A Christmas Story (8/10)

My recollection of pageants and plays, recitals and rehearsals is that they dragged time out as if someone had laid the hourglass on its side. Consequently, I never retained much of a recollection of detail, just the highlights:


Scene One – three shepherds spy the bright star and deliver that observation in a single sentence, delivered in three parts to allow each student a speaking part. Four years ago, several mothers complained that their aspiring actor/actress just stood next to the manger looking stupid. My mother told the women that she couldn’t change how they looked but agreed to give each a speaking part. “Hark, there in …” “… the sky, it’s …” “a new star.”

Scene Two – three wise men, myself included, entered stage right, opposite the lowly shepherds. The tallest wise guy pointed to the yellow star hanging from the church ceiling. “Behold, a star in the East.” The next tallest guy came up with the bright idea to follow the star. “It’s as the prophets promised, let us follow the star.”   The three of us strolled off towards the star.

Scene Three – a battery-operated lantern is turned on by Joseph. My mother forbids any form of flame. The small switchman’s light illuminated Joseph and the blessed virgin played so splendidly and appropriately by Valerie, the parson’s daughter who’d captured my brother’s eye last year. My mother observed they were a handsome pair and that such a coupling might move Mike a step closer to the seminary she’d longed for him to attend despite his insistence that he intended to make a career out of throwing a baseball. The blessed couple delivered their lines among two live sheep, a white goat, and the donkey starring Butchie. He’d gotten into the role even swishing his tail in my brother’s face.   Butchie could be counted on to breathe life into the deadest of scenes.

Scene Four – the three wise men arrive at the manager joining the shepherds and the animals in the little barn, all admiring the holy family. The tall wise man announced, “We, three Kings from Orient Far come bringing …” Now here we were given equal time for each of the kings. I’d moved into the number two slot and was set to continue the royal pronouncement. I pulled my robe sleeve up a bit to reveal the seven or so words I was responsible for. Unfortunately, the scalding bath with soap and scrub brush had faded my crib sheet tattoo. Memorization was the backup and I’d about mastered the verbiage and was about to spew it forth when Butchie swung the donkey’s hind end towards me and emitted a nasty hissing fart that made my eyes water and the donkey’s tail appear to wither. In an act of self-preservation, I tried to hold my breath to avoid the fetid fumes that seemed to absorb increasing amounts of available oxygen. My stomach began to churn, my lunch was backing into my throat and it required strength previously unknown to me just to stand still until the noxious cloud began to thin. This was no ordinary fart from a child; this was a game-changing contender in the arms race. A hard act to follow and whatever I’d recalled was floating alongside Butchie’s gas stirred by the single fan hanging above the congregation. Decades later, I’d watched memory experts with amazing recall of people names using association. “That man has large rough hands like a farmer … Mr. Fields.” Without knowing the method, I was saved by Eddie Goldberg seated uncomfortably in the front pew. Gold! “Gold …” I shouted and stalled. Mrs. Hildebrand, in her thick Germanic accent, gave me a hint loud enough to rustle the two sleeping ushers in the back pew to jump to their feet collection plates in hand. “… Frankenstein and Meryl,” I said in my best theatrical voice. It seemed like there was more so I shouted what my mother later told me was last year’s line for the Easter pageant, “Hallelujah, he’s risen.” I’d finished strong despite the soapy water and unpleasant flatulence.

Scenes Five and Six – I just stood there flushed and stunned without any recollection of what occurred although I suspect it concluded with a visit from an angel suspended from the ceiling and announcing “Peace on earth and good will to all men.”