(From the unpublished novel Copyright 2010: Donald Riggio)
In the second week of December, Joseph took Janet to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center. Throngs of tourists and native New Yorkers alike flocked to the midtown area to take in one of the most famous seasonal attractions the City had to offer.
Big, wet flakes of snow flurried down between massive skyscrapers, taking forever to reach the pavement, where they melted on contact. Janet was bundled in a heavy, navy blue pea coat. Joseph had on a black leather jacket with the collar turned up around his face, his bare hands buried deep in both side pockets.
They entered Rockefeller Center through the public space between two of the buildings that made up the commercial complex. The approach to a sunken plaza was lined with life-sized figures of angels blowing trumpets, wooden soldiers and gingerbread people. Onlookers crowded along the railing to the perimeter of the plaza to peer down on the ice skating rink, where dozens of skaters of all ages moved in a slow, wide circle.
The couple squeezed their way into a space at the railing. Joseph stood behind Janet, his arms wrapped around her waist.
Directly across the way, the spruce evergreen towered some sixty feet high in front of the seventy-story RCA Building. The tree was adorned with assorted colored lights, garland and other decorations. White clumps of freshly fallen snow gathered on the ends of the branches. Though Janet craned her neck back as far as she could, she still couldn’t see to the top of the building whose uppermost floors disappeared into low-lying clouds.
“Oh, Joseph isn’t it all just so wonderful? She wiggled free of his embrace and turned to him, her arms reaching around his neck. “What kind of a tree can we have at the apartment?”
“We don’t put up a tree, honey. Jews don’t celebrate Christmas.” It was a detail she’d somehow forgotten. “I’m sorry sweetheart,” Joseph continued. “You know if it were up to me, we’d have all that stuff. But it’s my parents’ home and, well, we have to respect that, right?”
Janet twisted her mouth into a comical frown that made Joseph laugh, then brightened in that pixie-like way he’d come to love. She scooped up a mittenful of loose snow from the railing and tossed it into the air over their heads. Most of it came right back in her face, but she didn’t mind a bit.
“Know what? It doesn’t matter.” She spun around and raised both hands out and upward in the direction of the giant spruce. “This can be our Christmas tree! We can come back on Christmas morning and exchange our gifts right here. We can exchange gifts with each other, right?”
“Yes, silly, of course we can. But I already have the best gift any man could get. I got you, babe.”
Sometimes her man said such wonderful things. She stood on tiptoes to kiss him hard on the lips.
Christmas Day services at the First Baptist Church of Harlem on West 125th Street and St. Nicholas Avenue was always a joyous occasion. The all-Negro congregation filled every pew. Everyone was dressed in their holiday finery proclaiming their adoration for Jesus Christ in a reverent celebration of his birth, complete with hand clapping and singing that shook the walls.
They were led in their singing by a superb choir of men and women ranging in ages from teens to senior citizens. They wore long, flowing, red satin robes and sat in an area set aside for them near the altar railing to the left of the preacher’s pulpit.
After a stirring sermon by their white-haired pastor, three young female members of the choir rose and stepped forward. They were teenagers from the neighborhood, two sisters and a cousin. The three of them appeared awkward and shapeless in the robes that dragged along the floor when they walked and covered their hands almost to their fingertips. But they were confident and sure in the way they handled themselves vocally. As they sang the traditional hymn, Just A Closer Walk with Thee, their voices blended in close harmony and perfect pitch keeping a moderate beat to the accompaniment of the church organ.
The rest of the congregation sat quietly at first, with only an occasional utterance by someone who called out, “Sing it, children…” or “amen.”
By the time the youngsters reached the third verse, the rest of the choir had joined in a hushed, harmonic background. Soon the entire congregation stood and swayed to and fro with the singers. Inspired by the reaction to their performance, Evelyn Rhodes, whose strong contralto voice anchored the soloists, extended and bended her notes. Her voice soared in strength and volume leading the others to a rousing crescendo finish. Her heart pumped proudly. Though she was certain it was a sin of pride, Evelyn loved the attention.
Rock and Roll Quote of the day: "What a bright time, it's the right time,to rock the night away. Jingle Bell time,is a swell time, to go glidin' in a one horse sleigh." From: Jingle Bell Rock. By - Brenda Lee.