Take This Tune

Posted: Monday, December 20, 2010 by Travis Cody in

My pal Jamie from Duward Discussion has reintroduced her wonderful meme.  Take This Tune provides a musical prompt each week, usually a video with the song lyrics.  The task is to write something inspired by the song or something in the lyrics.

This week's prompt is the song is Children Will Listen from the Broadway show Into the Woods. 

When I was a boy, before we moved away from the San Francisco Bay Area, we spent the weekend after Thanksgiving and most December weekends at my grandmother's house.

I have so many incredible memories from those years.  Whether she got a real tree or an artificial one...and she would do either depending on her holiday mood, and enjoy both...she decorated it exactly the same way.  She had a blueprint in her head of how the lights should go, and where every ornament should hang, and which side should face the street to be seen through the living room window.

And she would decorate her tree by laying it on the floor.  See, she was about four and a half feet tall.  It was easier for her to lay the tree down, get it perfect, then hoist it up on the table in front of the window.  When my sister and I were old enough, our job was to hand her the ornaments in the order she called for them, from the boxes she had carefully laid out on the sofa.

Except for one ornament. 

The special job, the most sacred honor, was the hanging of the little plastic ornament with the pinwheel thingy.  It had to go on the exact branch in the exact spot, not only because that was Gram's blueprint, but so it could catch the breeze from the heater vent and spin.

I loved to sit and watch that ornament.  I'm told it caught my eye when I was a toddler.  I'm told I would stand or sit for hours watching it.  My little hand would reach for it at first, catching the admonition to look but don't touch.  

When the heater vent stopped, I would reach my hand out to make it spin again.  I would be told again not to touch, and then Mom or Gram would come and blow on it.  I'm told I took such delight that I learned how to blow on the ornament and make it spin.

I never got to touch that ornament, and it became so special to me.  It became the last ornament to go on the tree, and was not hung while the tree lay on the floor.  Gram made a special show of hanging it.  And I looked forward to it every year...never touching.

I finally got to hang that ornament when I was 8.  I remember it clearly.  The tree decorating ritual progressed as usual.  When it was standing majestically on the table in front of the window, Gram brought out the ornament.  She walked to the tree as I took my place where I could see it spinning for the first time.

Gram motioned me over and said I was old enough now.  She handed the ornament to me.  She didn't need to point to the branch.  I knew where it went.  

The ornament felt so light in my hands.  It was just simple plastic with a very light bit of aluminum inside.  But it was so much more than that to me.  Perhaps I'm projecting onto the memory.  But I remember the fascination with that ornament so vividly.  I remember Mom and Gram telling me not to touch.  I remember it always being the last ornament to be hung on the tree.

It was special.

I remember I took the ornament from Gram and held it carefully by its hook, with my other hand beneath it in case it slipped.  I dropped cups and utensils all the time, but there would be no dropping of this special bit of plastic.

I took it to the branch, shielding it from the heater vent that was already blowing warm air.  I didn't want the ornament to start spinning until it was properly hung.  I held the branch steady and placed the hook securely, then I let it go.  I didn't move until I looked at Gram and she gave the nod that the ornament was in the right place.

Then I moved away from the vent into my spot so I could watch it start spinning.  

I don't know what was my happiest holiday, but I do know that this is one of the happiest memories of my life.

What does this have to do with the theme of today's Take This Tune?  I think it should be evident, but I'll explain.

As an adult, if you pay attention, if you are aware, you can spot the special things that make up a kid's life.  You can't manufacture something special for them.  What you think is special probably won't be what a kid thinks is special.  After all, a kid might take more delight in playing with an empty box than with the gift you in all your adult wisdom thought was the gift of the season.

But if you watch a kid, you'll see the special thing in his eyes and his behavior.  And if you find it, and if you recognize the special that he sees in it, you've got a piece of gold.  And if you wrap your message in that special thing, children will listen.

What two year old pays attention when he's told not to touch?  "Don't touch" is the temptation of all temptations.  A toddler is all about tactile sensation.  It's how they start learning the world for themselves.  And when you've told him not to touch, your little guy is nearly compelled to disobey.

But my mom and grandmother were watching.  They were aware.  They saw that their two year old boy was fascinated by that little spinning ornament that probably cost Gram pennies when she bought it.  

It was special to me.  They saw it.  And they said don't touch.

I listened.  I didn't touch. 

Children do listen.


  1. Akelamalu says:

    One of my overwhelming memories of Christmas when I was a small child was my aunt letting me sprinkle the little silver edible balls all over her sherry trifle as a finishing touch. You are so right about small things being special to a child Trav. :)

    Happy Christmas m'dear. x

  1. Coco says:

    Your story reminded me of moments with the B-man when I see that look in his eyes and know that he's just made a lasting memory. And you're absolutely right - it's rarely about the things we give them. The most precious gift that we can give to children is our time and attention ... although the B-man keeps telling me a PS-3 would be WAY better ...
    Merry Christmas Trav!

  1. Travis, I can so relate to your memory as I lived a lot of my life with my grandmother. I hung on every word as you amazingly described that precious ornament, the memory and what it meant to you.

    What a beautiful memory. Did you finally get gram's ornament for your own tree?

    Merry Christmas to you and Pam.

  1. Jamie says:

    That was such a beautiful story. My aunt was similar to your grandmother in that she had a mania for decorating a cooking for Christmas. To this day I remember whipping soapy "Snow" to decorate the Manzanita tree for the mantle and the strand by strand hanging of tinsel on the tree. Thanks for the memory.

  1. Amazing how powerful a memory such things can generate. I enjoyed this.

  1. Mags says:

    Every time I decorate my Christmas tree I think of you because of these posts. Merry Christmas Trav!

  1. AWW,when I finished reading this I had tears of Joy in my eyes.

  1. When the cat and I put with and decorated our Christmas tree last week, all sorts of memories came to mind with accompanying smiles and a tear or two.

  1. Akelamalu: I remember the bread crumbs spread out all over every possible flat surface to dry out for the stuffing Gram used to make. There always managed to be enough, despite us little bread thieves!

    Coco: B-man has his priorities in order!

    Pam: Mom still has the ornament, and that's OK for now. I'll get it eventually.

    Jamie: I think those little quirks are what make it so easy to remember.

    Charles: Isn't it?

    Mags: Right back atcha!

    Mike: I always get a little choked up when I remember, because Gram has been gone so long.

    Nick: It's part of the tradition, I think.

  1. what a precious story. i love that your gram took such good care of that ornament for you. i'm sure you have it on your tree now and pass this story to your children. my favorite ornaments are some colored reindeer my aunt let me have when i got old enough. i still have them. i smile every time i see them. hope all is well. have a great night.

  1. TopChamp says:

    haha... children CAN listen... Children sometimes listen... Still - what a good little boy you must have been Travis. (?)

    I love Christmas - the tree bit is great fun especially when you share the decorating with others. You are lucky to have happy family memories like this - my grandparents were really old (mum's adopted) so I don't remember them very well.

  1. It was well told and I felt as though I could see it spin too. I can just see you placing it on the tree.

    Tomorrow morning I will watch Baby Boy decorate his green tree and eat the magic Santa cake with our hats on. Tradition. I hope he always remembers.