Like many other people in the country — so many that there is a trending Twitter hashtag (#starbuckschristmas) devoted to this extremely important issue — I feel the need to weigh in on the whole “Starbuck’s changed its Christmas cup to appeal to the complainers in the world who want to take Christ out of Christmas!” brouhaha. Like many other people in the country, I honestly cannot remember what the old Christmas cup looked like, but not knowing about a thing ever stopped me from expressing my opinion about it before. Unlike the folks up at Starbuck’s, I will just go ahead and stick with tradition, dammit!

I am assuming that there was some nod to Christmas on the Starbuck’s holiday cup. I seriously doubt that there was a nativity scene emblazoned on the old cups. But, what do I know? Maybe there was. I never noticed.

Frankly, I don’t notice much when I am in Starbuck’s. Except maybe how many people are standing between me and my ability to get my French vanilla latte, made breve, with an extra shot of espresso. Depending on the season, I may replace French vanilla with Pumpkin Spice or Crème Brulee. Yeah. I’m flexible like that.

I am also flexible about a company changing the design of its cup. Actually, I don’t really care about the design of the cup, so long as they don’t screw with what they put inside of it. I love Starbuck’s coffee. I am not ashamed to admit it. Some people have gone so far as to suggest that I may need a 12-step meeting to deal with my addiction. To this I say, mainly to my husband and daughter, “Stop talking to me. I am trying to decide between the French vanilla and the Pumpkin spice.” , as I wonder if there is a 12-step program for nagging that I could direct them towards.

To the people complaining about the cup design I say, “Be grateful you have a cup to put your $6 coffee into; be grateful you have the six bucks for the coffee at all.” I have a suggestion for them, those who are so offended by the audacity of a corporation to change the design on their cups: stop drinking it.

They won’t though. They won’t suddenly become Dunkin’ Donuts customers. Would you like to know why? Because, if they did, then they would have to drink Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. No Starbuck’s coffee drinker in their right mind is going to voluntarily switch to DD. No way. No how.

In a world where there is much to be grateful for (truly, there is), the existence of Dunkin’ Donuts is not something a Starbuck’s coffee drinker could ever be grateful for. It will serve in a pinch, but as an every day substitute? No way. No how.

This idea of what we should be grateful for reminded me of many scenes from my childhood, most of them involving my father. My father began a lot of sentences (from the front porch, with coffee cup in hand) with  “You’re lucky….” . And, we were.

We were “lucky”, to his way of thinking, to have arms with which to rake leaves for hours, fingers with which to pull weeds from between the sidewalk cracks all day (likely a punishment for saying we were “bored”!), and legs with which to get our asses to the store for a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk. Before you get the idea that my father was the 1970s version of Simon Legre, let me just paint a picture for you.

In that picture you will see a man that worked all night and stayed up with us during the day. (Hence the porch sitting and the coffee drinking.) You will see a man that often helped us with the leaf raking (he wasn’t a big fan of the weed pulling) and always (and I mean “always”, as in every single time) joined us as we jumped (or, very often were thrown — by him) into the giant piles of leaves that wound up in the cement pond that had long ago ceased to contain fish or frogs, but made an excellent place for growing mint in the summertime and for depositing leaves in the Fall. He didn’t really work us, no matter what we told our mother, all that hard.

Depending on the season, there was always cocoa or lemonade at the end of whichever mindless task we had been assigned. If we had to run down to the store to fetch milk or bread, the change was always ours to spend — on whatever struck our fancy. I, usually, spent mine on magazines or comic books, my sister spent hers on snacks. Unless it was Summer; it was nearly impossible to resist the lure of the “bomb pop” on a hot day — even if Donny Osmond or David Cassidy were gracing the cover of the latest “Tiger Beat”.

I can remember walking home covered in “bomb pop” remnants. The stickiness of the red and blue dye that were the hallmarks of having eaten a bomb pop made me, I am sure, look like an urchin. Still, I was a happy urchin. On a sugar high. Now, I am a happy adult. On a caffeine high. Thank you, Starbuck’s. Thank you, Dad.

I was lucky. I know that now. I knew it then, too. I think it is high time that other people recognize how lucky they are. And, they are very lucky indeed, lucky enough to have the time to fret over coffee cup designs. To that end, I would like to suggest a new Twitter hashtag, #shutupaboutthecupsalreadyandbegrateful.

Stay Home — Make Some Memories!

It never fails. It’s as sure as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. When it snows like a son-of-a-bitch, restaurants located along highways will be filled with families with young children.

At some point the other night, during the first snowfall of the season, I looked up at the “holding area” and thought, “Yup. Here we go. It’s gonna be ‘Romper Room’ in here in a minute!” And, I wasn’t wrong. The idiotic parents of several toddlers, a few infants, and two (!) newborns had chosen to bundle up the kids and make their way along the snowy highway in CARS. And, for what? A plate of chicken fingers? A change of scenery?

Frankly, I just don’t get it. What makes parents decide to brave the icy roadways, take to the snowy highways, and careen along the slippery byways, to dine out? I don’t believe for a minute that their household cupboards are bare. Nope. What I think is that THEY, the parents, want to do something that THEY consider “F-U-N!” — never mind what the kids want. Or what’s safe.

What happened to making snowmen or snow angels with your children? How about constructing an igloo or throwing a few snowballs? Aren’t those the fun, family-oriented snowy day activities people should be enjoying with their progeny? Did I miss the memo?

When I was a kid, my sisters and I — often joined by our father, my mother’s other child — used to play outside in the snow for hours. Hours! When it was time to come inside, usually owing to the loss of feeling in our extremities and our noses, we would, reluctantly, trudge inside, place our woolens on and our boots under the radiator (so that they’d be dry for when we wanted to go outside AGAIN!). Traditionally, we’d enjoy a nice grilled cheese sandwich, a warm bowl of Campbell’s Tomato soup, and a piping hot cup of cocoa. If we were very, very lucky AND if my mother (or my grandmother) had felt industrious — if either of them had had the wherewithal to drag out the deep fryer AND peeled some potatoes — homemade french fries may have made it to the menu! Yum!

It wouldn’t have occurred to either of my parents, the child-like one or the more responsible one, to bundle us up, pack us into the station wagon, and head on over to the nearest dining establishment. Once the roads were clear and provided my father hadn’t expended all of his energy pelting us with snowballs, we could usually look forward to him taking us across town to do some sledding — but he would never have put us in the car in the middle of a snowstorm and hauled us to a restaurant. Only some of his screws were loose — he was still in possession of most of them.

Of course, back then, families didn’t dine out much — at least my family didn’t. Going out to a restaurant was an EVENT!

If you were lucky enough to be out with my father alone he could sometimes be convinced to buy you a McDonald’s burger or, depending on the hour, an Egg McMuffin sandwich. Like solar eclipses, these opportunities did not present themselves on a regular basis. And, like viewing the solar eclipse through that little pinhole on a piece of cardboard, an indirect approach worked best.

In other words, you had to play your cards right — looking longingly as you passed the golden arches without directly asking for anything was my tried and true method. My father was not one to spend good money on restaurant food. Nor was he the type of guy who gave in to demands for food. You could not, for example, just blurt out “I’m hungry” nor — and here’s something that one of my sisters NEVER learned — which cost the both of us a few fast food meals back in the day — could you WHINE about it, for heaven’s sakes! If you did either of these things, it was highly likely that he’d just tell you that there was cereal at home. And that, my friend, was that. Game over. (WAHT-WA-WAH!)

What worked in our favor was that my father actually LIKED fast food. So, IF you had done a good job helping him out at the hardware store or had hauled quadruple your weight in newspapers down at the recycling center, IF he had enough money, and IF you were actually going to pass the fast food joint on the way home — you might just be in luck. Crossing your fingers sometimes helped, too.

It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway — this was a clandestine affair. If you managed to wrangle a cheeseburger and some of those gloriously salty fries out of my father, you had to be very careful to cover your tracks. The others, the ones who had been left behind, having been in your position in the past, were often waiting on the driveway for your return. They’d be lined up, looking for the telltale signs that you had gotten something that they hadn’t. Being found out would, inevitably, result in crying. To avoid the aggravation associated with three crying daughters, my father would do a face and finger check — for remnants of salt, ketchup, and errant pickle juice. On at least one occasion I can remember being sprayed with car freshener. My father was not one to allow a “T” to go uncrossed or an “I” to remain undotted.

In my family, eating out in a restaurant staffed by waitresses was, as you can imagine, a rare treat and one that occurred only on special occasions. A snowstorm or even some mild rain could halt the entire proceedings! Maybe I’m just old and curmudgeonly, but I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around bundling up the kids and playing fast and loose with their safety in wintry driving conditions to fill my face with food.

I’d like to suggest to these folks that they warm up a can of soup, grill up a sandwich, and make some real hot cocoa — with whole milk, none of that 2% bullshit, and real chocolate melted in a pan, on the stove, as God intended cocoa to be made! If dangerous living is what you’re after, add some extra sugar to it!

Or, how about just heading out to the backyard — on foot — make some angels, some snowmen, some memories. Seriously, though, STOP risking their lives for a plate of onion rings. I guarantee you that they won’t remember the stupid onion rings, but the snow fort? They’ll never forget a lovingly crafted snow fort, especially if they can hide behind it and gleefully nail a sister (or a parent who foolishly lets his guard down!) with a snowball or two. Never.

photo credits:
snow angel
kid eating in restaurant

Things that are worth holding on to

86 mets photI could fill a very large file cabinet with things that would fall into the category of “seemed like a good idea at the time”. Let’s make that a virtual file cabinet, though, shall we? I’ve spent the last month hauling garbage bags and ugly furniture down the stairs. The last thing I need to be tripping over is a file cabinet filled with bad decisions. Decisions that, by the way, span years and run the gamut from cutting my own hair to driving drunk, from piercing my own ears to buying a white couch, from being unkind to running with the wrong crowd.

For the most part I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made regarding the more important things in my life like, for example, who I married. And that’s a big one. Don’t overestimate the importance of that one, folks. Sure, he gets on my last nerve sometimes, but he comes in handy for things like hooking up HDTV’s. Also, he’s game for tearing up outdated pleather couches armed only with a hammer and a steak knife. He doesn’t bang on about fancy meals, either. That’s a plus. As long as I keep coffee and peanut butter in the house he’s a relatively happy camper.

Insofar as we choose our mates based on qualities that we deemed were important at, in my case, 19 years old (HA!), it’s no wonder the divorce rate is so high. Either I was very smart at 19 (again, HA!) or, more likely, very lucky indeed. What first drew me to him was that he had a car and a job, which, in hindsight, seem like relatively frivolous things. What I came to realize, mostly while riding in that car, was that he laughed a lot and he did so easily, which made being around him enjoyable. He still does, it still is.

The hovel purge has been hard on him. I’ve been hard on him. Let’s just say that there hasn’t been a lot of laughing. This weekend, however, it seems that he (and we) rounded a corner. He actually stopped fighting me and began to embrace the changes that I’ve been trying very hard to make happen here. He even got into the spirit and threw out a couple bags of his own junk; junk that has been clogging up my bedroom for years. I saw him wrestling with whether or not to keep the ’86 Mets World Series official photo. He was on the verge of tossing it when I stopped him. Though I cannot imagine where a framed 8 x 10 photograph of a bunch of guys in orange and blue will fit into my décor, I didn’t have the heart to make him get rid of it.

It seems that some things, even things that are old and outdated, are worth holding on to.

My Celebrity Crush

bozotheclownIf you believe my mother, and I don’t know why you would — she’s a notorious revisionist historian — my first “celebrity crush” was on Bozo the Clown. I was, to hear her tell it, quite obsessed with his shenanigans. Hmmmm —- Perhaps in writing this I’ve managed to unlock what in years of therapy and self-examination I could never quite put my finger on. Could my exposure to Bozo, at the tender age of three, be the root of my shoe addiction or my affinity for brightly colored sweaters? Maybe. It just goes to show you that, given my mother’s complicity in the matter — I couldn’t have turned the television on myself! — the genesis of my mental problems are, in fact, my mother’s fault.

As I matured and, I would imagine, grew tired of Bozo’s clowning around, I had a brief fling with Bob McAllister of Wonderama fame. Oh, yes. He could certainly whip a group of grade-schoolers into a frenzy! While he enthusiastically mastered the ceremonies of a very silly kiddie program, Bob was really the anti-Bozo. He wore sedate plaid sport coats and sensible shoes. This attire was most probably obtained from the very same places my father shopped, places like Ed Hall or Thom McAn. That Bob bore a resemblance to the father’s of his audience members was, I’m sure, a calculated decision made by the Wonderama producers.

While Bob may have looked like everyone’s father, I daresay he didn’t behave as such. bobmcallisterwonderamaHe adopted personas, such as “Bert Beautiful” and “Chuck Roast”, distributed cans filled with spring-loaded snakes to audience members (one lucky can would hold fake flowers!), led games which featured things like stacking coffee cups and picking up bagels with a dowel, and encouraged exercise (if memory serves, Bob was fond of the jumping jack). He was spirited and energetic. Oh, and he really seemed to like kids. (In a good way. Not in a creepy Uncle kind of way!) For three hours every Sunday morning (we were Saturday night mass Catholics, thank God!) I got to indulge my crush on one Mr. McAllister.

It was my dream, of course, to be an audience member. To go home with a bagel necklace that spelled out my name (MY NAME IN BAGELS — hello! I would have been THE COOLEST kid in the neighborhood if I’d had one of those!) The show was filmed in New York City, so it was certainly not out of the realm of possibility that I could have been taken there to participate in a live performance AND given the aforementioned bagel necklace, but I never was. My father, unlike Bob, just didn’t have a taste for this type of adventure nor did he have the time or the wherewithal for Bob McAllister’s brand of tomfoolery. His daughter owning a bagel necklace AND, thereby, becoming THE COOLEST kid in the neighborhood, wasn’t, I guess, at the top of his list of “things that are important in life”. (My father often referred to this list when I was denied something on my “things that are fun in life” list.)

donnyosmondwithhatJust as “Little Jackie Paper” would eventually abandon “Puff the Magic Dragon”, I abandoned Wonderama. Bob, as it turns out, was no match for one Donald Clark Osmond. Sure, Bob was cute in a “Daddy” sort of way, but Donny Osmond was cute in a more age-appropriate way. Bob sang a bit, he would launch into the occasional ditty about good news and exercise, but these songs couldn’t hold a candle to classics like “Puppy Love” or “Go Away, Little Girl” (I was certain Donny would sing this one to me, as ours would be a May-December romance). I was crazy for Donny. Crazy. I even wore purple socks under my navy blue cable uniform socks, an act which earned me many, many demerits and countless minutes in the chair outside of Sister Maria Michael’s office. (Where I was sent by the insufferable Sister Agnes Ann, who had taken to doing a heretofore unheard of “sock check” when she got wind that I might just be “out of uniform”.) Sister Maria Michael was a good egg, though. My minor sock infractions usually resulted in a simple stern warning “not to wear them again” (a rule that I broke over and over again, which resulted in the aforementioned demerits). Occasionally, but not always, she would actually make me hand them over to her (she always gave them back, though!). In retrospect, I guess she really had no place to store smelly contraband socks in her neat little office. These exchanges, between Sister Maria Michael and myself, always included the dispensation of a few of the ever-present cherry Lifesavers that the good sister carried, along with her beautiful mother-of-pearl rosary beads, in the right pocket of her sensible skirt. I always felt a kinship with Sister Maria Michael. She was always kind to me. I got the impression that she, too, had a rebellious nature. Unlike my nemesis, Sister Agnes Ann, who had, it seemed, made it her life’s work to break my spirit, Sister Maria Michael just wanted me to dial it back a notch or three.

My affection for Donny Osmond lasted a good, long time. Longer than it should have, really. While other kids had moved on, discovered the allure of, say, the Mick Jaggers or the David Bowies of the world, I was still pining away for Donny. But that all changed the day I heard “Love Needs a Heart” by Jackson Browne. The minute I heard the line, “Baby, the hardest thing I’ve ever done/Was to walk away from you.”, Donny was done for. I fell, and fell hard, for Jackson. I took my babysitting money and bought “For Everyman” and every other Jackson Browne album the store had in stock. I was pleasantly surprised to discover (the music store carried posters!) that my newfound love was also, in my estimation, a beautiful creature. (The long nose! The chiseled cheekbones! The full lips! The silky black hair!). When I returned home and while shelving my newfound treasures, I discovered that my father actually owned the first album. Frankly, I felt a little betrayed by this. My father was always trying to shove Cat Stevens, Linda Ronstadt, and The Rolling Stones down my throat — in a fruitless effort to cajole me out of my Donny phase. Why had he held out on Jackson? Unforgivable.

My father had an extensive and pretty impressive record collection. It also bears mentioning jacksonbrowneincarthat when I was 13, my father was only 33. It came to pass that we shared, as I grew older, similar musical taste. While my mother was stuck on Sinatra, Aznavour, and The Four Seasons, my father’s tastes had evolved to include a dizzying array of genres. It was from my father that I received my first album, at the ripe old age of six, which he won for me (or so he claimed, I suspect he really won it for himself) on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The album? Tapestry by Carole King. Why? Because I loved “I Can Feel the Earth Move”. I wanted to play only that song, over and over and over again, as six-year-olds are wont to do, but my father had other ideas. He forced me to listen to the album in its entirety. He explained to me who Carole King was and what she had managed to accomplish in her musical career. Remember my father’s “things that are important in life” list? Music made that list.

Jackson wasn’t my first, my last, or my only crush, but, with the exception of my father, he’s the man that’s been in my life the longest. My relationship with Jackson predates my relationship with my husband. I’ve had my dalliances over the years. I won’t lie. There were brief interludes when I flirted with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Adam Levine, and Dave Grohl, to name a few, but I have always returned, often with renewed enthusiasm, to my main man.

There have been some disappointments along the way, but that’s to be expected. All long-term relationships have their ups and downs. I’m not the only one who doesn’t like “Lawyers in Love”. I would argue, though, that any album that gave the world “Tender is the Night” is worth a listen.

Having a crush on a singer/songwriter had hidden benefits. How many people can say that their “crush” showed up on their wedding day? Not in person, of course. That would have been downright weird and, quite frankly, Jackson would not have been warmly welcomed by the groom. Who could blame him? I wouldn’t want to be overshadowed on my wedding day by someone Time magazine described as “The Poet Laureate of Rock and Roll”? Would you?

daddystunelyricsMost women wouldn’t choose “Daddy’s Tune” (from “The Pretender”, 1976) as their father-daughter dance, but I’m not like most women. Nor is my father like most fathers. Ours is a unique relationship. In many ways my father and I grew up together. He was young. I was precocious. We were close, but like most parent-child relationships, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. My adolescence, difficult as it was for me, was, I daresay, harder on my father.

We share similar personalities, my father and I, which didn’t always serve us well. We are both headstrong. I learned from him to temper this quality with compassion. In other words, forge ahead, but do so with as much tact as you can muster. I often applied this lesson very successfully — with other people; not so successfully with the man from whom I learned it. As a result we had our fair share of knock-down, drag-outs.

Given the nature of our relationship, “Daddy’s Tune” was an appropriate choice for us. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, it is, essentially, an apology from a child to a parent. As such, it was, in a word, perfect for us. Choosing this song, rather than something more traditional, like “Daddy’s Little Girl” or “Sunrise, Sunset”, was my way of offering to my father the proverbial olive branch; agreeing to my unorthodox song selection was how he accepted it. Jackson said better and far more eloquently what needed to be said. It was in that very moment that the adult relationship that my father and I now share began. Jackson was there to usher it in.

And so it was that the three most important men in my life came to figure prominently in one of my happiest and most lasting memories. I think it’s fitting to wish a very Happy Valentine’s Day to my father for providing the framework in which forgiveness can occur, to my husband for his almost limitless capacity for accepting, understanding, and loving an often difficult woman, and to Jackson Browne for providing the music and lyrics in what has been the soundtrack of my life.

Photo Credits
Bozo the Clown
Bob McAllister
Donny Osmond
Jackson Browne
“Daddy’s Tune” sheet music

This piece was written for the GenFab blog hop… see these other stories!

On Swans and Shepherds: Christmas Pageant Memories

twelvedaysofchristmas“The Twelve Days of Christmas” has always had a special place in my heart. When I was in the first grade I got to be one of the “Twelve Drummers Drumming” in our Annual Christmas Pageant. Having always attended Catholic school I had heard stories from my public school friends about singing “Frosty the Snowman” or “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”, so a foray into the land of secular music was something like a Christmas miracle. (What I didn’t know then is that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” may be just as religious as, say, the “Ave Maria”, but in a different and clandestine kind of way.) My mother made my drum out of an empty Quaker Oats container, which we wrapped and decorated. It hung from my neck by gold ribbon. It was the bee’s knees, I’ll tell you that.

We spent weeks practicing. Being part of the last verse gave me plenty of opportunity to witness the visual spectacle that bringing the song to life created. It also afforded me a front row seat to all of the “days”. It didn’t take me long to figure out that some “days” were better than others. (Ain’t that the truth!)

Even to a six-year-old, as yet unwise to the ways of the world, it was clear that the coveted roles were the golden rings. That year the young Marcia Brady look-alikes who snagged these parts were actually wrapped, toga-style, in gold fabric. Oh! My! God!

This was slightly troubling. I already had a complex about Marcia Brady. My hair was neither blonde nor straight. And my mother insisted on a pixie cut, which was the only way to tame its natural unruliness. My eyes, too, presented a problem. They’re brown. I looked like the wrong Brady: Mike, not Carol.

I came up with a plan. I noticed that the “golden rings” were fifth-graders, so I would have some time to grow, dye, and iron my hair. I convinced myself that I would be old enough to do these things when I was ten and also that no one would notice the eye color if I could perfect the Marcia Brady hair flip.

In the meantime, I took note of the many poultry-related aspects of the song (and how their players were being directed to act them out). I quickly decided that none of these were for me. (The swans being the notable exception— I’ll get to that in a moment.) I immediately dismissed the partridge. In our version the partridge carried a branch and a pear. Nary a snazzy fabric or a shiny ribbon in sight. The partridge was ho-hum. The only allure of the partridge was in its single solo and significant stage time— still, not enough cachet.

At least the two turtle doves “cooed”. There may also been some linking of thumbs and flapping of hands, to indicate flying, but that was about it. To Sister Maria’s credit, she made what may have initially seemed a brilliant casting decision that year. The turtle doves would be played by the O’Neill twins. What Sister Maria was unaware of (until it was too late) was that the O’Neill twins suffered from a severe case of one-upmanship. The cooing quickly got out of hand. The hand motions almost caused them to come to blows. Poor Sister Maria had no idea what formidable opponents Mary Margaret and Margaret Mary O’Neill would turn out to be. The O’Neill’s performance gave credence to the old adage “there are no small roles, only small actors”, but I was still skeptical about the whole turtle dove thing.

Putting aside the turtle dove casting fiasco, Sister Maria did make some excellent choices in the areas of costuming and set direction. (You were paying attention when I mentioned that the “five golden rings” were virtually wrapped in gold, right?) In a stroke of genius, the three French hens were outfitted with berets AND given makeshift French flags to pin to their shirt fronts. In addition, the three French hens were instructed to keep their hands behind their backs and bobble their heads in a way that suggested pecking. The beret alone was almost enough to convince me that the French hens were cool. Almost.

Even Sister Maria’s genius couldn’t save the four calling birds, though. She tried, God bless her. Apart from directing two of them to encircle their lips with their index fingers and thumbs while fluttering the rest of their fingers while the other two each cupped an ear— to indicate calling and listening, I would imagine. There is little else associated with this part of the song that I remember. I suppose she could have incorporated a bit of cooing, but she already had her hands full with those crazy O’Neill’s. Being cast as a calling bird was, obviously, to be avoided.

Sister Maria was either incredibly naïve or dumb like a fox. If you’ve had little contact with nuns it’s probably difficult for you to imagine their naiveté. But what other reason could there have been for her to expect that seven prepubescent boys could pull off “geese-a-laying” with a straight face? It probably didn’t help that they were instructed to pretend that they were laying eggs. Maybe she knew that none of the girls would ever mimic egg-laying in front of their families and the entire school. The boys, as it turns out, were the comic relief of the evening. I’ve always enjoyed getting a laugh, but not at the expense of my dignity. I wouldn’t be caught dead pretending to lay eggs. No matter how big the laugh.

The Swans, however, were the exception to the “Don’t be a bird in ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ rule” I was cunningly constructing. They had headdresses made of white feathers. Truthfully, they were just paper plates with cheap feathers glued to them, but to me they were straight out of a Busby Berkeley number! The swans’ only stage direction was “to float”. So, they did. They just kind of meandered around center stage, as Swans are wont to do. They were beautiful. If my inability to look like Marcia Brady kept me from my dream of being a golden ring, I would settle for being a Swan. I knew that my normally craft-challenged mother could pull off something as simple as attaching some feathers to a plate. She’d managed the drum, for God’s sake. I even dropped a few subtle hints to my unsuspecting mother when we were in the Five and Ten. I pointed out the feather boas, examined their shoddy construction, and indicated that the feathers could easily be removed and glued onto something else. As I recall, she muttered something along the lines of “Removed and glued on to what, exactly?” “I don’t know”, I shrugged innocently, “maybe a paper plate.” It’s never too early to start planning for being a Swan.

Following the Swans, of course, are the Maids-a-Milking. They, too, had hats. Normally I’d have been all about the hats, but a boring bonnet is just no substitute for a feathered headdress. They also wore aprons, carried buckets, and got to skip. You really have to hand it to the good Sister here. One doesn’t normally associate apron-wearing and bucket-carrying with skipping. She got a little careless with the Maids, though. After the skipping she had them stop downstage, plunk down their buckets, and pull milk from imaginary udders. It reminded you that the Maids were commoners; it was suggestive of servitude. I would have been down for the skipping and I might even have settled for the bonnet, but I had to draw the line at the milking.

The Ladies Dancing might have held some appeal if Sister Maria hadn’t plum run out of ideas. I think she just gave up after the Maids. Or maybe there wasn’t much room left on the stage. In any event, they didn’t so much dance as they curtsied. I’ve never been much for the curtsy. Outside of meeting a monarch or playing Anna in “The King and I” there’s really not much call for it.

The Lords-a-Leaping and the Pipers Piping were reserved for the boys. Sister Maria really went out on a limb back in 1971 casting ganders to play geese, but even she wouldn’t use girls as Lords or Pipers.

I took my role as a Drummer very seriously and acquitted myself as well as any six-year-old with a Quaker Oats box tied to her neck with a gold ribbon could have been expected to, but I have to admit that I may have lost my beat here and there while I watched the Golden Rings and the Swans. Sadly, Sister Maria was moved to another parish and our Annual Christmas Pageant reverted back to The Nativity. I was cast as a shepherd. (I can’t think why. Maybe we didn’t have enough boys?) I got to say, “Hark! Who goes there?”

Having a line as a second-grader was pretty impressive, but still, as I laid there in the field awaiting the Wise Men and my one line, I couldn’t help but curse the itchy beard while I daydreamed of gold fabric and white feathers.

photo credit: 12 Days of Christmas