Or perhaps I should say fellow travelers since I’m convinced more than ever that we’re all on a path, a journey. I certainly have felt it this year as much as any. Maybe because I’ve literally been out “riding the rails” this Fall—Portland, Denver and Plano(?)
News dpt: I have a new CD out which most of you already have. It’s entitled “Songs Unsung … Until Now.” In addition to my continued opportunities with the various groups I play with — Singapore Slingers, AChord Trio, Nobles of Note big band, Mark McKenzie Quartet and Dallas Banjo Band — I’ve had some delightful experiences working with the Plano Children’s Theater as pianist/musical director and with a special needs group at Highland Park United Methodist Church, The Jesters. Moreover, it’s been a year of surprises — from my being hired as the melodrama pianist at the Pocket Sandwich Theater to a recording by Gloria Gaynor of a song I co-wrote with my pal, Cynthia Clawson to my working with a local burlesque troupe, the Lolly Bombs. (Now don’t tell me I don’t have an interesting life. HA!) Heck, I’ve even got some videos on my Facebook page and my website www.georgegagliardi.com, including one of me in KC’s Union Station. That is story unto itself. But speaking of stories, let’s get to this year’s installment.
The children were excited. It was two days before Christmas and tonight he would be here. For more years than anyone could remember he had been coming to their little village. Whether fair weather or foul, he was always there. As reliable as Christmas Day itself, he never failed to appear and it was always the same schedule, year after year after year.
No one knew his name. They simply referred to him as The Storyteller for that’s what he did, he told stories, wonderful, magical stories. Stories that delighted both children and grown ups alike. He would arrive about dusk, have a simple meal at the Inn and around mid-evening the people would start gathering in the Inn’s cozy dining room, lanterns all aglow, a welcoming fire blazing in the massive stone hearth.
When he came in, he would greet everyone, pull his favorite chair over in front of the fireplace and smile. Then he would lean back, grey eyes a twinkle, tilt his head to one side while stroking his long white beard - as if remembering some long ago event - and then begin.
“It happened this way, a long time ago. (He rarely started off with “once upon a time”, that was not his way.) A certain young man decided that the best way to experience the beauty and wonder of this world was to get out and see it, to explore it, to travel. So he did.
He didn’t have much in the way of possessions – a few clothes, his favorite journeyman’s hat, a journal and an old, well worn mandolin – well worn from hours of playing in this town and that, from being on the road, from one too many nicks and scratches -- hazards of, if not carelessness, then clumsiness. The sort of tangible reminders one has from living out on the highways and byways of this world.
Now it so happened that one Christmas Eve as he was traveling through the country he found himself in a mining town, perched high in the mountains, next to the Great River. On this particular day the tiny hamlet was a place of great sadness because one of their own, a young mother, had disappeared and could not be found. The people there all feared the worst -- that she had been swept away by the Great River the day before and was gone forever. The search parties had combed the area but to no avail. Sadder still, now there was a little girl, Sally, who had no Mommy to rock her or hold her or tell her bedtime stories or just be there for her with a warm smile on a cold winter morning. Her daddy had died in a mining accident only two years ago and so it had been just her and her mother – and now she was gone.
He was there in the town square, preparing to unpack his mandolin when he learned of the tragedy from one of the locals. The news broke his heart. He put away his instrument, sat down and stared out at the vast mountain range that surrounded the village. He felt utterly helpless. He’d come to play his mandolin, to lead the townspeople in some Christmas carols, to help celebrate this festive night but now … there didn’t seem to be much point in that. So he sat there, despondent.
After a time he took out his journal and was writing down his feelings when he saw a little girl approaching him, obviously curious as to who he was and what he was doing there. She moved cautiously toward him, not saying a word. It was Sally. He smiled, put down his journal and said hello -- Still not a word. He took out his mandolin and showed it to her. Would you like to hear some music? Slowly she nodded. And he began to play.
He began with a simple Christmas song he knew the little girl would recognize. Was there a trace of smile? No, not even a glimmer of one. How about this one? And he played a song that had always proven to be a children’s favorite. She looked down and then started to cry. He stopped playing, at a loss as to what to do. At that moment he uttered a silent prayer, just three words, ‘God Help Me’. He was trying desperately to think of what song he should play when something remarkable happened.
The mandolin began to play the most beautiful melody the young man had ever heard – all by itself! Sally heard the sweet music and lifted her eyes, only to stare, puzzled but full of wonder, completely caught up in this amazing thing that was happening. Here was a mandolin playing and no one was playing it –why it was almost like it was enchanted. As for the young man, he sat there, mouth agape, not knowing what to do. So he simply let the music play. In a few moments he began to notice that the sounds of the mandolin had started to draw a few people over to hear the music. Once they saw what was happening they stood there also staring in disbelief, mesmerized by this incredible vision. There were some who, after having seen this bizarre sight, promptly rushed off to tell their friends – and still the music played, on and on. Very soon the crowd began to grow.
Eventually the music changed from a ballad into a jaunty, almost “hoe down” tune and before long people were dancing and clapping and chattering about how wonderful it all was. There truly was a spirit of celebration and for a time the sadness forgotten, the townsfolk having been caught up in the wonder of the event.
Suddenly Sally burst forth with one of those ear shattering, high pitched squeals – as only little girls can. Everyone and everything stopped, including the mandolin. The crowd looked in the direction of where the little girl was looking. And they saw what she saw. It was her mother.
Immediately both mother and daughter began running toward one another and cheers went up from the crowd. They embraced and as if on cue, the mandolin began to play again. There were tears of joy, great big smiles, thanksgivings, warm hugs and of course, questions -- Are you alright? Are you hurt? What happened? Where were you? Why couldn’t we find you?
Little by little the story began to unfold. She had remembered seeing a particular mountain daisy she wanted for this Christmas basket she wanted to make. It was perched high up on a stone ledge. No sooner had she climbed up and picked the flower when she discovered that the ground around the patch of flowers was soft, merely covering the entrance to old abandoned mine shaft . She lost her footing and fell into the pit, hit her head on something and was too dazed by the fall to move. She had been lying in a sort of bewildered state since yesterday afternoon, half awake and half asleep. She might be there still except for this dream she’d had – there was music playing, beautiful music. It was prettiest melody she’d ever heard. She had the strangest feeling that it was written especially for her. It was mandolin music. And then she woke up. And even wide awake she could still hear the music. Then she remembered what had happened and where she was and who she was. Slowly she stood up and surveyed her surroundings. Fortunately it wasn’t that difficult to climb back out of the mine shaft, there was a makeshift ladder from old timbers that readily brought her to the surface. Once she got back down from the ledge she headed for home, following in the direction of the music.
All who heard the tale marveled at it. It was a miracle, no question about it. Didn’t they give her up for dead, didn’t they all hear the mandolin play all by itself and wasn’t that what the young mother heard? Yes, it was indeed an enchanted mandolin.
As for that particular stringed instrument, after that remarkable episode it went back to being merely an old, worn, ordinary mandolin. Now and then the young man would wish that it would repeat that haunting melody and play itself but it never would and it never did. But he wasn’t bitter about it. He knew he had been privileged to be a witness to a Christmas miracle and he was glad that his mandolin was chosen for the task. After all how often does one have the opportunity to witness such a miracle— then again, maybe more often than we realize if we would only look with believing eyes.”
The Storyteller ended his tale and was preparing to leave when one of the children asked him if the story was true. He replied that of course it was, then chucked, saying that only facts had been changed for the sake of making it a better story. As he made his way across the room he could see the doubt in a few eyes. So he walked over to the corner where he kept his knapsack. Once there he picked it up, put it on the table, opened it up and pulled out an object wrapped in a small, cotton blanket, undid the cloth and showed it to the people there – it was a mandolin.
So there you have it, a tale about a miracle which is only fitting for me because this is His time, a time of miracles and I for one still believe they’re possible. May the wonder and the possibility of the impossible fill your heart and help us all remember a miraculous birth in manger about 2000 years ago when God did the impossible – as is His custom.