Thursday, December 14, 2006

rex's holiday memories: christmas 1983, the tale of a third grade something

The first seven of my educational years were endured at a small Free Will Baptist school. Now, I don’t have to tell you that private Baptist schools were set up to serve as a sort of prison for children, and you may have already assumed that I befriended small rats, marked the days with scrawled marks on the concrete walls, and slowly spooned an escape tunnel concealed cleverly behind a poster of Jerry Falwell, but you would then be exaggerating the situation slightly. But only slightly.

We were allowed two parties a year. There was always one on the last day of each semester, the first celebrating Christmas and the second being the end of the year. Christmas was understandably a big deal, and the entire school from kindergarten through high school held one big pageant, as small classes and an entire student body hovering somewhere just over a hundred students allowed for a manageable holiday performance. The older and more mature of these were given acting duties where they wove a morality play, biblical depiction, or both around the musical performances of younger children. I believe we were doing “Silent Night” my third grade year, and we would practice it at the third grade’s allotted time in the chapel every day for two weeks leading up to a Saturday evening performance following the end of the semester. That Friday we held our Christmas party before practicing.

I believe I brought potato chips. I was always bringing potato chips. Other students thankfully brought sandwiches and homemade desserts, and I recall gorging myself on M&Ms and sugar cookies and then washing them down with Mountain Dew and Dr. Pepper. It was a trait of overindulgence that would earn me the “guy past out in the yard” description at later parties in high school and college. At any rate, the third grade me twitched and giggled somewhere between youthful exuberance and a diabetic coma as the class marched in an orderly single-file line from the classroom to the chapel. I managed to slip a red marker in my pocket while passing the board on the way out.

I didn’t have any plans for the marker at the time and was quite possibly hallucinating and when I picked it up. Jesus may have even handed it to me for all I know.

I quivered in my designated spot along the back row of the makeshift choir stand in front of the pulpit and glanced about the blood-red carpeted sanctuary. Aside from our class it was wide open and empty, and restraining myself from running up and down the aisles eventually proved more for a caffeine and sugar addled nine year old to handle, but I was able to hold back for most of our ungodly slow rendition of “Silent Night”. Each syllable seemed to drag out longer than the previous, as if the song were caught on something or time itself was grinding to a halt.

It was there as I quaked in my bridled torture that I noticed an absence of Satan from the pageant. I had seen the older students act out their part, and there was a manger scene interspersed with the Baptist school equivalent of an after school special in which young people who had somehow made it fifteen years into life without hearing about this Jesus guy and the story of his birth finally get schooled in the nativity, but Satan was conspicuously missing. I knew this because I was looking for him. The only sermons I didn’t sleep or doodle my way through in those days were the ones filled liberally with literal fire and brimstone. I loved and respected me some Jesus, mind you, but the stories of hellfire and damnation served as my motivation to don the coat and tie every Sunday. I came for the Michelangelo but stayed for the Hieronymus Bosch, as it were.

Anyway, it occurred to me then and there, somewhere around “round yon virgin”, I think, whatever the hell that meant, that I should improvise a bit and introduce Satan into the play. The other grades weren’t in there at the time, mind you, but my debut as Satan wasn’t something I wanted to leave to chance. So it was that I ducked down behind the kid in front of me and began coloring my face with the red marker. I then waited a few seconds for the song to drag itself into the “sleep in heavenly peace” crescendo where I seized upon the dramatic finish to leap from the makeshift stand and channel my pent up energy into running up and down those long aisles impishly chanting “I’m the devil” in my best Satan voice.

I was finally caught by my teacher and a janitor or two and then led by the ear to the principal’s office where I was promptly and rather righteously paddled. Needless to say, the principal, a large man resembling a young and somewhat less friendly Herman Goering, decided against my ideas for an improvised Satan in the Christmas pageant. He was the director and the call was his, as the pageant was, in the end, a product of his artistic vision.
However, I still think the absence of a villain in the play the following night was rather palpable amid the mundane renditions of Christmas standards and polite smattering of half-hearted applause.

14 Comments:

Blogger John H said...

this DOES explain so much...

I'd given every baseball card and my 10 speed bicycle to be in attendance at a Nativity play where it was deviled up like yours.

My experience...ah hell..it was just boring...

10:10 AM  
Blogger Holiday Grinch said...

I went to the catholic version of that school...and even worse, all girls. The satan idea was brilliant. I had many moments, but none can compare to that.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

Perhaps I can take over a children's theater somewhere and do my own production, Hutch. If so, you're on the guest list.

I hated private religeous schools while I was there, HG, but I think that a little time in such an opressive environment might be good for the spirit.

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Seester said...

I think it's time you posted a picture of the third grade Rex L.

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Mrs. C. said...

I agree with the smiffster. Third grade Rex! Third grade Rex! And you could photoshop his face scribbly red. There's a picture in the back of one of the big photo albums downstairs.

4:22 PM  
Blogger Holiday Grinch said...

Yeahhhh, that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger.
We'll have to compare notes someday.

9:09 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

I'm afraid that all the photos of a young Rex with that optimistic smile and thick flaxen hair were somehow ritualistically burned some time ago, ladies.

It appears to have made bloggers of us, HG.

7:33 AM  
Blogger Joe Powell said...

came for the michelangelo and stayed for the bosch ... so true, so true.

and might i add what a fine holiday memory you have provided. but be glad you weren't in my Baptist church, where the kids were forced to stick muppets on their hands and lip-synch to stuff like Grandma's Feather Bed by John Denver. i'm fairly certain that led to numerous nights of heavy drinking in later life to erase that memory. obviously, even with copious amounts of alcohol, the memory is still seared into place.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I pretty much lost it at the leaping up with the red Satan face part. I wish there was video of this, totally.

10:08 AM  
Anonymous sis said...

You lie like a dawg, Mista Camino.

3:35 PM  
Blogger newscoma said...

I believe that this was one of the finest holiday stories I've ever read.
Christmas Satan will go down in the books.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I got about as far as the scribbling of the face before I broke out laughing. Thankfully, I didn't have a mouthful of water, because my computer would be soaked.

And Mrs. C said there's a picture. We want a picture! We want a picture!

12:31 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

I really couldn't find any younger pictures of myself. However, there were plenty of Mrs. C.

9:03 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. It is always great pleasure to read your posts.

9:21 AM  

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