By Kristine Lowder
Reading with Norman Naas was like snagging a front row seat at a command performance. He didn't just like books. He devoured them. Ate them up with a spoon. If it came to a choice between dinner and another chapter, you may not see Norm until after dessert. Or the next morning.
I took full advantage of my Uncle Norm's love of literature whenever the Naas clan came to visit. Norm believed in reading aloud before reading aloud was cool. He put heart and soul into every page, bringing characters to life with different vocalizations, gestures and facial features. Realizing this, I'd climb into his lap, laded to the chin with books. Bass voice booming, Norman and I bounded into Treasure Island and Camelot, explored Neverland with the Lost Boys, roared with Aslan, and jumped into chalk pavement paintings with Mary, Burt, and the Banks children. We shared many summer hours with Stuart Little, Black Beauty, a word-spinning spider, an Indian in a cupboard, an old yeller dog, the March and Ingalls families. So many others.
It was November of 1960-something. I was in the second grade. Mom bought me a book I couldn't figure out. "It's a Christmas book," she explained. "The holidays will be here soon." I could read the words just fine, but they were song lyrics and I couldn't read music.
Figuring that Uncle Norm was omniscient in all matters bookish, I pulled on his sleeve one morning when the troops were visiting for Thanksgiving.
"Can you read this to me, please?" I thrust the dark blue book into his hands. "It's a singing book. I don't know how it goes."
My uncle and I retreated into the living room, plopped onto the sofa and opened Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella. He paged through, "ooing and ahhing" at scenes depicting a young girl with a torch, the Holy family, a stable and lots of stars.
"Oh, this is a good one!" Uncle Norm declared. He always said that. To a world-class bibliophile like Norman Naas, every book I offered was "a good one."
"Let's give it a try, shall we?" he leaned back, perched his black-rimmed glasses atop his nose, cleared his throat and began to sing:
Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!
Bring a torch, to the stable run
Christ is born. Tell the folk of the village
Jesus is born and Mary's calling.
Ah! Ah! beautiful is the Mother!
Ah! Ah! beautiful is her child.
A sixteenth century French Christmas carol, Bring a Torch urges visitors to the stable to keep their voices low so as not to disturb the dreams of the newborn Babe. I'm told that some French children still dress up as shepherds and milkmaids and carry torches and candles to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve while singing the carol. The doleful tune has also been recorded by Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, Joan Baez, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Mannheim Steamroller, among others.
Uncle Norm and I never recorded Bring a Torch, but it seems we sang it every holiday season for years. It was "our song." I don't know what happened to that book, but my uncle passed away years ago. I think of him often, especially when prowling the stacks of the local library. The literary lights he lit still blaze beacon-bright.
Just as my uncle "brought a torch" to illuminate the wonderful world of books, so has the Divine Author written the greatest Book of all. Its pages reflect the Light of the world and the true story of a Father whose love for you and me is so pure and deep that it became Emmanuel, God with us. His story, The Great Story, became flesh, walked among us, and was nailed to a cross so those who believe would never walk in darkness.
So when cherry-cheeked winds scrub autumnal skies and November ignites the hills, I sometimes catch myself humming. Isabella's torch is lit. Memories of my Uncle Norm shine like alpenglow at sunset. Jesus is born. And the Greatest Story ever told calls me Home.
A multi-published author and voracious reader, Kristine Lowder enjoys hiking, camping, fishing, and exploring the Cascades with her family of six. She loves Puccini arias, white chocolate raspberry cheesecake, and doing almost anything other than scrubbing the kitchen sink.
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Kristine, thanks so much for guesting today and sharing about your Christmas memories and also about your book.