Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Every Time a Bell Rings

Christmas Eve is always the same and always different.

I always have people to dinner and go to the Byrd to see "It's a Wonderful Life."

That's the same part.

The variables are in how it shakes down.

Like how I'd just gotten a package from my BFF from college containing two wines she knew I'd relish.

Crios de Susana Balbo Rose of Malbec, a big-bodied rose with flavors (and the color) of strawberries, was the ideal wine for the rich chicken dish I'd made.

Even the hoppiest beer lover in the group was wowed by it.

Just as wonderful was the Tasmanian devil she'd sent, Jansz Cuvee Brut Sparkling.

The fine bubbles and crisp lemony finish had everyone talking about why we haven't tasted more Tasmanian wines before.

So there's a new goal for the new year.

After a meal that left everyone in a food coma, we went our separate ways, with just me and a first timer going to Carytown for Capra's now-classic film.

Arriving an hour before showtime, we found the line already back to Mongrel and within a short time, around the block and past the alley on Shepperd.

It was clear that many in line were also first-timers because they were taking pictures of themselves in line.

Once inside, we found center seats in a middle row, easily the best seats I've had since I began coming on Christmas Eve 1995.

And, miracle of Christmas eve miracles, not a soul took the two seats directly in front of us.

That's certainly never happened, either.

I heard a guy behind me say to his buddies, "We've been coming to this for what, three, four years now?"

Son, get back with me when you're on your eighteenth year in those butt-numbing seats on Christmas eve.

As usual, we were told of the presence of the gentleman who had first visited the Byrd the week it opened in 1928.

It's an impressive thing to see him there every Christmas eve, but it'll be a sad day when he's no longer there to be introduced.

Then came the big news.

Organist Bob Gulledge had thrown out his back, so there was to be no Christmas singalong tonight.

Holiday horrors!

I mean, I felt bad for Bob, at home stretched out on his living room floor, but after eighteen years, I kind of look forward to that corny singalong with the lyrics on the screen and Bob pumping enthusiastically on the Mighty Wurlitzer.

But we all have our crosses to bear.

I was just sorry that the first-timer with me had to miss out on this seminal Byrd tradition.

But then the credits rolled and I was lost in Bedford Falls and the loose-limbed, expressive-faced George Bailey and his simple little life.

No matter how many times I see the movie, I always appreciate the gorgeous black and white tones of it, the period details and the story of how each of us touches so many others.

And lines like, "Boys and girls and music. Why do they need gin?"

And while my companion had seen bits and pieces of it over the years on TV, he'd never seen it as Capra intended it to be seen.

So afterwards, I asked what had struck him most about the sweet little story.

It was the scene after the run on the bank, when George and Mary use their honeymoon money to save the Building and Loan.

When George returns to his "house," he finds that Mary has created a cozy, welcoming "home" with travel posters in the windows, music playing and chickens roasting on a rotisserie powered by a wooden spool on the phonograph.

"Welcome home, Mr. Bailey," she says sweetly of the wedding night scenario she has wrought for her new husband.

And while it is a charming scene, I'd never seen it quite the way it had struck him.

If ever a woman secured her place in a man's heart, it had to be with giving him that warm, stable and loving welcome after an afternoon from hell.

Talk about the perfect gift.

And an ideal reminder of why it really is a wonderful life.

Boys and girls and music, it's that simple.

Gin optional. Rose and Brut, not so much.

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