So today is the 20th which means tomorrow and Wednesday is all about the Christmas engagement stories!
But, today...I have to tell you a story from my 8th grade year that makes my mother laugh wildly every time she thinks of it. And that's something that doesn't happen very often. This one may take a bit of explaining, but I think, in the end, you'll find the humor the way we did.
One of the cornerstones of traditional Christmas Eve experiences is the Children's Christmas Eve service. This is a church service where little girls put on a lot of velvet and curl up their hair and boys are wrestled into sweater vests and clip on ties so that they can stand up in front of church, sing a few Christmas hymns, and recite in unison "FORUNTOYOUISBORNASAVIORWHICHISCHRISTTHELORD!"
It's a big deal, Christmas Eve services. Cameras, cam corders whir in the back as 8th graders sit sullenly until it's their turn to stand up and recite, and there's always some 4 year old who cries so hard he wets his pants.
When I was one of those surly 8th graders, our Christmas Eve service was lead by the pastor's wife, an imposing figure of a woman we're going to call...wow, I don't have a clever name for her because, well, she's was so singular. I'll call her Mrs. because if I call her anything else, someone, somewhere, might sue me. But I swear to you every word of what I'm about to tell you it true.
The high point of our Christmas Eve service the year I was in 8th grade was the singing of Silent Night and Peace Peace. This is a musical number that is performed generally with a children's choir and an adult choir. The kids sing Silent night and the adults sing Peace Peace, which goes like this:
Peace, Peace, Peace on earth and good will to all
This is the time for love
This is the time for joy
Now let us all sing together
For peace peace peace on earth.
When done correctly, it's magical.
Mrs. was one of those grand women who believed in over dressing for everything. At 6'3" 275 lbs., she was hard to miss. But when she did up her mountain of curly red hair, painted all nine of her fingernails bright red (you read that right, she was missing the pinky finger on her right hand at the knuckle. Just a stubby finger...no red nail.) and donned something sparkly and flowing, she was a vision of Vegas like chic. She was the choir director for the entire church, which means the choir, the junior choir, of which I was a member, and the school kids who couldn't really sing or didn't want to be in junior choir but were forced to be in the church service all fell under her bedazzled waving arms.
Her vision for this song was sort of a theater in the round magic that really should involve a couple of teamsters to pull off. The senior choir was to line up behind the junior choir on the altar area. No risers, so the senior choir was sort of buried in the back. The non singing kids were on either side of her standing in lines. The organist...and this is key, was in the balcony BEHIND HER. And the big part was that the organ was backwards in the balcony. In order for the organist to see what was going on on the main floor of the church, he or she had to look in the mirror on the organ. Oh, and the organ bench was actually higher than the balcony railing, so there was always a certain degree of danger in playing the organ.
The service itself went pretty well. No one cried that year, or wet their pants. All we had to do was get through "Peace Peace" and we were free to go home and enjoy the real meaning of Christmas...you know, the present part.
The organist, a darling woman who shared my maiden name, and I will call her Ruth, because that is her name, fired up "Silent night" and the kids started singing on all three sides of Mrs. Then, with a point of a long red claw, Mrs. started the senior choir.
I'm not sure how it happened...okay, sure I am. The members of the senior choir couldn't see Mrs., so therefore they buried their faces in their music and ignored the fact that the organ, and with the organ the children, were pulling farther and farther ahead of them. (Average age of the senior choir...84)
In a move that was unheard of...and is now legendary, Mrs. stopped the show. "Stop, stop! Ruth! Stop playing!"
Mrs. just stopped Christmas Eve. Just like that. I was in the front row of the Junior Choir...it was all I could do to stop from laughing out loud. Then tension in the church was a heavy cloud.
Not for the senior choir though...the bass section, God love them, didn't hear her shouting to stop...and in a silent church, the four basses growled out, "NOW LET US ALL SING TOGETHER!" before an Alto shoved them with her folder.
There was a horrible, delicious stretch of time when the room was silent, waiting for something, anything, to happen. Mrs. took a deep breath, raised her enormous arms, the light of the Christmas tree twinkling off the five diamond rings she wore on her nine fingers. "Ruth, take it from measure 84," she said.
We moved from that town a year later, and I don't know what became of Mrs. I do know this: That Christmas Eve became a legend across Wisconsin and to this day I will run into someone and we'll get to talking about Christmas music and they'll say, "Well, I'll never be able to sing "peace peace" with a straight face again."
Now, my friends...tomorrow: PART ONE of the engagement story!
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