We would sing along to Loring's overdone accompaniment, more usually winter songs like "Let it Snow," or Silver Bells" than proper carols - Loring was known to not be especially religious, and just didn't "get it" about the difference between carols and songs. His children were mortified, but then, we were all mortified by anything our parents did at that age.
But on the way home, we would sing carols - my mother, her mother, her Aunt Sal, and I. My brother was younger, and I think fell asleep pretty quickly. We sang only carols, Selma and I the melody, my mother and grandmother the alto. The other three knew all the verses, and I learned them too.
I know what memory really is. I know that this could only have occurred 1960-65. I remember my grandfather sometimes being at these parties, so my grandmother would of course not have ridden with us those years. My heart tells me we sang the whole hour, but my mind says that is unlikely. If the weather was bad, singing would likely have been intermittent for the driver. I would have been 7 in 1960, and no matter how much of a prodigy I was I was unlikely to have held a melody against harmony even with help at that age. It may never have all happened properly in any single year.
Yet in my mind it happened every year, always lovely harmony, always the four of us, always the whole hour. It is overwhelmingly the fondest memory of my childhood.
I sang in the choir and learned the bass parts in high school. I created simple harmonies to those carols my choir missed, and have half-seriously said over the years that I no longer know the melodies. Also half-seriously, I have threatened to request "Once in Royal David's City" when I am in a nursing home and the youth group comes around.
So I required a wife who felt the same of course, though I didn't realise the importance at the time. You laugh, but it is true. We both wanted to parent children and read to them aloud, to share books with them - and we sang in the car, especially at Christmas. Because so many other things are implied by that vision, they just might sum up the foundation of our marriage. Those flowers only grow in special soil.
Searching for Christmas carols to post, I found that YouTube has lots of highly-arranged carols, cute kids singing carols, "interesting" versions of carols, and singers showing off their interpretive skill on carols. We like those just fine, certainly, and have stacks of vinyl, tape, and CD's of choral Christmas, Swedish Christmas, guitar carols, Mannheim Steamroller, Appalachian Christmas, Mahalia Jackson, contemporary Christian carols. There's not much of just singing carols. You see below, in fact, how far afield I had to go to find - Just. Singing. Carols.
For this particular carol, my Aunt Sal remembered an additional verse from Straw School - where she went, my mother went, and I went after for elementary grades - now an office building. I have never seen it anywhere. Perhaps it was written locally, or found by a teacher in a newspaper. It has sat in our carol book unknown for 30 years, and likely forgotten almost a century total. But with the internet, perhaps it holds on just a bit longer.
Where children pure and lowly
Pray to the Holy Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee
Son of the mother mild.
Where charity stands watching
And hope holds wide the door,
The glad dawn breaks, the glory wakes,
And Christmas comes once more.
I mean for you to sing along, or hum if you are shy (or from New England). That's what it was made for - not for performance, but for you.