Tuesday, November 29, 2016

PAGEANTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST







I never look back on those events with undiluted fondness. Through the long distance of years I still regard them with a twinge of humiliating disdain. I'm talking about the obligatory school Christmas pageants. Where innocent children are compelled to make fools of themselves on stage in front of parents, classmates, and faculty.

The only positive aspect I can ascertain is that those childhood days were simple, uncomplicated days - - when Christ was still in Christmas, there were no heated debates about the gender or sexual orientation of Santa Claus, when front yard nativities were proudly displayed without any concern about being confiscated by the Neighborhood Fairness Commission - - when Christmas carols were sung openly without fear of offending atheists or Muslims.

It seemed to be a Norman Rockwell America.

Scene One:
Glendora, California. The Gordon Elementary School. Second Grade. I was six years old.

My teacher Mrs. Eisendise (whom I called Ice and Dice) came up with the grandiose idea of staging several scenes from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet. I wasn't in the least smitten by her plan, but I did fall in love with the music. In fact, I forced my mother to buy a recording of it. A double LP album in those primitive days.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I was chosen to be one of the waltzing flowers in (of course) the Waltz of the Flowers. My humiliation was lessened only by the fact that numerous other boys were also sentenced to being flowers in Eisendise's delusional bouquet.

 Four boys who became unwilling participants in Mrs. Eisendise's flower bouquet. I'm the one in the striped shirt.

The stage scenery was quite elaborate for a less than minor production. A serene rural backdrop with cardboard trees and shrubs. I can't exactly remember the flower costume that I wore, which - from a Freudian point of view - is probably a good thing. I certainly can't attribute it to any pansy complexes I might have acquired twenty years later.
It's a fleeting thought. Don't ponder it for too long.

The dance started out splendidly but rapidly deteriorated. The music somehow seemed to be going faster than our twirls and leaps. In time, it completely resisted our efforts. Disharmony and vertigo ensued and soon it was every flower for himself. We had completely abandoned the music and were simply fighting to stay alive. I'm not sure which flower knocked down a cardboard tree, but trees suddenly began toppling like dominoes. Petals were crushed and the curtain was mercifully pulled. We waltzing flowers were far from a success.

If nothing else, the entire ugly ordeal robbed me of any future desire to have a career on the stage.

Scene Two:
Covina, California. The Charter Oak School. Third Grade. I was seven years old.  

My teacher Mrs. Rollins was unusually weird. She had heavily dyed black hair - parted severely in the middle - thick tortoise shell glasses, a generous perpetual application of rouge, and more red lipstick than Bette Davis wore on a bad day.

Mrs. Rollins also had a very strange habit. At the end of every school day, she had the class line up by her desk and would kiss each of us goodbye. Sometimes I was able to duck out and avoid being branded by her crimson lips.

Fortunately this caused no known ill effects on my future psyche - - although to this day I still become completely impotent at the sight of tortoise shell rimmed glasses. 

Mrs. Rollin's Christmas pageant was no less unnerving than Eisendise's waltzing flowers had been. I and two other boys were chosen to sing We Three Kings (I never figured out whether we were technically kings or wise men).

Rollins handed us the lyrics and demanded that we learn them within a week. I still don't know where the hell she got those lyrics, but I'd never seen so many pages for one Christmas song in my entire life. There were at least ten choruses.

We three boys wore cardboard crowns, elaborate capes, and had to carry empty gift boxes wrapped in Christmas paper. The pageant went off without a hitch, until we began singing....

We three kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar...

we sang....and sang....one excruciatingly long chorus after another.....over and over.....and....over....

The audience would begin to applaud - hoping it was finally the end - and we'd suddenly sing another chorus.

It was the longest frickin' song in Christmas pageant history. I was seven years old when we started. I think I was pushing twenty-seven by the time we finally finished.

Despite trying for years to expunge the event from my mind, I can still remember every chorus and every word from that ghastly song.


Note:
I originally posted this several years ago but recently revised it for your reading pleasure (!)   Jon 

A link to my other blog:

Cabinet of Curious Treasures 
   


20 comments:

  1. Sweet baby Jesus, I'm so glad you re-posted this! Your dance of the flowers surely would be the undoing of even Buckingham's stoic palace guards.

    Dave Barry, move over.... there's a new kid in town!

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    1. Bless your heart - - I got well over 100 "hits" on this post (so far) and only two comments. Methinks that my humor was either overlooked or not appreciated.

      I need more palace guards in my audience....

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  2. What a great memory, Jon. The Pocket of the Sacramento River that provided my elementary education was settled mainly by Portuguese Catholics, Japanese Buddhists and Jews who built their community around a beautiful Synagogue that went up when I was 3 or 4. Christmas was confusing for all of us. I remember singing "Jingle Bells" in 1st grade but afterwards they'd just turn us loose for the holidays --where, had we known about them, we would have given thanks for not becoming waltzing flowers.

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    1. Strangely enough, I don't remember Christmas when I was in first grade. I attended a private school in New Jersey at that time and I think most of the students were from wealthy Jewish families.
      All of the Christmas pageant stuff began when we moved to California. If nothing else, it helped supplement my memoirs....

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  3. Great bit about being 7 when you started and 27 when you finished. I don't miss school celebrations at all.

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    1. I think that was my favorite line in the entire post. I've never liked school celebrations - - it's sort of like forced labor.

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  4. I attended Luther Burbank elementary in Altadena, CA. The Christmas pageant was the same every year. Only the 6th graders were in it. I remember the three wise men making a grand entrance down the center of the auditorium. There was also a scene featuring a menorah being lit and what it signified. Kwanza hadn't been invented yet. Your memories are much more entertaining than mine.

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    1. I remember the city of Altadena. I went to grade school in Glendora, Covina, and Pomona. And I went to high school in Corona.
      In sixth grade we were taught some Jewish songs for Hanukkah and I still recall the words to some of them.

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    2. I almost forgot - - I went to junior high in Anaheim!

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  5. This cracked me up! You described it so well! And I love your comment above - school celebrations being like forced labour!

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Strangely enough, when I was a child I never dreamed that one day I'd look back on those pageants with humor. Forced labor, indeed!

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  6. Jon,
    You really should write a book. You are funny! I like your humor, a wry humor. My favorite kind of humor. I don't remember having a Christmas pageants when was in elementary school. However, in sixth grade we were in a class operetta. I was one of eight eleven year olds chosen as a scarecrow. I lOVED it! I still remember the smell of the greasepaint that was smeared all over my face. I've posted the picture of me and my fellow classmates several times. My friend Larry had the photo. I don't know why I didn't have one but a few years ago Larry came up with this picture and it brought back fond memories. Oddly, I don't remember anything about the operetta itself. All I remember is the smell of greasepaint and the good feeling I had at being chosen to play a part in the operetta. Little kids like attention, especially me who was so starved for attention. All good memories Jon.
    Ron

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    1. Thanks, Ron. Not everyone appreciates my humor - - and sometimes I'm not as funny as I think I am....
      I remember that photo of you as one of the scarecrows in the operetta. It's fortunate that Larry had it. I don't think there are any pictures of me as a dancing flower - - thank goodness.

      I always enjoy these trips down Memory Lane. It seemed like a different world when we were kids...

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  7. I can't say I was ever a waltzing flower ( lol ) or remember the names of my grade school teachers - well, except for the guy with the leather strap. Your memory serves you well. Nice picture of you with the rest of the unwilling participants. Good read as always.

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    1. The guy with the leather strap??
      Was he wearing the strap, or did he use it to keep the children under control?

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    2. This teacher used a leather strap almost ever day for no good reason. He kept the thing in his desk drawer. I briefly glanced out the window during an exam ( I was thinking ) when he ordered me to the front of the class, called me a little Nazi, told me to extend my hands palm side up. I had enough of this psycho, so I grabbed the strap and let him have a few lashings, then ran home and called my dad.

      Dad took me back to the school, confronted the teacher and told him no one calls us Nazi's, or gives the strap for any reason. They argued, and the teacher called dad a Nazi once again - dad punched him and he dropped to the floor like a sack of potatoes right in front of the class.

      He was placed on suspension after several meetings, and we got a new substitute teacher. Problem solved. I heard in later years his wife charged him with assault and battery.



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    3. Wow, what a story!! That teacher obviously had some serious mental issues - but I'm glad your father was courageous enough to deal with the teacher in such a heroic manner!

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  8. Oh my god, that's sounds horrible! That is why I was only ever in the chorus. My skills laid in art more, and later in high school with my other skills under the bleachers with a few members of the football team. That was my Christmas spirit.

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  9. Being under the bleachers is infinitely better than being on the bleachers....
    I admire your Christmas spirit.

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    1. I meant to tell you, I LOVE your new selfie!

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