Today's post is inspired by Tara who has a great, fun calendar feature on her blog. Today is Share an Unhappy Holiday Memory Day. Well, I've had my share of holiday downers and disappointments. So in the spirit of the day, I'm going to write about one of them.
When I was five years old, I was old enough to attend Sunday School. Sunday School children, in addition to learning about the Bible, put on plays and shows for all the major holidays, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday and Easter, Mother's Day, Father's Day, Thanksgiving, and so forth. There's a lot of hard work and time invested in these church productions. You can't imagine how many cartoon hours I lost because I was forced to participate in these church performances. Our biggest performance had to be the Christmas Eve pageant held near midnight. That's right. Some genius thought it was a great idea to have church service at 10pm on Christmas Eve. Oh, but it gets worse--this service lasted til after 1 in the morning. That's right, over 3 hours of church!
When I was six, I was part of the choir of angels in the Xmas pageant. I sang the clearest (and loudest)! The church members were thrilled at my performance. Many, particularly the hard of hearing elderly, thought I was singing solo, since I was the only voice they could hear. The pastor's wife/director bumped me up to doing duets for the next year's many holiday plays and shows. By the next Xmas pageant, I was given a solo to sing as an angel. It was another smashing performance--or so I was told by my adoring public. The next year, I was given a speaking part! I was promoted to lead the Shepherds! And at eight years old, I was the youngest to ever play the part. Most of the Nativity characters were played by the teens. And I would play the lead Shepard for the next three years. I knew that it was only a matter of time before I got picked to be in the role I most wanted: A wise man.
Sure, there were other speaking parts I could've played; sure, there were other more famous parts, I suppose. But I wanted to be a wise man. Why? Because the wise men seemed so glamorous and exotic and wealthy. They had the snazzy costumes, the best props, and they were like royalty. They wore silk bathrobes with fake gems, carried shiny presents that represented gold and treasures, and they were guests in a King's palace. Meanwhile, the Shepherds wore old rags, carried walking sticks, and slept outside in the cold and dirt with the sheep. I wanted to be a play a rich person for a change. And my chance came when I was ten.
After playing a lowly, dirty, poor Shepherd for 3 years, I was picked to be one of the Wise Men! Finally, I was going to be one of the upper class characters in the Xmas pageant. And unlike other times where I hated going to practice and rehearsals, I looked forward to learning my lines for this role! I spent extra hours rehearsing and singing, perfecting my role. Then came the big night, Xmas Eve, and I was ready to shine!
As we were standing in the backstage, 15 minutes from curtain call, I saw the pastor's wife/director with a frazzled look on her face. It seemed like she was looking for someone, and when she spotted me, she started heading my way. Oh, oh. Part of me felt a foreboding. This wasn't the regular nervousness before the big show. Nope; this was that sixth sense warning that something bad was about to happen. And it was bad news indeed! The pastor's wife/director informed me that the lead Shepherd ate some bad food and was throwing up in the bathroom. He couldn't perform tonight. So, she asked me to reprise my role as lead Shepherd and give up my Wise man debut.
I was like, excuse me!?! You want me to what!?! The pastor's wife/director reasoned that since I knew the lines, I would be the best replacement for the lead Shepherd. One of the hazards of church productions is that there are no understudies. I asked, well, what about the other teens who used to play lead Shepherd? She said the only two she could find were unsuitable. One was too old; the other just refused. When I asked, well, what about my role as one of the three Wise men? She said that my part would become a non speaking part. She was going to put someone else in my role, wearing my costume.
I was furious! How dare she! I asked, well, why can't you just cut out the lead Shepherd? But she refused, saying that the lead Shepard was too important--he led the song and had the most lines! And I replied that my role as Wise man was just as important! Sensing my reluctance and anger, she appealed to my vanity. She tried to convince me that I was a great actor, and only I could pull this off; I could save the play; and the audience would be disappointed if the show was canceled, especially my mother; imagine how upset my mother would be at not seeing the show.
I took a deep breath, sighed, and agreed to reprise my role as lead Shepherd. After all, I was a professional, and the show must go on! That is the golden rule of the theater. And also because of the pastor's wife/director's veiled threat, that she would get my mother to come backstage and kick my wise ass! So I quickly changed my costume. God, I hated holding those drab Shepherd rags and putting them on. Then someone thrust a plush sheep toy into my hands--yes, this was one of my props. As lead Shepherd, I carried a little lamb. That little lamb became my stress ball as I angrily squeezed its neck with my hands! Then I just waited for our cue, going over the lines and song with the assistant director, the pastor's adult daughter.
Still, I was fuming. When we were about to go on the stage, the kid who was supposed to be the lead Shepherd came out of the bathroom, his face flushed and wet. He was in the class ahead of me. He managed a weak smile, wishing us well and said, break a leg!
I wanted to tell him, Mofo I'm going to break your legs for ruining my Wise man debut! I was about to tell him to choke on a candy cane when our cue came to go on the stage.
And so we went on stage. I put in a great performance. For days afterwards, I was complimented for showing so much passion and energy. Of course I had energy! I was freakin pissed! I was so furious that I didn't even stay for the rest of the service. As soon as the play was over, I walked out back exit, didn't even stay for the cast party held after the service. I walked straight home, knowing that I was probably going to get in trouble from my mom for leaving church before it was over. But I didn't care. I was mad as hell, and I needed to walk off all that anger! Surprisingly, my mom didn't admonish me when she got home. I think she knew that I was pissed at not making my wise man debut. All the hard work and time I put into all that practice was wasted, no use at all.
A few days later, I overheard that loser who was suppose to play the lead Shepherd telling his friends, including a former lead Shepherd, that he didn't want to go on stage Xmas night. He still had problems memorizing all his lines and he didn't want to look stupid on stage. So he faked an illness; basically, his laziness cost me my Wise man role. But before I could cuss him out and shower him with holiday cheer via my fists, he continued his story. He said that the pastor's wife/director said that if he couldn't perform, then she would just have to come and get me to reprise my role! I couldn't believe it! That backstabbing, lying bitch! She didn't even try looking for other previous Shepherds. She came straight to me and lied through her teeth! And the former lead Shepherd who was there confirmed the story. The pastor's wife/director never asked him to reprise the role, even though I remember her telling me that this guy had refused her request.
Well, I made up my mind right then and there to quit doing church productions. I even quit the choir. My mother tried to get me to change my mind, but I was adamant. No amount of pleading or sucking up from the pastor's wife/director changed my decision. She promised me bigger roles, even the lead in some of the productions. But I knew very well what lies she was capable of. No deal. I even stopped going to Sunday school all together. It made the pastor's wife mad that I wasn't listening to her, and it felt good to watch her powerless to do anything about it.
I still participated in regular school plays and productions, but no more for my church. Some of our regular school or club productions won local competitions and were featured on local tv. Hell, I even got local recognition and awards for my work. I got to play lots of great parts and be a part of great productions. But I never took part in another Nativity play again. I was offered the role of a Wise man when I was in high school for our annual Holiday festival; but it wasn't the same. I didn't get that rush of excitement and thrill I did when I was younger and was offered the role in that church pageant so long ago. So, I turned down the Wise man role in the high school Nativity play, opting to be part of the choir instead. I had a good time that Holiday festival and in every festival that I participated in for the rest of high school. Nowadays, whenever I see a Nativity production, I think back to that last church Xmas pageant. I get sad rather than angry, remembering how I was typecast, my dreams crushed. But a small part of me also feels pride, knowing that I survived that experience, making me much stronger and in a way, a much wiser man.
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