It wasn’t fair! For two years in a row, Shannon Adams got to be Mary and wear the blue veil and hold the baby Jesus doll in the Christmas Pageant. Shannon Adams stepped on my feet whenever she could. When we were in line and waiting to go into assembly, she would turn around stomp on my one of my feet, laugh, and then turn to the front of the line again like she hadn’t done anything. No way she should have been Mary two years in a row!
I sang in the choir, directed by Mrs. Luella Parsons. Mrs. Parsons had bluish grey hair that she sprayed into a helmet on her head. Her face was powdered to look like “a porcelain doll” as my mother called it. But I thought that she looked more like a powdered donut.
Each year our school, which was a private school, a fact that my mother liked to share with relatives in a way that didn’t make it “private” it at all, put on a Christmas Pageant. The local television station invited us all down to their studio and filmed the entire thing. It was the big event leading up to each winter break and we were all excited to participate. Mrs. Parsons gave instructions that we were to be like angels, look directly into the camera and smile as we sang. So ever wanting to be the good girl, and rarely succeeding, I held these instructions dear in the hopes that Mrs. Parsons might notice me and cast me as Mary next year.
It cannot be easy for a normal, mortal person to have to deal with 60 first through fourth graders who are excited about being on television and who have just eaten the robust supply of cookies, candy and brownies that the television station has put out for them. Like fat little puppies at the trough, we practically licked the floor when the sugary treats were gone.
Mrs. Parson’s got very upset with Leonard, a little boy in my class who regularly put his hand under his shirt and flapped his arm in such as way as to make loud farting noises. I never laughed at such things, because little girls were not supposed to, but secretly I thought Leonard was a very funny kid. On this particular day, Leonard had eaten several sugar cookies and a fair amount of candy. He stood before Mrs. Parsons as she tried to straighten the large white collar and enormous bow on his choir robe. I saw it happen. As Leonard listened to Mrs. Parson’s intently he got a mischievous smile on his face and when she smiled back, Leonard let rip a real fart, loud, rolling and fragrant. Leonard started to laugh. All of the kids around him started to laugh. Mrs. Parsons blanched and became visibly upset. She grabbed a handful of her helmet hair so hard that you could hear it crunch in her grip. For the rest of the day she had a dent in one side of her hair.
Now Mrs. Parsons had to avoid Leonard, because whenever he saw her, he started to laugh uncontrollably and that brought on more laughter from other kids, with the exception of the group of girls that included Shannon Adams, who stood in a small pack of prissy girls and glared at Leonard to show their disapproval.
Finally our choir was lined up to sing and I remembered what Mrs. Parson’s had said about looking right into the camera and singing with a smile on your face. So along with the rest of the choir, I sang the Reader’s Digest condensed version of The Hallelujah Chorus, Away in a Manger, and Jingle Bells. Each time the camera went by I looked right into the lens, and without really meaning to, leaned slightly forward and smiled as big as I could. What I didn’t know at the time is that none of the other kids followed Mrs. Parson’s instructions, so they didn’t look right into the camera and they didn’t smile, and none of them leaned forward each the camera went by. On the last pass of the camera as we were all singing Silent Night, I leaned forward a little too far and fell onto my face taking three other kids out with me. It is to the cameraman’s credit that he did not follow the descent with his lens; and to Mrs. Parson’s credit that she didn’t put another dent in her helmet hair. As I went down I could hear Leonard laughing in the background.
On Christmas Eve my mother, my aunts and my cousins and I watched the televised Christmas Pageant, and as we did my aunts were laughing and calling me a little ham. I scowled my best eight-year-old scowl and said, “I did exactly what Mrs. Parsons told us to do and I was the only one, too.”
“You were definitely the only one sweetheart,” said one of the aunts with a laugh that she tried really hard to keep to her self. With arms folded across my chest I watched the rest of the program as took out three kids in the fateful fall of Silent Night, hearing the none too stifled laughter of Leonard in the background. At the very end, the camera panned over to our principal who with a stricken look on her face wished everyone a “very Merry Christmas.”
I know now, that as I was watching the Christmas Pageant on television, somewhere in another part of the city, a powdered Luella Parsons with dented helmet hair was probably on her third martini.