“Now, we all know what kind of person Mary was. She was quiet and gentle and kind, and the little girl who plays Mary should try to be that kind of person. I know that many of you would like to be Mary in our pageant, but of course we can only have one Mary. So I’ll ask for volunteers, and then we’ll all decide together which girl should get the part.” That was pretty safe to say, since the only person who ever raised her hand was Alice Wendleken.
But Alice just sat there, chewing on a piece of her hair and looking down at the floor…and the only person who raised her hand this time was Imogene Herdman.
“Did you have a question, Imogene?” Mother asked. I guess that was the only reason she could think of for Imogene to have her hand up.
“No,” Imogene said. “I want to be Mary.”
(taken from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson)
I am sitting in the front row waiting for all the little shepherds and wise men to finish rolling across the stage. To the left, a fiddle solo is in the works. Away in a manger. All actors take their final resting place before the nativity scene begins. The angels flank the troupe, some of whom already have their hands pressed together in the prayer pose. Every one of these sweet little girls looks as if they could audition for the Philly Cheese commercial and win an appearance. Indeed, they are every bit the docile cherubs they are touted to be.
I make a few final changes to the arrangement on stage. As I step back to resume my spot in the front row, I trip over the speaker monitor, propelling myself backwards and very nearly in a downward spiral. I catch myself just before damage is done. Meanwhile on stage, Mary the Mother of Jesus is furiously pushing Joseph’s hands away from the baby. Any attempt he makes to get even an inch closer than his already “hands-off allowance” to the babe wrapped in non-biblical white polyester blanket with satin edges is thwarted by her “don’t mess with my baby” face. Joseph decides to pursue other interests, and instead gets caught up in something the shepherds are doing.
Meanwhile, the littlest shepherd decides it is his job to keep everybody quiet. He walks around shushing everyone, including the vocalist standing off-stage, who sings on oblivious to his tirade. Things get really bad at one point when he blocks the Late Elementary Girls class as they are speaking their lines. They very nearly forget to begin speaking, they are so distracted by his antics in front of them, along with his continuous chatter. No one really minds,though; and he eventually gets sidetracked by the baby in the cradle surrounded by the two ever decreasing bales of hay, which are flying helter-skelter all across the stage. Little Shepherd is off again toddling across the stage toward Mary.
Won’t she be glad to see him coming.
Mary continues to fuss over the baby. And when it comes time for the Early Elementary class to borrow the baby to use as a symbol, Mary is outraged. She has not let him out of her sight yet, and she’s not about to break tradition at this point. A few quick explanations suffice, and the show rolls on. The final number is coming up, and the Nativity dissolves to form a choir. But Mary is insistent that baby Jesus follow her to the front row. She proceeds to push the cradle with her toe for the finale, even though doing so puts Baby Jesus at risk of falling off the stage. At the rate things are going, there might be a few unexpected twists to the traditional Nativity Story, particularly if Mary happens to follow suite behind the cradle. I lean forward on high alert in case I need to make a sudden lurch, while Mary rocks the cradle precariously near the edge of the step on which she is standing.
All in all, some said it was the best Christmas pageant ever. And that’s saying something. Particularly in light of the fact that it was my own little imp who played Mary. And considering her track record, we all know how chancey it was for her to be in this role.
I guess the Imogene’s of this world really do make the best Mary’s after all.