THE TRUMAN POCKET SQUARE is inspired by American writer Truman Capote. His novella "A Christmas Memory," tells the story of a young boy and his elderly cousin spending the holidays together. Too poor to afford gifts, they make kites each year for each other, and fly them in the meadows, believing it to be what heaven must be like. I included two kites mid-flight on the pocket square, referencing my favorite holiday story. And also decided to write a short one of my own...
ANOTHER CHRISTMAS MEMORY
When the summer sun slipped into the gray spiderweb winter sky, our church presented a live nativity play starring children in the congregation. Every year, I was an angel in the chorus, standing with a gold garland halo and muslin robe atop a metal folding chair behind the shepherds. Mary, mother of Christ, was reserved for the pretty girls, who wore a white and sky blue muslin robe, complete with a sash, veil, and rubber baby Jesus wrapped swaddled in a burlap sack.
I was shy, disliked bright stage lights making me sweaty. In the 2nd grade school play, I was cast as “Catie the Caterpillar,” the lead. My teacher told my mother, “Beth’s so sensitive, she’s made for the dramatic!” When I turned down the roll, I was recast as an extra. Showtime, I hid behind the curtain in a red ant costume with pipe cleaner antennae, instead of Catie’s magical garbage bag cocoon that transformed into a pair of brilliant Eric-Carlesque butterfly wings.
At ten years old, my luck ran out and there was no escaping the lead role of Mother of Christ. Esther with a lisp, our Mary veteran, came down with a flu, as well as David McKay, our Joseph that year. In a rural Connecticut cinderblock church with less than 75 people most Sundays, there weren’t any replacements.
“We have enough angels, so we need you to be our Mary” said Mrs. Melissa, my Sunday school teacher, who would sometimes let us make our own butter by shaking a jar of cream together until each kid’s arms were spaghetti, and we’d spread it on saltines as a snack.
“Do I have to?” I asked in vain.
“At least you get to be Mary. Pam is going to have to be Joseph,” she said and my stomach tumbled down an imaginary alpine slide of Noooooooooo!
“We’re having a girl Joseph?” Pam was a year older, and I resented her for being better at soccer than me, and for living in a yellow Victorian house downtown that was straight out of "Pollyanna," that I was sure she didn’t appreciate nor read. She had a blonde bowl cut, came to church with a chocolate milk mustache leftover from breakfast, wore past little league t-shirts and JNCO jeans, and skateboarded everywhere. Hidden in the pit of my jealousy, pushed down deep was growing girl crush on her.
What if I refused to be in the play? What if I hid in the storage closet past the bathroom where they kept the volleyball nets and Easter crosses? Or maybe, like in Little Rascals, a couple kids could stand on top shoulders and pass as adult Mary and Joseph?
Already I was noticing a pattern in my life for the awkward to spiral into mortification. Like months earlier, when I shouted “Holy crap!” after catfish barbs shocked me through my net at Lake Hayward while swiping under rocks with other church kids. My mother yelled across the beach, “Language Elizabeth!” and put me on time out on our picnic blanket in the middle of the crowded beach. Then and now, no escape.
From across the room, Mrs. Melissa gave me angry eyebrows that said, “Find your costume, swaddle that rubber baby doll, and get your singing voice ready.” Dread built as we donned our decades-old costumes wafting basement smells. The shepherds lined up with staffs from the churchyard maples, Wise Men stood with bedazzled dollar store paste gem boxes filled with imaginary frankincense and myrrh. I envied the angels gold heads and yards of white as they led us to the sanctuary. I carried rubber baby Jesus as Pam walked beside me down the center aisle, past our parents, to the small stage set, layered with fresh straw from a horse stall.
Through the classics, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” my face felt red. I looked down at doll in the trough manger and was almost certain there were former marker scribbles scrubbed from the hard neck. The donated doll’s eyes, the kind that were supposed to open and close, were stuck permanently open, bright and sparkling blue, vacant and unaware of the play. I wanted to switch places. I felt sorry for Mary, having to sleep in the itchy hay, no extra robes to change into, stuck with a baby.
As we droned to the final song, Pam pretend-sang, as she had with every song, mouthing the words with no sound. The congregation joined in to bolster us forward into a thunderous applause. As we began to exit the stage, Pam came up beside me and offered her arm at the center aisle. I wanted to refuse, but instead looped my arm through hers, with Baby Jesus in the crook of the other, and walked as fast as possible to the end of the aisle, where I freed myself.
Back in our Sunday school classroom, I put Jesus on the table, and pulled off the robe and veil, a parachute of hot air beneath. I felt a sense of womanhood: birth, sweat, child, and I didn’t like it. Worse still, walking with Pam, a girl Joseph, the center aisle where people could see straight through me, a crystal figure. See that I never wanted to be Mary. And maybe Mary never wanted to be Mary, but she didn’t have a choice. Neither did I.
“Great job!” My mother congratulated me afterward.
“I hated it,” I mumbled. My mother growled back quietly,
“Drop the attitude. You won’t have do it again.” I hoped it was true. Maybe the next year I’d come down with the flu or go back to being in the sexless angel choir. Become the omniscient narrator: a voice heard, not seen. Or maybe we’d be snowed-in by a blizzard so bad everyone would forget the year two girls played Mary and Joseph. White out how we linked arms, and my face, hot with shame. Bury us deep in the snow until we melted into tulips, blooming soft and pink, whatever we were told to be.