It was December 10, 1975. As Patrick Kavanagh once wrote, “I was 6 Christmases of age.” Rick and Ron Shaw were filming a special called “Christmas at Our House” at New Hampshire Public Television in Durham. They asked my father to join them, along with Susan Taylor (from the Pozo Seco Singers,) Mike Aresti, Kevin Evans (yes, that Kevin Evans,) Linda Gelinas, Warren Lynch and Bart Jordan. The show was directed by a young man named Tom Merklinger. Years later, I would work for Tom as the sound guy on a Thai cooking show, but that’s another story.
It would be very unusual these days to film a Christmas special so close to the Holiday. They’re usually recorded in July and tweaked and fixed and edited over the next few months resulting in a polished, professional, slightly antiseptic show. But this was New Hampshire Public Television in the 1970’s, and things were done differently.
Of course, every Christmas special needs children. So my mother gathered up all the neighborhood kids and piled them into a few wooden paneled station wagons and headed off for the TV studio. It was more than exciting for us. We were well into “Christmas mode.” Our trees were up, the houses decorated, there was snow on the ground, and we were going to see our favorite people singing songs for the Holiday.
My mother knew it was going to be a long day, and for extended periods would be very boring for us kids, so she allowed us to bring one small toy each so we could entertain ourselves. The previous Christmas, Santa brought me the greatest present any little boy in 1974 could ever want… the Star Trek Enterprise that opened up to reveal the bridge and the transporter room along with the 12 inch action figures, Captain Kirk, Spock, Dr McCoy, and Scotty. This toy rarely left my side for the next 12 months. It was the size of a small suitcase, but somehow I was allowed to bring it to the studio. When I was in my mid 20’s, my mother admitted to me that by the time I came along, being the fourth of four, she had given up raising children. That explains why I was never read to and the lack of policing some of my more dubious decisions as a youngster.
The show was everything we imagined. It was Christmas distilled, hours and hours of our favorite songs, on a set that could have been designed by Norman Rockwell. We had reached the denouement. It was a reading of the Dylan Thomas classic, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, by none other than Thomas Makem, himself. I had positioned myself next to the armchair where my father was sitting, and over the course of the first 5 minutes or so, I fell asleep on the Starship Enterprise. Thomas’ story ends with the line “and then I slept.” The show was being edited on-the-fly and Tom Merklinger had noticed that I was asleep. It was the perfect shot… until the applause started and I, being the dutiful son, snapped to, clapping as though I hadn’t missed a beat.
It was a very special day that I will always remember.