Friday, November 27, 2009

Flashback Friday: O Tannenbaum

I debated long and hard about what to do for today’s flashback—almost an entire nursing session (long time). At first I thought I’d just do a flashback to last year’s Eid al-Adha because we didn’t ever get out to see anything today (because child #2 didn’t go to sleep until 1:00 AM and child #1 woke up at 3:30 AM and stayed awake until 6:00 AM screaming and crying about this, that, and the other, and child #2 woke up at 5:00 AM and stayed awake until 7:00 AM and then we got up at 8:00 AM to get ready for church). Instead of going downtown to see stuff like this we had family naptime.

Consider that your recap on Eid al-Adha. Eid Mubarak!

There’s a little boy who lives directly above us. He’s German/Iraqi and is about Rachel’s age. Sometimes we get to hear him throw his temper tantrums that last for hours, sometimes we hear him stomping around like an elephant, and sometimes we get to hear his happy voice singing. We don’t mind any of it because we know that Rachel is equally loud (sometimes I actually hear him start to throw a tantrum and just sit on my couch reveling in the fact that my two-year-old isn’t the only one that can scream for three hours straight).

Yesterday I heard the familiar strains of a Christmas carol floating down to our apartment from theirs, only it was in German instead of in English…and whoever was singing completely ignored the tune the song is usually sung to and just hit whatever notes they wanted…and they only sang the first line over and over and over again.

“O Tannenbaum! O Tannenbaum! O Tannenbaum!” the two-year-old upstairs screeched.

Andrew said he was excused from the no-Christmas-songs-before-Thanksgiving rule because he was German and Germans play by different rules. I should have pointed out that we’re pretty much German ourselves…Heiss? Conrad? Muhlestein?

I don’t think he would have bought that argument, though.

I learned O tannenbaum when I was in grade two. Mrs. Matsumori had the words written out in her perfect handwriting on a big flipchart:

O Tannenbaum, o tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!
Du grünst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, o Tannenbaum,
wie treu sind deine Blätter!

She coached us through the pronunciation and had us memorize all the words so that we could sing it for our school Christmas concert.

My mom was so impressed (or something) that she bribed me (or something) to sing it again, solo, when our ward primary made a Christmas visit to a retirement home.

Abra agreed to be my accompanist and we practiced together at home and I did just fine, but when I got up in front of the crowd and saw all those kind, wrinkly, smiling, encouraging, and completely non-judgmental grandparents looking at me I lost my nerve. I don’t know why because a more pleasant environment there isn’t.

Nevertheless, when the piano started, my voice wouldn’t come. I looked over at Abra, panicked. She glared one of her best glares at me and started playing again, like that would somehow encourage me. I gulped for air like a fish out of water. Again with the glaring pianist.* The music started for a third time and this time I managed to sing…very, very, very softly.

I was whisper-singing. In German. To a crowd of hard-of-hearing English-speakers.

When the song finished I basically ran off the stage and into my mom’s arms, crying. She told me I was brave. Abra glared while telling me that she had a hard time playing for me because she couldn’t hear me to keep up with me.

I was sure that I did an awful job and wanted the floor to open up and swallow me whole. But it didn’t and in the end I had to go around to visit our audience with the rest of the primary children, although I was loath to do it.

To my surprise the kind, wrinkly, smiling, encouraging, and completely non-judgmental grandparents were thrilled with the performance. Go figure.

One woman even asked me where I learned to speak German.

“At school,” I answered, following the unwritten childhood law of never answering a question with more than two words.

She went on and on about how foreign languages are so wonderful to learn and that she was so glad that I was learning German in school. I didn’t correct her by telling her that the only German I knew was O Tannenbaum and that I didn’t even know what it meant in English, besides that it was a translation of O Christmas Tree. When she asked me to speak some more I just smiled and moved on down the line.

Everyone in the audience was so happy to be there, so happy to have us come to entertain them, so happy to have me whisper-sing to them, so happy to have us greet them all one-by-one.

I remember being a little less-scared of visiting retirement homes after that. My grandma would take her accordion on a regular basis to visit the retirement home in her hometown of Raymond, even though she spent all her days caring for my grandpa at home. That was a wonderful example of service to me, and I enjoyed the times that I was able to go with her.

And I remember how lonely and bored my grandpa was when he finally went to live out his final days in the Raymond General Hospital, and how we’d go visit him and talk to him and sing for him.

That’s why to this day Mr. Kruger’s Christmas makes me cry.

*Abra had the best glares, ever. Still does. It’s a real talent. (I love you, Abra!)

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