by ELIZABETH ENDERLE- December 2019
The weather was undoubtedly cold, yet any snow that touched the ground melted on impact and left her wishful heart utterly disappointed. She checked the temperature on her phone: 43 degrees.
In all honesty, she should hope that it didn’t snow. If she wanted to spend the next three hours going door to door singing “Jingle Bells” with her new friends while it snowed, she’d only catch a cold.
But there was something undeniably picturesque about a white Christmas; it was the stuff of fairy tales and Irving Berlin songs. This was her first Christmas up north, and she truly wished for at least a little bit of snow.
She checked her coat pocket once again, finding her caroling book and her father’s pitch pipe inside. She had spent days convincing her dad that she needed to bring the family heirloom pitch pipe with her that night, despite the fact that he never let it out of his sight. Every night before dinner, he’d peer over his wire glasses that rested on his slightly skewed nose, which he must’ve broken some time when he was much younger, at the little shadow box on the wall where the pipe resided. Begrudgingly, he agreed to let her take it, under the condition that it not be lost, broken, or left in the possession of anyone but his daughter.
Eventually, her friends met her at the corner, a few taking interest in her ornate pitch pipe, which stayed firmly within her own hand. With the pitch she gave, the group began a verse of “Frosty the Snowman” and headed down the street, past shops and houses.
After about five blocks and too many renditions of “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” she suggested that the group sing something different, perhaps “My One-Time Christmas Eve.” It was her favorite Christmas song, the first her father had taught her. Her friends insisted that she show them how it goes, since none of them had heard of it before. She fumbled for her pitch pipe, which slipped to the ground, landed on its side, and rolled down the sidewalk.
“Is that even possible?” one of her friends laughed in confusion.
The group joked among themselves as she dashed down the street after the runaway pitch pipe. The pipe was a block ahead of her when a little boy darted out from one of the row houses and snatched the pipe up in his mittened hands. He looked up for a moment before running back toward the house in fear. He tripped on the curb and fell on his face. She was almost worried he had hurt himself, but the boy soon got up and continued his escape.
“Wait!” she cried breathless, but the boy was already back inside the house.
She had been warned about talking to strangers, and she didn’t want to start now, but she had to get that pipe back for her dad.
She climbed the porch steps, past dim yellow lights that seemed to curve around each and every corner of the structure like icing on the edges of a gingerbread house. Looking around for a doorbell, she eventually found a small white button to the right of the door. She rang it and waited. Shifting her weight from foot to foot, she realized how exhausted she was from the busy day at school she’d had that morning. When I get back to the others, I’ll suggest that we turn back around.
A few minutes passed, without an answer. She impatiently grabbed the shiny brass door knocker and knocked on the door. Almost immediately, the door swung open. Standing in the doorway was the guilty little thief. He was probably five or six years old and looked terrified, his eyes wide. With his scarf, he rubbed his purplish nose, leaving a little spot of blood on the white yarn. Just as she began to say something, the boy created his own distraction.
“You’re a caroler, aren’t you? Of course you are!” The boy smiled and turned back inside the house. “Mommy! Daddy! Come see the caroler!”
“Oh, I’m really not--I mean, yes I am, but I’m here for my--” she stopped as the boy’s father came to the door.
“Now, leave this poor girl alone. Empty your pockets and put your coat up. It’s late and-” he looked past her into the street beyond. “Why, you must be freezing in this snow with such a light jacket on. Come in, we just made some cocoa, stay awhile.”
There were a lot of things that could have caught her attention as the father ushered her into the house, like the pinkish floral wallpaper, a rack of cassette tapes, and a corded phone on the wall; but most alarming was the mention of snow. Sure enough, when she turned behind her, heavy puffs of snow were falling into mountain-high piles that lined the street. It must have just started, she rationalized as she entered the cozy home.
After warming up with the family in the living room of the home, watching Christmas specials on a mint-condition box television, she decided she couldn’t avoid the question any longer. She turned to the mother.
“I’m sorry, but I came to your door because, well, I believe your son took my pitch pipe,” she whispered timidly.
“Oh, he’s always doing stuff like that. I’ll check,” the mother said, heading to a shelf by the front door. “Is this it?”
“Yes, thank you!”
The mother handed over the small metal disc, which miraculously wasn’t scratched.
“I wouldn’t have known what it was even if I realized he’d taken it. I’m afraid to say I’m not very musically inclined.”
“But I am!” the little boy chimed as he ran over before retreating a few bashful steps. “I’m sorry I took your...what is it called?”
“A pitch pipe.”
“What’s it for?” he asked.
“You blow into the holes, and it gives you a pitch, so you know what note to sing in a song when you don’t have a piano or another instrument.”
“Wow,” he paused. “Wait one minute.” He hurried up the stairs, and soon returned with a tape recorder that must have dated to at least 1980.
“Play each one! I wanna record the notes, so I can have them too!”
“Come now,” the father scolded. “That thing’s been on the ground. No one in their right mind would blow into that until it’s been cleaned.” Defeated, the boy started back to the couch before turning around with a start.
“Wait, what’s your name?” he pondered. “I bet it’s Carol. Right? ‘Cause you’re a caroler!”
His parents laughed at their son’s confused logic, but she stared at the little boy as a shiver crept up her spine.
“Caroline. Caroline’s my name,” she murmured. “I don’t go by Carol; only my family calls me that, but I’ve never liked it all that much.”
“A lucky guess, that’s all!” his mother joked, sensing her bewilderment.
“Oh, let the poor girl be!” reasoned his father, exasperated.
The boy sighed and joined his father on the couch, still clutching his tape recorder.
“Well, thank you for the pitch pipe and the cocoa, but I ought to go. I’m sure my friends are looking for me.”
“Now, wait a moment. Nothing’s free in life,” the father said joking. “You are a caroler. How about one song for us before you head out?”
She wasn’t inclined to do so; her voice was shot from cocoa and fatigue, but she couldn’t turn the family down, not after how kind they’d been.
“My favorite’s ‘My One-Time Christmas Eve.’” She wasn’t surprised by their looks of confusion.
“That’s alright, honey,” the mother assured. “I’ve never heard of it, but if you like it, go ahead and sing it.”
Snow, falling, out the window.
Embers, dancing in the hearth.
Sure, it felt like that, one Christmas,
There truly was peace on earth.
Father, Mother, there beside me.
Presents underneath the tree.
Seemed the world was small but simple,
As if everything was free.
I’ve learned it’s never quite as plain
As it appeared that Christmas Eve.
In fact, I only lived it once:
My One-Time Christmas Eve.
Despite holly and ivy,
I’m sure the feeling’s gone for good.
Even if I’d get it back,
I don’t know if I should.
I’ve learned it’s never quite as plain
As they’d like you to believe.
In fact, I only lived it once:
My One-Time Christmas Eve.
As the song came to a close, she heard the click of the boy’s recorder.
“I recorded it,” he confessed. “It’s a great song. I hope you don’t mind.”
“That’s alright.” She nodded, feeling light-headed all of a sudden. “I’d better be going now, I’m sure they’re all looking for me. Thank you again.”
She nearly sprinted to the door. The events of the night made all the sense in the world, yet none at all. Just as she grabbed the front door knob, the little boy tugged on the back of her jacket.
“I really liked your song, Carol,” he muttered. “I’m really sorry I took your pipe, but I’m happy you had cocoa with us.”
“Here.” Without knowing why, her mind only telling her why not, she fished the pitch pipe out of her coat pocket and handed it to the little boy. “Clean it off first, ok?”
He looked at her as if she were an angel. “Thank you so much!”
“You’re welcome,” she said curtly, “and get that nose checked out. You don’t want it to stay like that forever.” No sooner had she closed the door behind her than she realized that she knew someone with a crooked nose, one that had never gotten fixed.
She leaned back against the door in growing confusion. She was entirely in the dark. To make matters worse, all of the lights both inside and outside the house went off. She whipped around and came face to face with a rusted brass knocker. She started backwards and tumbled down the porch steps, falling to the ground, narrowly avoiding a collision between her head and the bottom step.
On the ground, too sore to get up, she thought through what had happened. They say there’s a song for every occasion, but this time it was almost too good to be true. She’d given away the pitch pipe, but who exactly was the boy she’d given it to? And the snow...there was no snow on the ground.
“Carol!” It was her dad. Knowing he was approaching was both comforting and terrifying. She didn’t think she’d have to fess up to losing the pitch pipe so soon.
“Your friends called the house once you ran off and went missing. Why didn’t you stay with the group?” He looked up, taking in the sights around them, and then, confidently, he asked “What are you doing here?”
“Why...why does that matter?” she said groggily, taken aback by his more-than-understanding tone.
“I lived here. Not long, just one year.” Faintly, from the dim glow of the street lights, she could see him wink at her. “That’s when I got my pitch pipe.”
“Wait a second,” she mumbled, trying to stand and regain as much focus as she could. Her father helped get her to her feet. She looked him straight in his face, straight at that slightly skewed nose before taking a step back. “First off, I gave you the pitch pipe, so I...went back in time and gave six-year-old you the pitch pipe that you gave to me this afternoon?”
“Seems like it.”
“No way! That’s not even possible,” she stammered, running her hand through her hair. She glared bewilderedly at her father “Why aren’t you freaking out? Unless...are you a time traveller too?”
“No, no,” he assured her.
“But you knew I travelled back in time, or that I was going to travel back in time.”
“Well, I do remember it happening. When we moved back here, I listened to that old tape I had, and the voice sounded oddly familiar. I’ve always wondered why no one’s heard that song before.” He turned to look at his old house. “Too bad it’s empty now.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me you lived here?”
“I only had one Christmas Eve like that,” he sighed sadly. “We only lived here two months or so. I think we left before the New Year. Dad joined with a new company, and every promotion came with a new house to live in and new people to meet. We moved around so much that the names of places began to run together. I never thought I would come back, but your mother’s transfer landed us in the same place I lived in all those years before.”
“Wow.” She blinked. She took a few steps back down the driveway, glancing up at the graying facade of the house. “I guess you were always meant to come back here.”
“I think we both were,” he said as he led her to the car.
She couldn’t deny it, any of it. Much less could she or even her father explain it. She had travelled back in time...She had delivered a pitch pipe that had never been made and had sung a song that had never been written. She had lived that all-magical, all-mysterious, all-joyful, one-time Christmas Eve.