Posted in A Day In the Life

Joy To The Choir

This is an older post, but one that I had a lot of fun remembering and writing.  I’m sharing it here again in the spirit of the season.  Happy Holidays, friends. Thanks for being a part of my world. All good wishes and good will for the new year!

It wasn’t fair! For two years in a row, Cheryl McAdams got to be Mary and wear the blue veil and hold the baby Jesus doll in the Christmas Pageant. Cheryl McAdams stepped on my feet whenever she could, leaving black marks on my white socks and scuffs on my Mary Janes. When we were lined up, 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 Pearson. Mrs. Pearson had bluish grey hair that she sprayed into a helmet on her head. Her face was heavily powdered. “Like a porcelain doll” my mother said, but I thought 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 at all, put on a Christmas Pageant. The local television station invited the school to the studio and filmed the entire thing. It was the big event leading up to our winter break.

In parkas and scarves, boots and mittens we marched off of the school bus by grade, so bundled against the snow and cold that we looked like a little troop of Michelin men. Volunteer parents and teachers took us to dressing rooms where we were greeted by rows of freshly pressed, neatly hung choir robes. Sizes were found, parkas and boots were stashed and soon each kid had on a black robe with a white collar and a big red bow that tied under the collar.

Mrs. Pearson inspected us, standing in lines just that way that we would when we sang. She walked up and down, heels clicking on the concrete floor and gave us instruction.

“Be like angels,” she said. “Look directly into the camera and smile your best smiles while you are singing. Remember that smiling helps to raise the note so that you do not sing flat.”

Hearing these instructions, I vowed to hold them dear in the hopes that Mrs. Pearson might notice and cast me as Mary next year.

It cannot be easy for mere mortals to deal with 70 first through sixth graders. Our excitement was ramped up by the robust supply of cookies and candy, supplied by the television station. Like fat little puppies at the trough, we practically licked the floor when the sugary treats were gone.

The thing about so much sugar is that it makes kids think of doing things that they normally wouldn’t do. Leonard, a boy from my class, had already eaten several cookies and quite a bit of candy. He regularly got in trouble at school. Leonard could bring class to a raucous stand still. He liked to put his hand in his armpit and then flap it like a wing in such a way as to make loud farting noises, bringing bouts of laughter. Girls were not supposed to laugh, but secretly I thought Leonard was a very funny kid.

Leonard was running around the television studio with the baby Jesus doll that he’d taken from the manger, and using it as a machine gun.

“Leonard, I told you last week, none of this nonsense! Stop all this fussing now. Do you want to do sit in the dressing room by yourself? Do you,” she repeated, bending down and placing her hands on his shoulders. She straightened the large white collar on his choir robe, and fluffed the big red bow.

I was standing right next to them, so I saw all of it happen. Leonard listened to Mrs. Pearson with an intense look on his face and then a little smile. Mrs. Pearson straightened up and smiled back just as Leonard let rip a real fart. Loud, rolling and fragrant. Leonard started to laugh. All of the kids around him started to laugh. Mrs. Pearson turned whiter than the powder on her face and 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 on one side of her head.

Now Mrs. Pearson had to avoid Leonard because whenever he saw her, he started to laugh uncontrollably which brought on more laughter from other kids, except from the group of girls that included Cheryl McAdams, in her stupid looking blue Mary veil. They stood in their little pod and glared at Leonard.

“He is so rude,” I heard one of them say.

“My mother would never let me play with him,” said another

“Why would you want to?” chimed in Cheryl McAdams.

Finally it was time for the choir to line up and sing. The adults herded us to our places and we stood in two neat rows, kids in the back on risers so that everyone could be seen. Excitement bubbled over as bright lights shined down and a big camera focused on us. Mrs. Pearson stood behind the camera and raised her arms to direct our singing. I remembered what she had said about looking right into the camera and singing with a smile on your face.

We sang the Reader’s Digest condensed version of the Hallelujah Chorus first. Then we sang Away in a Manger. Each time the camera went by I looked right into the lens, and without really meaning to, leaned slightly forward, as I smiled my best smile. What I didn’t know at the time is that none of the other kids followed Mrs. Pearson’s instructions, so they didn’t look right into the camera. They didn’t smile and none of them leaned forward as the camera went by.

As we came to the end of Silent Night, Holy 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 my descent with his lens– and to Mrs. Pearson’s credit that she didn’t put another dent in her helmet hair. As I went down I could hear Leonard laughing uncontrollably.

On Christmas Eve my mother, my aunts, some cousins sat in our living room and watched the Christmas Pageant on television. 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. Pearson told us to do and I was the only one.”

“You were definitely the only one sweetheart,” said one of the aunts. With arms folded across my chest I continued to watch as I tumbled over the three kids that became part of the great Silent Night fall. Leonard could be heard laughing in the background.   The screen faded to black and then to our principal, with a sick look on her face wished everyone a “Very Merry Christmas and a Good Night.”

Somewhere in another part of the city, a powdered Luella Pearson, replete with helmet hair was watching the Christmas Pageant too, and she was on her third martini.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Holiday Wishes

img_0174Just a dusting of snow, not much at all, but enough to punctuate the date, December 24, 2016. My neighbor’s have all turned on their tree lights and smoke escapes the chimneys mingling in the morning fog.

I am hunkered down with tea and  a laptop, moving forward on a manuscript that has had its hands around my throat for the past year and may finally be loosening its grip. Learning is like that, two steps forward and six steps back.

My husband and I will go to the movies this afternoon. For most of our marriage it has been just the two of us and our holiday rituals are simple. I’m appreciating the quiet that has fallen over our house, the twinkle of tree lights and the promise of roasted duck for two.

My life is blessed beyond measure: a loving husband, fun and kind friends, a beautiful town surrounded by woods and trails, a faithful dog, plenty of food and decent health.

Dear readers, thank you always for stopping by. May your heart be full and your spirit light. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Give The Best In You To Others

Merry Christmas to All Letter in Vintage Red TypewriterThe front porch and steps of the old house were painted institutional grey. A swing holding two teenaged girls hung from the beams. They swung back and forth, the beam creaking under their weight, the thump of shoes catching and then pushing them back again. The watched me walk to the door. No smiles. “Hi,” I said, a little too perky. No response. My hand found the screen door and pulled it open, lump in my throat and “oh my God what have I gotten myself into” in my heart. Today was my first class at “Attention Homes of Boulder.”

I was a writing student at Naropa University, a Buddhist inspired school, deeply rooted in the traditions of meditation, creative expression and service to others. Attention Homes was the service to others part and it was for a class on community outreach. As a student of writing, I was expected to give back what I was getting to my community. Short of writing a letter to someone, I had no idea what that meant. Still, I had come up with my pitch to teach a class in poetry at Attention Homes. And did I mention that I had no experience in teaching and that my poetry sucked?

For twelve weeks, I would come to this place and gather the teenaged girls who lived here around the dining room table and find a way to get them to write the longings of their heart. That sounds prettier on the page than the experience. It was like learning to be the teen whisperer. The girls at Attention Homes were tougher than anyone should ever have to be, and had seen and experienced more in their young lives than most of us do in a long life. They were the stats that didn’t look that great on the graph. I was met each week by bored faces who wanted to kick my ass to the curb. Then one class, we wrote about our mothers. It wasn’t intended. It was just a happy accident that caused lines of memories and longings to pour forth onto the page, because what united us was that we all had a mother. I was too clueless to realize that these tough kids missed their moms. And I had wanted to separate myself from them. They were the students over there and I was the teacher over here. The day we wrote about our moms, there was just one of us, and it was the beginning of my understanding how we are all connected by our stories.

I finished my twelve weeks with a small book: a comb bound, copied at the corner store, typed by me, book of poetry that was beautiful. Talk about self-publishing! Each of the girls got three copies and each of them talked excitedly about what they had made and who they would give it to. Give away what you are getting. I never forgot that class or those girls.

Today I woke up to an email from Michael Larsen, the director of the San Fransisco Writers Conference. He had sent two lists. The first list was about all the things you do as a writer. The second list was about how you can give it away. In the spirit of the season of giving, I am passing the list on to you. As writers we all want to be read and that’s a good thing. But as writers, we all have a lot that we can give to our communities that goes far beyond the writing or publishing of a book.  May your days be merry and bright and may all of your Christmases inspire you to write. (Now you can see why I say my poetry sucks!–thankfully I write prose. ) Here is Michael’s list:

Here’s how to share your gifts during the holidays and the rest of the year. You can:

Write your own greetings cards by hand and use stamps to mail them

Write a letter to share your year

Write letters for those who can’t

Read books to those who can’t

Teach reading and writing

Mentor writers

Write a memoir to share your life and create a legacy

Share your knowledge with a blog, interviews, podcasts, webinars, and talks

Support groups that give books to people in need

Ask libraries, literacy groups, and charities how you can help

Join a book club

Share your passion for the value of books, reading, and writing

Encourage other writers and writer’s organizations to help

Help organize events to support your goals

Give new or used books as gifts

The more you share your gifts, the greater your gift for sharing becomes. Give the best in you to others, and you will receive more than you give.

Michael Larsen, Co-Director
The 13th San Francisco Writers Conference & Open Enrollment Classes

Happy Holidays everyone. See you in the blogosphere in the new year!iStock_000004610770_Small

 

Posted in Comedy, Tragedy and What the F...?

Joy to the Choir

iStock_000031593808XSmallIt 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.