By Koko Head
This is the seventh of 10 winners in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, “Christmas I Remember Best.”
“Please! We really need your voice. Besides, Stephanie will be there.” Sister O’Barr enticed.
Having worked with the youth at church for ages, she knew just which buttons to push to draft “volunteers” for a small group of youth to sing at an annual company Christmas dinner. Since many of the mutual aged youth in our ward sang in the various choirs at Mesa High School — including yours truly — it was an easy peasy task.
So, my crush on Stephanie tipped the scale and I reluctantly agreed. “If Stephanie’s going, then count me in.”
The evening of the Christmas program arrived and I orchestrated a ride in the same car as Stephanie and her best friend LeAnn. I quickly learned that my thus-far-unsuccessful crush on Stephanie required that I gain favor with her skeptical best friend. As we were setting up, Sister O’Barr handed me a copy of the program with the evening’s entertainment. My heart stopped as I read: “Solo by Koko Head – ‘Silver Bells.’”
“Wait, what? I’m not doing a solo!” I protested.
“Look, we need another solo. I know you know it.” she continued.
“You don’t get it,” I whined, “I don’t do solos — ever!”
Sister O’Barr was unmoved and said flatly, “Well I guess tonight will be your first.”
Stephanie and LeAnn were standing nearby listening to the exchange. In unison they sarcastically echoed her sentiment. “It’s just ‘Silver Bells.’” With my pride on the line and a dose of peer pressure strategically administered, I gave in. I was (gulp) singing a solo.
We sang each Christmas number to the delight of the dinner crowd. Then it was my turn. As I stepped to the mic, I could feel my kettle drum heartbeat thumping in my chest. I looked at my accompanist, LeAnn, at the piano with Stephanie seated beside her to turn pages. I nodded at LeAnn and then I launched!
“City sidewalks, busy sidewalks dressed in holiday style. In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas,” I crooned in my best 15-year-old voice. By the end of the first verse my heart rate had slowed as the crowd smiled. “Whew!” I thought. Then it happened. I opened my mouth to start the second verse and ... nothing!
For a full five seconds I stood with my mouth open before nearly 100 guests. My mind was blank. No lyrics. Nothing. Time stood still — except for LeAnn, who continued to play, no doubt hoping I would pick up mid-verse. My face flushed red as hot tears began to course down my checks.
Just as I was about to abandon hope and the mic, there came an unexpected rescue. LeAnn started over and she and Stephanie began singing the second verse as loud as they could. Our mini-choir and the dinner crowd, seeing my distress, instinctively began to chime in as well. As my performance fog lifted, I followed their lead (and lyrics) between intermittent sobs as our joint singalong continued.
The applause was extra loud and long as if to say, “It will be OK.” The rest of the program was a blur as I positioned myself at the back for the remaining songs, not wanting to make eye contact with anyone. Even tough-as-nails Sister O’Barr felt sorry for me. I’m not sure why she didn’t offer me any sheet music or why I didn’t think to at least write the lyrics on a napkin!
On the ride home I was inconsolable. I had embarrassed myself, spoiled the Christmas program and surely set the stage for loads of future teasing. What I received instead was love and encouragement from my friends — yes, friends.
Rather than the expected, “Way to go butthead,” Stephanie and LeAnn were determined to make me laugh and smile. They began singing, “If you chance to meet a frown, do not let it stay. Quickly turn it upside down and smile that frown away!”
Try as I might, I couldn’t stop the smile that slowly began to spread from ear to ear and finally exploded into a wide grin. The car was filled with laughter, most embarrassing moment stories and silent reenactments of my memorable solo. Their unexpected rescue and gift of friendship made this the Christmas I Remember Best.
It has been 46 years since that musical, Christmas face plant. However, when I hear “Silver Bells” playing, I don’t think of my silent solo and those hot tears. I instead think of true friendship offered by two unlikely heroes who came to my rescue and lifted my spirits when I needed it most.
You see, embarrassment fades, tears dry, but true friendship endures. As do the lyrics to “Silver Bells” tucked safely in my wallet!
Koko Head lives in Jacksonville, Florida.