There are a lot of Christmas CDs out there?#34;I mean a lot?#34;but none quite like A Christmas Guitar by Bruce McDonald. Bruce has been blind since birth, due to a neurological condition that now keeps him from being able to ply his trade, but it didn't keep him from playing guitar for a number of bands at various Chicago clubs for 30 years.
His wife, Fran, has been blind since the age of 12, but that didn't prevent the McDonalds from raising five kids in Oak Park in a basement apartment with little light and pipes on the ceiling. Fran was born a premie, which damaged her eyesight and led to her visual impairment. Her Ukrainian parents died when she was young, leaving her an orphan.
In her 50s, Fran went back to school at Triton and got a degree in history. At one point, she was mugged on Austin Boulevard and lost all her school supplies. We carried the story in this paper. But that didn't keep her from finishing her degree.
Two years ago, the couple moved to Forest Park, where they've been pretty much homebound with health issues, trying to make it on their $1,000 a month disability allowance. Their daughter, Amy, and her husband, Rod, have been helping them make the rent, but that didn't keep Fran and Bruce from wanting to do Christmas right for their grandkids.
"We wanted to get them presents and have them over for Christmas dinner," said Fran, "but we have a shortflow in income." She also wanted to give Amy a break. "They just got married. It's a real burden for them to help us."
So Fran thought about the Christmas tape Bruce made eight years ago, and they decided to put it on a CD and sell it to friends so they could pay bills and maybe do the holiday right.
Dr. George Dietz and his wife, Helen, have known the McDonalds since their kids were in school together and from St. Edmund where they are fellow parishioners. George provides pro-bono medical care for the couple and picked up a couple of CDs, then dropped one off for us to listen to.
Though unadorned and less polished than most Christmas albums, which tend to be excessively embellished, A Christmas Guitar clearly shows off Bruce's skill as a guitarist, complemented softly in the background by the voices of his daughter Mary Beth and her friend Susanna Reckamp. The 19 songs range from sacred to secular, "Silent Night" to "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer," electric to acoustic instrumentals, rock to country treatments.
Dennis Gordon, a professional musician when he isn't advertising design manager for WEDNESDAY JOURNAL, gives the CD his seal of approval, saying,
"It has a nice 'underproduced' quality, which makes for very pleasant listening. I really like it."
Bruce, a man of few words, said they made the original tape "in a hurry," in two weeks, and he thinks he could improve it if he had the time and the equipment.
"If I did it over, I could do it better," he said. He's happy about the versatility reflected and the quantity. "You get more songs than on most CDs."
The album sells for $13 per CD and they've sold about 70 thus far, enough, says Fran, to pay their December bills, but not quite enough to do the holiday the way they'd hoped.
"I never thought it would happen, but as we get older, we seem to get poorer and poorer," Fran said. "There's no specific crisis, just a life crisis."
As it happens, the McDonalds won't be celebrating Christmas?#34;at least not on Dec. 25. Mary Beth is finishing up a food service job at Disney World in Orlando, and won't be home until the new year, just in time for traditional Ukrainian Christmas on Jan. 7.
If you're interested in purchasing the CD, call Bruce and Fran McDonald at 488-1440. They live on the 500 block of Thomas in Forest Park.