Throughout the Christmastime series, I often use paintings or songs to help tell the story.
In Christmastime 1940: A Love Story, there are two songs that reflect the internal stories of Lillian Hapsey and Charles Drooms.
There’s a point in the story where Lillian invites Mr. Drooms to join her and her boys in decorating their Christmas tree. He declines her invitation, believing she is simply being neighborly. However, her anger at his refusal makes him wonder if she sincerely wanted him to stop by. He had long ago closed the door to love. Yet later that evening, as he sits alone at the usual diner, his heart is pried open as he falls into the soft strains of the song “Maybe.” Following is an excerpt from that scene. (images from Pinterest)
Drooms sat at his usual booth, opened the menu that he knew by heart, and began to peruse it. The thought, the possibility that perhaps Lillian had been sincere in her invitation, struck him like a blow. What if she had really meant it? She certainly appeared offended when he declined. He tried to imagine himself sitting at the same table as her. What would they have to talk about? He felt both shaky and warm, almost happy at the thought.
He quickly dismissed such foolery, looked again at the menu and saw that he had been staring at the dessert page. He opened to the specials, but once again his thoughts drifted, and he imagined Lillian moving about her apartment. Was she clearing the dishes by now, trimming the tree? Was she thinking of him?
His gaze fell beyond the menu and into the dark wood of the empty booth. Never one for music, he was surprised to find himself lost in the simple lyrics of “Maybe.” Maybe, you’ll think of me. When you are all alone. He set his menu down and let the rest of the world fall away as he listened to the words, wondering at the desperate stirring in his heart.
The waitress came and asked him if he wanted the meatloaf special. When he didn’t answer, she smiled. “You like the Ink Spots, sir?”
Drooms frowned at being caught in a personal moment. “When did you start playing music here?”
She looked around, perplexed. “You mean the radio? We always have it on.”
He glanced down at the menu. “It must be on louder tonight or something. I’ll have the special.” He slipped the menu back in its stand and continued to frown as he tried not to listen to the song.
The Ink Spots had great appeal to a wide audience in the 1930s and ’40s. Their ballad style lent itself to a host of love songs, as well as their rendition of the patriotic 1942 WWII song, “This Is Worth Fighting For.” https://bit.ly/32qSUJ2 (Youtube)
Maybe you’ll think of me
When you are all alone
Maybe the one who is waiting for you will prove untrue
Then what will you do?
Maybe you’ll sit and sigh
Wishing that I were near, then
Maybe you’ll ask me to come back again
And maybe I’ll say maybe.
Towards the end of the book, the song “Only Forever” captures the happiness Lillian feels when it looks like her relationship with Charles is sealed. She experiences a sense of joy that she hadn’t expected to find again. Widowed, struggling financially, mother of two young boys, her dreams forsaken, she finally sees a beautiful future now awaiting her.
The following afternoon Lillian was in the middle of her Christmas baking. She wore her ruffled red and green Christmas apron and bustled about the kitchen, singing along with the radio. She didn’t want to appear too different to the boys, but she couldn’t forget that kiss, the warm embrace. She kept catching herself smiling as she remembered his hand in her hair, the gentleness in his voice when he said her name.
When Al Bowlly’s “Only Forever” came on, she turned up the volume and tried to dance with the boys. She could usually count on at least Gabriel to play along, but today both boys were restless and wanted to go outside, and the more she laughed and tried to twirl around with them, the more impatient they became.
“Can’t we go now, Mom?” asked Tommy. “I already read all my books, and if we don’t go now the library will close.”
“Yeah, Mommy, I want to go outside. I need some more books, too.” Gabriel ran to get his coat and started to put it on.
Lillian opened the oven, took out a batch of Christmas cookies, and set them on top of the stove.
“If we can’t go today,” she said, “we’ll go another day.”
“But I already read –”
“Now Tommy, what did I say? I can’t leave in the middle of baking.”
Gabriel stomped his foot. “But Mommy –”
“If you two don’t start behaving I won’t take you to see Santa tomorrow.”
Gabriel gasped at this possibility. “Mommy, we have to see Santa to tell him what we want!”
Tommy heard Drooms’s door open and close, and ran to look down the hall.
“Hi, Mr. Drooms!”
Gabriel also ran to the door and peeked out.
“Hi, Mr. Drooms! Will you take us to the libary?”
Drooms appeared in their doorway, dressed to go outside. He smiled at the boys, then at Lillian.
But she didn’t want to cross any as yet to be determined boundary. “Boys! Stop that. You know better.” She went to the door, pulled the boys back inside, and widened her eyes at them in warning.
Tommy relented. “Okay, okay.”
Lillian flushed with pleasure as she gazed up at Drooms. She had never seen him looking so handsome.
Though “Only Forever” was popularized by Bing Crosby in a 1940 movie (Rhythm on the River), and was performed by many different artists, it is the playful Al Bowlly/Jimmy Messene version that reflects the mood of Lillian at this point in the story.
Al Bowlly was popular during the 1930’s dance band era and recorded more than a 1000 records between 1927-1941.
He was killed in London in April of 1941 by a Luftwaffe parachute bomb. He recorded his last song two weeks before his death — (ironically) a duet with Messene of Irving Berlin’s satirical song about Hitler, “When That Man Is Dead and Gone.” (wikipedia)
Al Bowlly was among several performers who died related to the war, underscoring the pervasive loss and tragedy of WWII.
1942 – Carol Lombard died in a plane crash returning from one of her many War Bond rallies, devastating her husband, Clark Gable.
1943 – Leslie Howard, of Gone With the Wind fame, left Hollywood to return to Great Britain to make patriotic radio broadcasts and films. He was on the civilian KLM flight that was shot down by the Luftwaffe.
1944 – Band leader Glenn Miller volunteered to lead the U.S. Army military band. While traveling to entertain troops in France, his plane disappeared over the English Channel.
Do I want to be with you / As the years come and go?
Only forever / If you care to know.
Would I grant all your wishes / And be proud of the task?
Only forever / If someone should ask.
How long would it take me / To be near if you beckon?
Off hand I would figure / Less than a second.
Do you think I’ll remember / How you looked when you smile?
Only forever / That’s puttin’ it mild.