Looking for Sweetly Silly

This was supposed to be a column about Andy Williams.

When the singer died last fall at age 84, I made a mental note to write about him when December rolled around. Because Andy Williams was a special part of Christmas back in the 1960s when I was a child.

I planned to describe how my whole family would gather in front of our first-ever color TV a few minutes before the Andy Williams Christmas Show started. We had to give Daddy plenty of time to get the tint just right, which involved him twisting some little bitty knobs on the massive console set to make the picture greener or pinker while we all commented on whether he had improved things or made them worse.

He also had to adjust the volume so that everyone, including my great-grandmother who lived with us and who was deaf as a post, wouldn’t miss a thing. Grandma would settle into her chair, Mother and Daddy and my baby sister would sink onto the couch, and my brother and I would sprawl on the floor with the dog between us.

And then handsome, wholesome Andy Williams—whose voice was even more beautiful than his teeth—would open the show by singing “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

Before you knew it, his three brothers—none of whom were quite as good-looking or talented as Andy—would join him on stage. Except that it didn’t look like a stage. The backdrop was snow-covered mountains that surely must have been the Rockies. In the foreground was a log cabin with a big front porch and icicles hanging from the roof and a red (or sometimes pink, depending on how well Daddy had done with the tint adjustment) sleigh parked out front.

The Williams Brothers, who almost always dressed in white turtlenecks and brightly-colored sweaters that perfectly matched their brightly colored britches, would sing a couple of Christmas songs in perfect harmony.

Then there would be commercials, which would almost certainly include Santa sledding downhill on a Norelco electric shaver, and the show would resume.
A skit starring Cookie Bear, an appearance by Andy’s then-wife Claudine Longet, and finally what we’d all been waiting for. Or at least what I’d been waiting for. The Osmond Brothers, even more handsome and wholesome than the Williams Brothers, would join Andy. Sometimes they’d share steaming mugs of hot chocolate while singing “Silver Bells.” Other times they’d roast marshmallows over a fake campfire before spontaneously breaking into a rousing rendition of “Happy Holidays.”

But no matter what they did, you can bet it was family entertainment appropriate for all ages.

Those are the things I planned to write about in this Sunday-before-Christmas column. But before I could, a deeply disturbed young man forced his way into a Connecticut elementary school and killed twenty first graders and six faculty members. And while the nation struggles to make sense of this senseless slaughter, while we debate whether Adam Lanza “snapped” because of his Asperger’s syndrome or his parents’ divorce or his propensity to shut himself in his bedroom and play violent video games for hours on end or because of something else entirely, I wonder whether writing about something as sweetly silly as a Christmas TV show from more than forty years ago is the right thing to do.

I believe it is. Because while we will never know for certain what when on behind closed doors in the $600,000 house that Adam shared with his “gun enthusiast” mother Nancy, who frequently took her emotionally disturbed son to the firing range so he could learn to shoot and then became his first victim, I’ll bet they weren’t hunkering down together on a cold winter’s night to watch anything that remotely resembled the Andy Williams Christmas Show.

A pity. In a million different ways.

(December 23, 2012)

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