WHEN I WAS GROWING up on our farm in Vanceboro, Maine, during the 1930s and ’40s, my mother always put on a Nativity play for the townspeople on Christmas Eve using mostly members of the family and various animals from the farm.
I first participated at about age 5 or 6. My role the first year was to sing four verses of “We Three Kings” all by myself. A solo. Well, I did it without any problems and received a nice round of applause from the packed house. Once backstage I learned there was going to be a second performance so that the people who’d remained outside, unable to find seats, would be accommodated.
Well, I began to cry when the second performance began. Yes, when it was time for my solo, I bravely sang all four verses of “We Three Kings” once again, but this time it was more of a wailing than a musical rendition, and the tears streamed down my face throughout.
No one was able to comfort me that night, not even my mother, and for some reason I refused to explain to her why I was crying. For years, she told people that I cried all through the second performance because I didn’t think we’d done it right during the first performance. It was one of those oft-told family stories.
But it was wrong. That is not why I cried. The reason I cried was because the second performance would go past my normal bedtime, so when Santa Claus came to our house that night, I would not be there in bed like I was supposed to be. I figured, therefore, that Santa would then assume I didn’t live there anymore or that I’d been a naughty boy and snuck off somewhere. Either way, there’d be no presents in my stocking that year. And, most certainly, that was good reason to cry.
Later that night, after my sister and I were finally tucked into our beds, it was, of course, a tremendous relief to hear our dogs begin to bark at Santa’s sleigh flying in from the north and, with an ever-increasing sound of bells, land on the roof above us with a great clatter of reindeer hooves. We were in bed in time after all. Thank goodness.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” Santa bellowed in a deep voice amid much foot stomping. Then there was a loud thump followed by a veritable stream of rapid-fire curse words in a voice suddenly familiar. My sister and I popped out from the bottom of our beds where we’d been huddling under the covers in exquisite terror and peered out the window that overlooked part of the roof. There was our father. He had a broomstick in one hand (to make the sound of reindeer hooves) and a string of bells in the other. He was lying prone on the roof, but was twisting the upper part of his body to look at his backside and the new rip in his best riding pants.
It was one of those eye-opening moments in life when you feel that, at least for an instant, you pretty much know everything there is to know.