Thursday, December 23, 2010

O HOLY NIGHT: THE CHRISTMAS COUSIN RICHARD SANG


I'll be thinking tonight of my cousin Richard, back in the land of my birth: New Hampshire. Richard is cheerful, industrious, and hard-working. He was given as a young boy into the care of his (and my) paternal grandparents, who he in turn cared for till they died and who left him their house in Rye Beach, New Hampshire with a fireplace and a sun room and a sloping lawn and a picture window giving onto the Atlantic.


Rye has got to be some of the most beautiful, mostly untouched, prime real estate on the Eastern seaboard that, miraculously, has not been ruined, and in fact is pretty much the way I remember it as a kid 50 years ago.  Richard has lovingly tended the property for years, growing dahlias, hollyhocks, tiger lilies, geraniums and several unruly spruce trees that he is always hacking up with a chain saw into pieces and hauling to the dump. In the winter, he does odd jobs and needlepoint, tends his African violets, and plays the organ. 

RICHARD KING, SR., OUR GRANDFATHER,
IN THE BACK GARDEN AT THE ORIGINAL PROPERTY IN RYE
Anyway, one Christmas a few years ago I was home for the holidays, and spending the night at Richard's place as he is suffering from some horrible kind of cancer of the cartilage, and at the time had been driving down to Mass General in Boston every morning for radiation, the two of us being poised to leave at dawn the next day to beat rush hour. The coastline of New Hampshire is one thing in summer, with the beach roses and Queen Ann's lace and tourists, but it's an entirely different thing in the winter: equally as beautiful in its way, but stark, brooding, and almost entirely deserted.

It was the night before Christmas eve, dead dark out, freezing cold, and I was snooping around in the bathroom cupboards (you can still find Yardley face powder and dried-up bottles of Bactine in there left over from when Nana was alive) when I heard the faint sound of music. What the....? I thought. Was it carolers? Were some drunk teenagers driving by with their windows open and the bass blaring? So I went out to the sun room to investigate--past Nana's collection of Belleek china, the Oriental rugs, the pot of corn chowder we'd had for supper--and there was Richard, sitting at his organ. Richard, whose father died of cirrhosis. Richard, who has worked all his life as a dishwasher and housecleaner. Richard, whose right arm the doctors were telling him they might have to amputate.  Richard, at full, garbled, WAY overly-loud voice singing "O Holy Night."

Completely unselfconsciously: "Fall on your knees." Completely un-ironically: "O hear the angel's voices." Like a child (Richard is now 72) : "O ni-ight divine." I'm pretty sure at least partly for me, his guest: "O night when Christ was born. "

Across Ocean Boulevard, the waves crashed on the rocks. Somewhere, someone was being born. Somewhere, someone was dying. It was beyond doubt, by about a million light years, the best rendition of "O Holy Night" that I have ever heard, or ever will hear.

Merry Christmas, Richard. And all over the world, may the stars brightly shine.   

10 comments:

  1. Beautiful tribute and sweet memory Heather! Thanks....
    and Merry Christmas.

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  2. Every time I read something on your blog, I get all teared up! And it's not even so much that the stories are sad, but just so... so... human, and touching. I can so easily put myself in that spot and see and hear Richard singing. God bless him. Thank you for telling us about him.

    By the way, you and your readers please pray for my friend Larry who has ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) and which is advancing unusually quickly. He is the head catechist for two of our parishes, our pro-life leader, a family man, and younger than me. They are hoping for a miracle thru the intercession of Bl. F.X. Seelos.

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  3. No matter how many years go by, no matter how weary I am of the world and it's craziness, by the time I get this far in the year and reach this point on the cusp of Christmas I seem to automatically grasp for those memories that are deep inside me that allow my faith come bubbling to the surface albeit briefly and yes I too fall on my knees.It is the only appropriate response. Thank you for this post- we all can relate to this at some level.
    Blessings for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

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  4. Beautifully written and felt Heather.

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  5. Thank you for letting us in on this memory. Richard's red and black jacket is extraordinary.

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  6. I am SO glad someone noticed! Does that jacket not belong in some kind of sartorial Hall of Fame?

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  7. I wanted to say that I was very surprised to see such a beautiful story of my Uncle Richard whom I haven't seen in years since I was a small child. I wanted to point out that some of your facts were incorrect reguarding our family when reading the story to my mother ( your cousin Nancy). Relative to Richard's hearing left unattended as a child, he attened the Beverly School for deaf and that was after much fighting with the Danvers school dept. by his step mother Gladys. At Richard's decission after fighting with his step mother and his father he was allowed to leave the school for the deaf, unable to attend public high school and after threats of physical harm to his step mother the decission was made by his parents along with Nana and Grandpa that he would move to Rye. Pa took Richard under his wing he became an apprentice mason although Richard was a care taker and a house keeper his trade in life that he should be very proud of was a Mason. Pertaining to Richard's father, my Grandfather died of a massive coronary although alcoholism runs in the King family as you well know having a father with a drinking problem, my grandfather did like his beer however he did infact die of a heart condition. Both my mother and I are so sorry to hear that her brother/my uncle had gone through such a terrible time with cancer and we hope he is doing better now. Just wanted to point out some facts that needed to be correct. Thank you for the wonderful story. Michelle Morelli

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  8. Thanks for weighing in with your version of events, Michelle--one thing you're mixed up on: my father didn't have a drinking problem-- though the Lord knows I did!

    All the very best to you and your family--may we all have another Holy Night this year...

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  9. Hi Heather, Love reading your blog especially to learn of the names and occupations of my distant cousins. Please search Google "census 1901 National archives Dublin" go to Co Londonderry and in DED box enter Keady and here you will find info on your grandma Allen including all her brothers and sisters. Also here under the Surname Ross you will find your Gt Grandfather Robert Ross. Regards Ron

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  10. Thanks so much Ron--glad to know you're enjoying the blog! And I'm going to pass this info on to my brother Tim who seems to be checking out various branches of the family tree--if you want to, email me at hdking719@gmail.com and refresh my memory as to how we're related and where you live...all best wishes, Heather

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