Columns » Bob Lancaster

Oblivion’s cornfield

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Our Christmases are poorer for our neglect of the peripheral characters.

Miss Fanny Bright is one I've wondered about. She was clever enough to get her John Hancock into “Jingle Bells,” but then, having been introduced to her, and having agreed to be beguiled by her, we lose track of her immediately and, alas, permanently.

All we know is that during the song she ill-advisedly climbs aboard a one-horse open sleigh that turns out to be driven by a damned fool who whips the horse up to 240 mph and of course wrecks the thing before it reaches the end of the street. And no accident report. Was Miss Fanny hurt? Did she later sue, as certainly she should have? Did Clarence Darrow take her case, or was it handled by an ancestral relative of the contemporary squire who, if he doesn't win your case for you, you don't owe him a dime?

We'll never know, because the idiot driver leaves her there mussed and broken, aswoon in a snowdrift like a tossed doll. He has no time to check on her because he's off to outfit another rig and launch a big cross-country sleigh race against some of his chuckleheaded friends. Not only an idiot but a jerk too.

What choice is there at this point but to infer and surmise? Fanny went on to be a flapper and a suffragette, a famous aviatrix, a gun moll, a vamp, an inventor, a cartoonist, a haruspex, an Ethiopian gun runner, Helen Keller's favorite arm-rassling opponent, and a spy who was said to be Ian Fleming's model for Pussy Galore. A true Renaissance gal, but we got none of it because, among scribes, songwriters are alloted the skimpiest word counts, and tend to use them up on the luminaries, to the neglect of the supporting cast. At least the modern songwriters do. “The Iliad” is a song too, but everybody in it gets time in the spot and a turn at the mike. It's like Hellenic karaoke that goes on without intermission for a goddam week.

So anyway, Miss Fanny Bright got her four syllables of celebrity and the Noelsters moved on to the bigs — to Santy, Rudolph, Frosty, the sugar-plum fairies, the drummer kid who just won't give it a rest.

Fanny's just one example of falling through the Christmas cracks. Another is Don Wenow in his gay apparel, the first mob boss to fully uncloset, wear a boa, and go around the entire Christmas season holding and talking baby talk to a tiny moody Sicilian yippy dog. One crummy ciao in one dorko Christmas standard and he sleeps with the fishes. Little Nell gets a stupid doll in “Up on the Housetop” and she's gone. We glimpse Cousin Belle guzzling Moosehead and dealing Christmas hold 'em in “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” then she's toast, Farmer Gray appears in “Sleigh Ride” just long enough to rhyme with Christmas Day and then it's back to oblivion's cornfield with him. Pretty much the same story with Parson Brown. Ten lords a leapin' surely constitute a spectacle that merits a Busby Berkeley if not the full G&S, but we scatter them after a mere three vaults on a stage a-riot with pipers piping and ersatz milkmaids pulling at prop teats.

And there's Round John Virgin. One solitary mention also — in “Silent Night,” where he appears with Mother and Child in a bright flash, doubtless a Brownie bulb going off. We know he's fat because people called “round” always are, as Charles Barkley, the “Round Mound of Rebound.” The flashbulb suggests he stopped by to have his picture made with the Nazarene deadbeats at the manger, likely for the local paper, the Bethlehem Herald. He's obviously the innkeeper who relegated them to the stable, and he wants the photo to show him as kindly toward the little people. There are businessmen even today who hunger and thirst after just that kind of publicity.

One school holds Round John to be an early reference to the right jolly old jelly-belly elf himself, by all accounts a rounder even back then.

And another supposes him to have been a snowman, since snowmen are generally just three sizes of round piled atop one another. But none of the accounts of Navidad mention snow, and we know it was a clear starry night when the stork did its do. We know that from “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” that glorious song of old. We know the stars were out — and we know they were the silent type, as opposed to the noisy ones — from “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” We know from “O Holy Night” that they were shining brightly. And we know from Luke that the shepherds had a quick easy trip into town to do their adoring, with none of the discomfort or hazards usually associated with snowy paths and icy streets.

So R.J. Virgin was no snowman. Possibly the donkey given a humorous name, or one of the sheep (which would explain the origin of “virgin wool”), or Balthasar's dromedary, or the little oldtimer in the booth over beside the stable door selling admissions. At this juncture, who can say?

Oh, and Gloria N. Excelsis … What about her?

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