THE LITTLE DRUMMER
Music by Zachary Dietz • Lyrics by Adam Wagner
Performed by Alexander Gemignani
On Christmas Eve 1987, Grandpa Wagner and my four-year-old shy self sat on the carpeted stairs which led down to my aunt’s finished basement. There, my mother, sister, uncles, cousins and the rest of the family sat around eating off of styrofoam plates consuming my grandma’s nut roll. The radio would be set to the oldies station that was committed to playing Christmas songs nonstop throughout the night, occasionally reporting the coordinates of Santa’s sleigh.
The adults would nudge and encourage the kids to perform for them with impromptu dances to Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland. I avoided the spotlight to these sing-alongs by clinging to Grandpa’s pant leg. We’d sit there on the stairs, saying nothing, watching the homemade variety show from a distance. When a ballad like Silent Night was chosen by the family choir, I would close my eyes and conduct with my tiny index fingers.
For everyone else, a group holiday activity was in full force. But what they didn’t notice was me and Grandpa, off on the sidelines, beginning a wonderful relationship of “me and Grandpa” for another fifteen years.
Cut to Christmas Eve 2001, post 9/11 and Grandpa Wagner’s debilitating stroke which left him unable to speak and in a wheelchair. As my family made the rounds with hugs in winter coats, I told Grandpa I was leaving to go back to college. I said goodbye, we hugged and said “I love you” in sign language. Out of pure frustration, I’m sure, he broke down crying, eyes welling up with tears and unintelligible moans coming from his voice box that could no longer communicate. This image is burned into my memory; it was the last time I saw him alive.
Two weeks later, I got the call when I had begun my spring semester of my freshman year of college at the University of Cincinnati. “Sorry about your grandpa,” my aunt said as we consoled each other over the phone. I felt numb surrounded by a bunch of classmates I met only a few months prior.
Returning home for the funeral, I witnessed my grandma tuck him in his casket with a blanket “so he doesn’t get cold.” I sang a song at the service. Then, a snare drum rattles over the speaker. The Little Drummer Boy was his favorite song. In 2007, as a gift to my family and friends, I wrote the lyric to The Little Drummer 20 years after we sat on the stairs tapping our feet to the same tune. You will find references to the original throughout, and I hope you enjoy the song. I did my best. For him.
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All profits from this recording will be donated to the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
- I Run To My Grandpa’s House (2006) (emraama.wordpress.com)
- A different kind of Christmas (happyasiam.wordpress.com)
- Last Christmas (artofhome.wordpress.com)
- Merry Christmas Grandpa (gsnow96.wordpress.com)