Perhaps vampires, atheists and Las Vegas Raiders fans might hiss at the mention of a Bible passage this dangerously close to That Word We’re Not Supposed To Mention. One of my favorites? “Make a joyful noise, unto the Lord …” Psalms, 100:1. Tomorrow’s Christmas. In hours, my favorite side dressings will arrive — football, friends, gluttony, gifts, processed sugar, clumsy Hallmark cards and my favorite food: Mystery Holiday Cheese/Salami/Sodium balls.
Sodium Balls. Boffo grunge metal band name, I say.
My all-time favorite Christmas gift? It was a Joyful Noise. It was my daughter, Indiana, screaming high-holy bloody murder in the ocean a few Decembers ago.
I’ve had countless gifts, beyond priceless. My nephew-like substance, Coastal Eddie, painted a picture of me. Coastal’s 30-something now, a lawyer, and, as such, his days are spent, reinventing the housefly. And yet, bless his little litigious heart, Coastal took the time to paint this loving albeit primitive portrait. My best pal Phil Lanier once gave me a Whoopee Cushion for Christmas. Talk about Joyful Noises. Vividly I still recall my sister-like substance Tweedie plopping her rump upon said offending rubber intestinal disorder sound effect device, cupping her mouth and uttering her trademark and apologetic — “Woooooo…!!!” She sat on it twice. It’s actually funnier the second time.
Laughter. That’s a Joyful Noise, a blessing.
Christmas has brought softer sounds. The crackling of a stone fireplace late at night. The crunch of snow under horse’s hooves. That rustling, slurping sound snowshoes make when Dad and I sloshed our way across mountains on impossibly bright December days.
My childhood was spent with bewildered parents who carefully placed on the coffee table (we seemed to keep forgetting to acquire a tree) gifts from the Three Wise Men’s “B” list. No myrrh. No frankincense. (What does a Baby do with those?) No army men. I recall being 7 and unwrapping underwear, socks, pencils, a clip-on tie and, not kidding, a can of cream of mushroom soup because I once made the mistake of mentioning that I liked cream of mushroom soup, and, of course, more underwear. I wished Mom and Dad could have made joyful noises when they were younger. Years later, I’d invite them to my house. I made up for Christmases Lost, garishly decorating my home, part pimp, part toy store, lit like Downtown Beverly Hills. It was serenity to see them — finally — laugh, all defenses down. A Joyful Noise, a priceless gift, to see your parents, mortal enemies, chuckle with abandon, to see them enjoy the Christmases they never had as children. It took me a lifetime to finally forgive, to be smilingly grateful for the both of them.
My favorite Joyful Noise?
A few 12/25’s ago, my daughter and I had some friends’ lavish beach house all to ourselves. We bought an abused tiny potted pine (the SCV’s dotted with live Christmas trees illegally replanted by someone), decorating it with lights, sea shells, beach glass and hand-made decorations. Salt water courses through our veins. That darn girl. First day? She coerces me into a solemn promise: Every day — no matter what — we’d run on the beach and swim. In the Pacific Cold Ocean.
“EVERY day…” she repeated in a parental tone, beneath her life’s actual station.
Things were SoCal winter ducky the first few days. Then, Christmas Eve Morning, an angry winter’s front lumbers in, not grey, but black, denting the earth with silver raindrops each the size of toasters. I’m sitting at the scenic kitchen window, sipping tea. The forever keeper of my heart appears magically. Indignant Daffy Duck posture. Teen hot rod attitude. She’s in her bathing suit.
“Are you mental?” I asked.
“You said,” she said.
It’s profoundly safe, warm and cozy inside this designer beach estate. Outside? Polar bears tug up overcoat collars and walk at extreme angles against lashing, megalomaniacal rain and wind.
“Excuse me, please, from our traditional Family Death Stare,” I say, returning moments later, gloriously be-swim-suited.
Indy starts bouncing up and down, laughing and clapping.
We sprinted to the car and four-wheeled to our favorite uninterrupted stretch of coastline. Raindrops on the roof sounded like machine gun fire. I think I spotted Noah, a lion and an ibex being washed down a storm drain.
Dumb Parent Me. I made the promise. Every day — Beach. Run. Swim. With comic dignity we walked like silent movie stars as the heavens emptied. This storm was so huge, it was hyphenated and named after all my ex-wives. We weren’t just the only ones shoulders to ears, marching on that rapidly eroding Del Mar beach. We were the only people in California outdoors. We were cold, profoundly moisturized and giddy to be alive.
“C’mon!” yelled Indy. Spitting rain, we broke into a run.
Well. “Run?” Approaching middle age, oaf-like, I lumbered while Indy ran comic vaudevillian circles around me. We jogged a good distance. Shivering, La Importante Heiress shouted maybe we should head back to the car. I made chicken sounds, which, done right, can be misconstrued as Joyful.
I believe — no, I know — we can see the entirety of God in a child’s smile. Heavens. In anyone’s smile. My daughter and I grabbed each other’s hand. We laughed, then high-stepped-it into the surf toward Hawaii. A huge swell formed. Both of us screamed and dove under.
I thought — maybe — the salty ocean water would be warmer than the cold front. Nope. ’Twasn’t.
In the storm’s pounding rain, we body-surfed. Our teeth chattered. Yelling, we asked whose stupid idea was this, adding we couldn’t feel our legs. We laughed so hard. I’ve never felt more alive.
Middle of July, Christmas Eve, that holy, indefinable It lives within us, smiling, waiting to be recognized, that glorious Divine Everymoment of being aware and profoundly grateful for being alive, for being our unabashed — sometimes shivering — but authentic selves.
And we make a Joyful Noise…
John Boston is a local writer. Still recovering from hypothermia.