It was snowing last year at this time when five middle school students settled on the front row in the reading room of the Katonah Library; each one had a copy of Child’s Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas with plans to follow the lines as I recited the poem. As you might imagine, this intimidated me.
Thanks to Marlene Gallagher, and Moira Thielking, I’d been invited to perform Child’s Christmas in Wales as a gift to the community supporters of the Katonah Poetry Series. “For over 45 years The Kathoah Poetry Series has hosted internationally acclaimed poets, including six Poet Laureates and fourteen winners of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.”
Child’s Christmas in Wales is a beautiful prose poem which takes twenty-seven minutes to recite. It’s about an older man remembering the joys and hardships of his childhood Christmases in Wales. Ian Robertson inspired me to memorize it after I listened to him read the story to his family and friends around their Christmas dinner table in 1987.
Victoria, Ian’s wife, smiled as she listened to her children, Hannah 7 and Callum 4, recite lines while their father read. “It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down, and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea.”
Two Christmases later, I asked Hannah and Callum to play the children in the story. After a bit of coaxing, they agreed. Hannah jumped in at the first rehearsal. “Let’s write things in the snow. Let’s write, ‘Mr. Daniel looks like a spaniel’ all over his lawn.” Callum took a more reserved approach when he spoke his lines, “You mean that the postman went rat-a-tat-tat, and the doors rang?”
We opened our first show at Ian and Victoria’s annual Christmas party of family and friends nestled in their cozy home on the rolling campus of Warren Wilson College. “Cheers to the actors; do it again next year,” they called out when the show was over. Little did we know we’d started a tradition that would span ten years.
Each December we celebrated with large and small audiences all over the Asheville area. During those years, I watched Hannah and Callum grow up, she a fetching young woman, he a strapping young man. Then one Christmas, they told me they were leaving Child’s Christmas in Wales behind. No longer children, they knew they had to move on like “the cold and headlong moon that bundled down the sky” in the story we knew so well.
Hanna finished college, met the love of her life, got married, and has two beautiful children. Callum became an extreme sports adventurer. Sadly, in the summer of 2012, we lost him to the mountains. Here’s to you Callum.
Twenty-seven years have passed since I memorized Child’s Christmas in Wales. I’m finally old enough to understand what it means to be a child. When I make my second appearance at the Katonah Library on December 8, I expect the children will return with their copies; I have no doubt they will follow along to see if I get it right.