WORTHINGTON -- In a time when BenLee's was Montgomery Ward, my dad was manager of the automotive department in Ward's basement. I never was much caught up in tires and inner tubes, chamois and steering wheel covers, but this time of year -- Thanksgiving to Christmas -- Ward's basement became toyland. It was the biggest and most alluring of all the toylands in town.
I was reading -- it was 1939 when Montgomery Ward gave away copies of a poem by Robert L. May, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer." The booklet was printed on cheap paper with red and green ink. By Christmas, Ward's had passed out 2.4 million copies of "Rudolph" in its toylands across the nation. This was when I first learned of the little deer with the glowing red nose. I think I got two or three copies; I had pull in Ward's basement.
To begin with, Rudolph was words alone. Then - 1949 - Gene Autry made the 78 rpm record, words and music. A report is it now is played in China.
"...then one frosty Christmas eve, Santa came to say, 'Rudolph with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight...'"
It was in this era -- Ethel Ferguson was our second-grade teacher. Miss Ferguson went to the office ditto machine and turned out a small pile of sheets with Christmas lyrics. Ditto machines were an early version of copiers. Papers from a ditto machine smelled faintly of ether. The lettering was always purple.
Miss Ferguson was not a singer, I believe, but she led us in songs and lured kids who never sang to join the fun. There were a couple of Christmas songs most of us had never heard. And we never forgot:
"Deck the halls with boughs of holly...Fa-la-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la." Everybody joined in. And:
"...Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go -o. Up on the housetop click, click, click. Down through the chimney with good St. Nick..."
What fun it was to sit and sing those Christmas songs that day.
Saturdays in that season -- Saturday mornings, maybe 9 to 10 -- we all were ushered to front pews at church to practice our Christmas program. There we sang Christmas music of a different kind. This was not tickling music, like "Rudolph" or "Fa-la-la," but it was beautiful and we knew it was precious.
"Oh little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie...
"...yet in thy dark street shineth the everlasting light. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight..."
Sometimes we sang with gusto once again:
"Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her king..."
When we came together to sing in the high school choir, these were songs we presented as part of the annual Christmas program in Memorial Auditorium. We were singing with different voices then, and we knew something of pitch and harmony. We sang in parts.
Sopranos and altos: "Oh come let us adore Him..."
Tenors and basses: "Oh come let us adore Him..."
All: "Oh come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord..."
Where did we go from there?
Soon we heard Christmas music at every turn. Stores. Churches. Radio. Jukeboxes.
I didn't know. I only learned lately. 1934. Eddie Cantor. (Do you know Eddie Cantor?) Eddie Cantor introduced:
"...You better not pout, you better not cry, you better look out I'm telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town!"
Irving Berlin. 1940. And then Bing Crosby, 1941. Kraft Music Hall on network radio. Great excitement:
"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I used to know...
"may your days be merry and bright and may all your Christmases be white."
And then --
There was, and is, a memorable radio introduction:
"From the Crossroads of the West we welcome you to Temple Square in Salt Lake City for 'Music and the Spoken Word.'
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir --
"And He shall reign forever and ever
"King of kings ...
"...forever and ever...
"... hallelujah hallelujah...
"...and lord of lords...
"... forever and ever
"...King of kings
"...forever and ever, hallelujah hallelujah,
"...and lord of lords, forever and ever, hallelujah hallelujah
"...And He shall reign forever and ever..."
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.