This is one of my favorite holiday songs. I am generally familiar with the Willie Nelson version. I think that Roy Orbison's version may have preceded his.
Some of the lyrics are as follows, as best I can remember:
"Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue;
Wrap your presents to your darling from you.
Pretty pencils to write 'I love you'.
Pretty papers, pretty ribbons of blue."
The ballad surrounds a story line of a downtown press of shoppers who hustle and bustle their ways past a fellow sitting in the middle of the sidewalk singing this song and peddling his wares.. He is obviously handicapped in some fashion or another. There is a description of the encounter by the shoppers who ask themselves if they should stop. The unilateral conclusion is that they cannot because they are much too busy. The song describes the colors, movement and and the lack of connection amongst the crowd, one to another during the holiday season. The lyrics include the onamonapia of the sound of children singing in the background. All in all a very moving holiday tune.
I think back to a time I was staying in Baltimore right next to the baseball park, Camden yards. It was cold and nearing the holiday season. I recall leaving our hotel with a group of people on our way to dinner walking across the Inner Harbor. This has to be nearly 20 years ago. There were 10 panhandlers for every passerby. All of them looking for a handout. Theirs was a very competetive endeavor as some of them were pushing one another posturing for a better position amongst the crowd. I remember emptying my pockets of change and smaller units of cash. It was but a little smear of ointment to a gash that oozed blood. You almost have to be compassionless to survive such an ordeal. Yet that is very difficult for most of us. Most of us would rather not be compelled to come face to face with the problem this land of freedom and opportunity has in meeting the needs of our underprivileged population.
I think of a friend of my wife and mine. Her name was Betty Williams. She had been confined to a wheelchair and a hospital bed for the greater part of her life. We became acquaintances and then friends through an outreach program with our church. The mission was just to befriend her and visit her a minimum of one time per month. Nancy, my wife, visited her by herself for several years. Nancy became part of her inner circle and cashed small checks for her and took her an illicit chili dog and other treats that diabetics are not supposed to be allowed. I fussed at Nancy for doing that and ultimately I became part of the delivery system. Indeed our entire family came to know Betty, including our bassett hound Cleo. We always took time on holidays especially to get by and see her.
She had been confined to a nursing home bed for more than twenty years. When you entered her room her smile and greeting filled the hallway and bored straight through to the center of your heart. She had a little bit of family but their circumstances were meagar. It turned out that Betty had a steady stream of visitors not just from our church but several other churches as well. The more the merrier. She captivated us all with her upbeat attitude in spite of her limited circumstances. I came to find myself stopping by to see her several times a month. I always was lifted by her. I suppose I was ministering to her in a fashion but I recall that often she ministered to me.
She was like a child at Christmas. She always had a pretty good list of things she wanted. They were not expensive requests and it seemed that every year her posse of friends would deliver what was on her list of requests and then more. She beamed with glee over every wrapped gift that found its way to her room. I can still see her big smile and hear her hearty greeting. I remember the time her TV gave up the ghost. I took it upon myself to ask people for a donation to help buy her a new one. It was the easiest fundraiser ever. I had more than enough money to make the purchase in no time. There was enough money left over to buy her a VCR and some videos. She insisted on writing each donor a thank you. Of course she had lost the use of her arms and hands years earlier, so I got the opportunity to write each note for her. She ended each note of thank you " in the name of Jesus Christ, your friend, Betty."
One day, about 10 years ago, I went to see her and another person had taken over her room. Betty had developed one of many infections and this one was more that her frail 66 year old body could bear. In the isolation of an ICU she went home to that God who gave her life. I learned along the way of my association with her that she herself had sold pencils on one of the streets in Tallahassee before she became a permanent resident of her nursing home. So I think of Betty each time I hear this song.
" Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue.
Wrap your present to your darling from you.
Pretty pencils to write I love you.
Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue."
Thank you Betty for all you did for me and my family over, many, many years. I hope to see you again one day. I hope I am worthy to kiss you on the cheek and hug you.