"Nearly all column writers, when they get old and tired, write a lot about themselves, which is not so much egotism as convenience. It is the convenience of sitting still. I therefore admonish all column writers to refrain from reminiscing and writing about themselves until they are fifty and, assuming that they will draw their allotted three score and ten, that gives each of them twenty years to bore the hell out of the reader, which I think is enough."
- Damon Runyon
I am well past fifty, well past three score and ten actually, and I have been boring the hell out of readers for far more then twenty years.
But this is the season when, if you are old, it is not unreasonable to reminisce about Christmas past, especially when Christmas today is so much under attack by educated fools who object to any display, song, tradition or reading in the public square (take that to mean especially in the public classroom) relating to the birth of Jesus Christ.
These same fools, preaching the gospel of separation of church and state (a concept, at least as drawn from the text by them, is nowhere to be found in the plain language of the Constitution), think it their mission to silence the public expression of Christianity while giving a pass to many other religions and beliefs, some of which are not nearly as tolerant of Christianity as Christianity is of them. It is almost as if those who sue or threaten to sue to keep Santa Claus and "Joy to the World" in the closet think it just to discriminate against a religious majority and heinous to discriminate against a religious (or non-religious) minority.
Only in America, I suppose.
Christmas past. I cannot visit there without a memory of the one-room country school I attended as a child when America was still in the grip of the Great Depression. Each Christmas our teacher, Mrs. Stokes, put on an evening program for parents, grandparents and other friends and relatives of her 25 to 30 students, grades one through eight.
It was not easy. The school had no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing. None of the things taken for granted today. She had a battered upright piano, which she played loudly but poorly. Borrowed kerosene lamps furnished some light. Bed sheets strung across a wire served as a stage curtain. The night I remember best was the one when she staged a much edited version of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens. I played Scrooge. (My wife says I was typecast.)
We had a band of sorts - rhythm sticks, bells, cymbals, etc. Mrs. Stokes on the piano. Pretty dreadful, actually. And a choir. Oh, those thin, reedy voices belting out "Hark the Herald Angels Sing!" My brother, Jack, was one of the "We Three Kings of Orient Are." The kings all wore bathrobes. I don't know where these came from. Undershirts and drawers were all I remember being worn as nightclothes in our house. The kings had beards made from cotton waste and crowns cut from paper.
The Babe in the Manger was a girl's doll, of course. It never cried and was not supposed to. Were there dolls that cried in those days? I suppose there might have been. In rich families. The Virgin Mary was played by a seventh grade girl who had real breasts. At least that's what some of the older boys said.
There were no animals in the program, no sheep or cows or donkeys. There easily could have been, given our farm community. Animal sounds came from offstage, left. The girls did the baah-baah of sheep, and the boys the moo-moo of cows. For some reason or other, Mrs. Stokes didn't have anyone do donkey sounds, perhaps because she considered those sounds vulgar.
After the choir's rendition of "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem" and "Silent Night, Holy Night" (always a favorite) the program ended. Scattered applause greeted our curtain calls.
My mother and grandparents came up to say how well I had played Scrooge. My father, who drank a lot, was not there. There was apple cider and Christmas cookies for those who came.
Yes, I suppose I romanticize a bit about the old days, the days when all of life was simpler, when most of us never dreamed that opening the school day with recitation of "Our Father who art in heaven ..." and the Pledge of Allegiance to "one nation indivisible..." (there was no "under God" in the Pledge then) was hurtful to anyone.
R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.