Full Circle: O, Holy Night
It was a Christmas that wasn’t merry for all

My life in show business began when I was 8.

The Christmas play at Ethan Allen Elementary School, built in Philly, named after a guy in Vermont, was something we held in reverence. Like the summer’s first game of wireball.

 To prepare, we had all practiced reading lines, we had all practiced singing songs. Now, I wasn’t Enrico Caruso or even Eddie Fisher, but I had a pretty decent voice for a second-grader. Surely, I thought, it would land me a starring roll.

And then Miss Karsiki made her final cuts. I wasn’t a big fan of Miss Karsiki, a woman whose gray hair perfectly matched her yellow teeth. She started her announcements right at the top. Bobby Patterson would be Joseph. I was OK with that. He was a friend. And Mary Bakansas would be Mary. Type casting, if you asked me. And on it went. The king, the wise men. What was left?

“The rest of you,” Miss Karsiki said, “will be shepherds. You won’t have any lines. You’ll just gather around the manger.”

Gather around the manger? No lines? Look, I didn’t expect to be Joseph, but being an anonymous shepherd was like getting picked last in a Wiffle Ball game. I should have been better. I should have been a wise man. Or a Finkleman.

But I was a good sport about it. Just because she wouldn’t let me act doesn’t mean I would act out. Well…As we gathered around the manger for our first dress rehearsal, everyone was ready. The wise men wore robes of silk, studded with fake rhinestones. I wore a sheet.

“Let’s practice ‘O, Holy Night,’ children,” Miss Karsiki said. One of my favorite Christmas carols. But no one would ever see me sing because, facing the manger, my back was to the audience. So I decided right then. It was a decision that would stay with me for the rest of my life. If I couldn’t be seen, I sure-as-shootin’ was going to be heard.

The song started. A beautiful song. And then we got to my favorite part. Everyone sang, “Fall on your knees…” And then there was a BOOM! Like a dead body had fallen from the rafters. The stage shook. It was the sound of me falling on my knees. Well, that was what the song said. I was only following the lyrics.

“STOP!” Miss Karsiki yelled, her face now flush, her eyes now bulging. “Who did that? Who made that banging noise?”

No one answered. Where I grew up, there was only one law of the land. You didn’t rat on your friends.

Her face red with fury, Miss Karsiki told us to do it again. To take it from the top. “And this time, I better not hear that noise.”

And the children sang, “Fall on your knees…” And BOOM! It happened again. Now, Miss Karsiki was out for blood.

“Who did that?” she yelled. Silence.

“If no one tells me who did that, you’re all going to stay after school.” Silence. And then a squeaky little voice was heard.

“It was Maury,” Lorraine Latour said. “Maury made the noise.”

Lorraine Latour was one of those annoying little girls with clear glasses and all A’s. At recess, while all the other girls played hopscotch and dodge ball, Lorraine Latour sat on the steps and read her multiplication tables.

“It couldn’t be Maury,” Miss Karsiki said. “Maury’s such a good boy. He wouldn’t do anything like that.”

“But it was Maury,” Lorraine Latour said, almost in tears.

Miss Karsiki just stared her down. No one contradicted Miss Karsiki. “Lorraine, just for lying about that, you’re going to stay after school today.”

And so it passed. Lorraine Latour would go on to become a head librarian, before joining the Federal Witness Protection Program. And I would go on to a meager life of truth and honesty. Abiding in the field. Keeping watch over my flock.

December 2015
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