one or two people in line ahead of you and half a dozen people hanging out with a cup of coffee and a croissant or a sticky bun, lingering and talking. Not today. Nobody was sitting, and the line reached almost out the door. Just when I thought I’d have a long boring wait ahead of me, a woman and a little boy who looked around 7 or 8 walked into and got in line behind me. As they walked in, I could hear the mom saying to the son something like “Well, ‘blah blah blah’ aren’t really the words, but I can’t remember the real words.” The tall guy in front of me and I both glanced back at the mother and child at the same time, and she looked at us and asked, “Do you know the words to “Twas the Night before Christmas?”
Oh,such a question to pose to an English major who likes to show off.
“Actually, it’s called “A Visit from Saint Nicholas,” I said, “And I do know it.”
“Could you recite it?”
I looked at the line and figured, hell, we’re going to be here awhile. Why not? So I said “Sure” and I started reciting. When I was a kid,we had a copy of Tasha Tudor’s Take Joy, which has Christmas carols, legends, stories, recipes, everything, including Clement Moore’s classic poem. I used to read “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” all the time. I will admit that I was not word perfect and couldn’t remember every line. For instance, when I got to the “With a little old driver so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be Saint Nick,” I couldn’t remember how the heck Santa gets from the speaker’s front yard to the chimney. I said as much, and the another guy, who looked like he wanted into get in on the action, turned around and said, “And one if by land and two if by sea.”
“And the password is ‘swordfish,’” I replied.
He nodded. The tall guy good-naturedly told him not to cause trouble. I dove back into my recitation. The goofy guy chimed in “Into the valley of death rode the Six Hundred.”
I said “Forward charged the Light Brigade” and kept going.
The tall guy said, “This is why we have smart phones.”
I defended the oral tradition and kept going.
The tall guy pulled out his phone anyway and looked up the poem (after confirming the correct title). I got about 75-80% of it from memory, and pulled out a few more lines of bits I had missed when he read a couple of words as a prompt. When I was done, we high-fived each other. “English majors for the win,” I said.
It’s strange what poems lurk in our memory banks, and sad that more poems don’t. I have a cell phone. Technically it’s a smart phone that’s been rendered mute. I don’t text, and I don’t see the need to pay $30 a month for a data package just so I can surf the Internet at the drop of a hat. If I’m waiting around somewhere, I’d rather watch what’s going on around me instead of numbly staring at a tiny little screen. If I did, I wouldn’t have had nearly as much fun waiting in line for my bread.