Sunday, December 28, 2008

Boxing Day

Hear the poem read by the author

‘Twas the day after Christmas
And in the little church
All the bats in the belfry
Were asleep on their perch.

Christmas Eve service had ended
Thirty hours before
But the ashes from the fire
Still dusted the floor.

Jose the janitor
Was on a vacation.
A perk from the church to show
Its appreciation

His rest and relaxation
Would have gone quite off track
If he knew the mess that awaited
Him when he got back.

Kevin Boyer was giving
His wife Jill a massage
And later that day planned to
Organize their garage.

It was penance for allowing
Their four-year-old, Mary,
To play with toys during church
And not staying wary.

And little Mary was grounded
Upstairs in her room,
With only twenty new presents
To lighten her gloom.

Poor Mary pouted and felt
Quite misunderstood.
Since it was her toy car with
The dent in the hood.

Pastor O’Donnell was home
Putting ice on his knee
Which was bruised and swollen
To an alarming degree

He twisted it badly while
Lighting a candle aglow
And tripped when a small car crashed
Straight into his toe.

Henrietta Miggins was
Writing a letter
Demanding the little church
Pay for her sweater.

Who would have guessed when she
Wore it that night
A flying candle would
Set it alight.

She added a paragraph of
Advice for the pastor
Suggesting some rules to avert
A future disaster.

The most important, she said,
Was perfectly clear
Toys should be banned from Christmas
Eve service next year.

Happy Boxing Day!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Living Nativity

Hear the story read by the author

In the town of Normal, Pennsylvania, there’s a little church at the corner of Wilson and Elm. This year, Pastor Henry O’Donnell decided it would be nifty to have a living nativity scene for the Christmas season. They would build a wooden stable on the front lawn and have volunteers pose as the nativity story characters for two hours each Sunday between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Pastor O’Donnell considered himself more of an idea man than an organizer so he assigned church secretary Tammy Billings to be in charge of the project. Fortunately for the pastor, Tammy loved to be in charge of things. First, she had her husband Ralph build the stable and manger. Ralph was quite handy and whipped up an impressive set in no time.

Tammy created a sign-up sheet and began trolling for volunteers during coffee hours in late November. She had convinced Pastor O’Donnell that having a real baby play Jesus would be unwise given the average December weather in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, that same weather seemed to be having a chilling effect on the adult population’s willingness to participate as well.

Tammy managed to convince the Boyer family to volunteer for the second weekend. Or rather, she convinced Jill Boyer which was pretty much the same thing. She got Kevin Boyer’s friend Thad Wheeling thrown in for free. Kevin figured if he had to stand in the cold in a costume for two hours he wanted a buddy to suffer along with him. Thad was single and Kevin thought he ought to know what it was like to be married to a woman who volunteered for things.

Tammy assigned Kevin and Jill to play Joseph and Mary and gave Thad the part of a wise man. The two Boyer girls, two-year-old Suzie and four-year-old Mary insisted on participating as well. Tammy thought they were a little short to play wise men or shepherds, so she whipped up passable costumes so they could portray a sheep and a camel respectively.

Missy Moore agreed to be a wise man and seemed strangely excited by the prospect of wearing a fake beard. Tammy pressed Ralph into service as the third wise man but she still needed a shepherd. She couldn’t play the part herself because she was scheduled to serve food at a homeless shelter, and as the temperature in Normal dropped nobody else was stepping up.

The morning of the Sunday in question arrived and Tammy was faced with the prospect of a shepherd-less nativity. She worked the coffee hour crowd with furious determination but with the skies an ominous gray, it seemed every single person at church had urgent prior commitments. When she reported her dilemma to Pastor O’Donnell, he took it upon himself to find a volunteer. He immediately set his sights on choir director Shane Reed.

Shane had turned Tammy down without a shred of guilt because he’d played Joseph the first week and figured he’d done his time. That excuse didn’t satisfy Pastor O’Donnell who launched into a big speech about how valuable the tableau of the living nativity was in drawing attention to the church in this holy season.

“Why don’t you take the part yourself if it’s so important?” Shane asked.

The pastor was prepared with another speech in which he claimed it would be a dereliction of his responsibility to involve the congregation in the work of the church if he took a role. Shane eventually decided doing the part would be less painful and possibly less time consuming than listening to any more of Pastor O’Donnell’s speeches.

Noon rolled around and the participants gathered to don their costumes. Missy turned up with a surprise. A friend of hers owned a goat named Poppy Seed that Missy borrowed to compliment the animals portrayed by the two costumed children. Little Mary Boyer instantly fell in love with Poppy Seed. This affection manifested itself in a burning desire to ride the animal which briefly resulted in the odd tableau of a camel seated atop a goat on the church lawn.

Pastor O’Donnell happened along right about then on his way to lunch and commented that he didn’t remember mention of camels riding goats in any of the Gospels. Shane suggested that if the pastor would like to take his place, Shane would be happy to re-read the Gospels over lunch to fact-check the issue. The pastor declined the offer.

Though Mary’s affections remained undimmed, the other participants quickly grew weary of Poppy Seed. The goat ignored the hay they put on the ground in front of it and instead tried to eat the wise men’s robes.

Eventually the wise men learned the radius of Poppy Seed’s tether from where it was staked in the ground and were able to avoid the goat’s destructive teeth. Poppy Seed would not be so easily foiled, however. The manger was still within his reach and the plastic baby Jesus was swaddled in some tasty looking coarse cotton. Once everyone had settled into their poses and allowed their minds to wander to thoughts of the warm, cozy indoors, Poppy Seed made his move.

“Hey,” Jill yelled as Poppy Seed nabbed baby Jesus. “Give that back!”

Jill grabbed onto the doll’s head and engaged Poppy Seed in a tug of war. Missy moved to help but tripped on the goat’s tether, dislodging the stake from the ground. Poppy Seed gave a hard tug and the doll’s head popped right off in Jill’s hand. Now free, Poppy Seed loped away with the swaddled, headless doll, dragging the tether and stake behind him.

Shane noted that Biblical accuracy was going right out the window in this particular living nativity.

Meanwhile, Pastor O’Donnell had just finished scraping the ice from the windshield of his car. He was about to climb in when he noticed a quarter in the slush at the edge of the parking lot. “How lucky,” the pastor thought as he bent down to pick it up.

Right about then Poppy Seed galloped around the corner of the church and into the parking lot. He saw Pastor O’Donnell bent over and his goat instincts kicked in. He put his head down and butted the pastor from behind. O’Donnell was caught completely off guard and sprawled into the slush. Poppy Seed continued his romp.

Shane, in the lead among Poppy Seed’s pursuers, saw the entire incident. He tried hard to suppress his grin while he ascertained that the pastor had sustained no injury greater than a bruise. Fortunately Pastor O’Donnell’s backside was well padded.

There were several near accidents on Elm Street caused by drivers distracted at the sight of biblical characters chasing a goat with a headless baby in its mouth down the sidewalk. Pastor O’Donnell was certainly right about the living nativity getting attention.

They finally caught up to Poppy Seed four blocks later in front of a coffee shop. Shane grabbed the rope around the goat’s neck and Missy managed to get the doll back by trading for her robe.

“Well, we better get back to the church,” Missy said.

And just then it began to sleet.

Shane looked into the coffee shop. “I’ve got a better idea,” he said. “Coffee’s on me.”

Ten minutes later the coffee shop patrons were treated to the tableau of Mary, Joseph, two wise men, a shepherd, two children dressed as a camel and a sheep, and a bearded woman squeezed around a small table enjoying hot drinks while outside a goat tied to a parking meter devoured a cotton robe.

Kevin took a sip of his double gingerbread latte and sighed happily. “Forget gold, frankincense and myrrh. This is the best Christmas gift of all.”

“You’re welcome,” shepherd Shane said.