Have to Muddle Through Somehow…or Something Like That

Dad’s favorite Christmas song was Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. I asked him why.

“Cried like a baby.”

He was stationed in a field hospital in Belgium, December, 1944. The verse that got him was:

Someday soon
We all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

How could it not become my favorite song? The lyrics snaps faithfully into my head on December 1 and bangs around for the next 32 days. My holiday earworm.

One of the elements I’ve truly come to appreciate about the song is its longing to be with family and friends, imbued with a hope that, no matter what our present hardships are, we’ll survive. Every other holiday song and carol blasts out joy and an excess of merriment but this song exemplifies a side of the holiday that shadows us all. It’s hopes and dreams balance on the thread of loss. The song enveloped me more after Dad died and has increased as family and friends followed him.

In this year, this never-ending year, the song takes on more meaning. So many family members missing, so much hardship visited upon us all. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas acknowledges this while offering hope for the coming year.

The song is on Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album, the one Dad had. I start it up on the stereo. Here comes the verse…,

Through the years
We all will be together
If the fates allow
Hang a shining star
Upon the highest bough

Wait! Where’s muddle? What’s with the hang a shining star? Did I hear wrong all these years? I call down the husband and play back the song.

“Don’t you remember muddle?” I ask.

He’s now as alarmed as I am. “Yeah, it’s suppose to be muddle. We heard muddle.”

Finding muddle becomes the day’s obsession. A couple of hours later every single version we have has thundered through the house. Only Ella sings muddle. And yet, she douses the essential wistfulness by transforming “from now on” to “next year.” With her glorious voice and her version’s jazzy tempo there’s no doubt our hearts will be light and troubles will be out of sight, even if we’re still muddling through.

Finally I turn to the source of all knowledge, Wikipedia, and find small redemption. Turns out, after Hugh Martin wrote the song for the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis, its star, Judy Garland and the director Vincente Minnelli thought the song too depressing and demanded a rewrite. In particular, this line:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past

to

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on
our troubles will be out of sight

Okay, I can see why this may be a good edit, considering the song was written in 1943. None of us would want to hear it in 2020, either.

Muddle, however, remained in the song right up until Frank Sinatra recorded it in 1957 and demanded another change. “The name of my album is A Jolly Christmas. Do you think you could jolly up that line for me?,” Sinatra complained to Martin and, as anyone who remotely knows anything about Sinatra, Martin probably didn’t have a choice but to obey. So muddle was axed and the line changed to a brighter sentiment carried on by all those who have come after him.

Except for Ella.

The husband tells me I’m driving him/myself crazy, which is true. Songs are like that, he says, always changing each time they’re sung. Let it go, he says.

He never heard Dad’s story, though. Or holds the memory of him sitting in his chair that’s halfway swallowed in the lights and tinsels of a too huge Christmas tree. The album drops down on the turntable. He takes a sip of beer from his chipped Santa mug, and sings to his family his assurance that, no matter what, we’ll all be together and muddle through somehow.

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