33: Angel in Waiting

33: Angel in Waiting

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Christmas in Canada

Angel in Waiting

A good teacher is like a candle — it consumes itself to light the way for others.

~Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

I only wanted to be an angel. Just once. It was always Esther, or Karen, or my sister, or all three, but never me. I understand now why I was overlooked each year. I wasn’t really the angel type. Grade six girls were not exactly contenders for anything that involved good looks. Our teeth were still falling out and coming in, which in itself was laughable. I have only to look at school pictures from those years for a good belly laugh! Add the monster, puberty, looming on the horizon, and the package was far from fetching.

I am sure my mother’s genes were defective during my embryonic formative stages. Throughout my life I have maintained that I should have been a boy. I was muscular where other girls were soft and feminine. I had a “pioneer” stockiness that in later life gave way to a constant battle with the scales. My face was long and horsey, not heart-shaped and appealing like my female peers. I was gangly, walked and played rough like the boys, and cussed like them. So how could I be a sweet little angel at a Christmas concert? There was nothing sweet about me, and I hadn’t been little since babyhood. I was slated to be one of the shepherds forever in elementary school.

Midway through the year our Miss Fraser became Mrs. MacDonald and Mommy all in a matter of months. She left, and a new teacher arrived to teach this gaggle of farm kids. The new teacher, Mr. Fuller, was a hoot. He made learning fun, and there wasn’t a kid there who didn’t like him. He was young, had new ideas that worked, and after a few short weeks he had captured the interest of every student and every parent for miles around.

Kids who never answered a question in class were winning public speaking contests, and the morale in his classroom was higher than any experienced in that school. I didn’t know it as morale then, but I knew I was suddenly anxious and eager to be on that bus every day, just to show him my new project or read my latest story. He is definitely the teacher who sparked my love of writing. Mr. Fuller saw a vision of the writer-to-be. He read all of my stories in class, pointing out what I did naturally as what writing was all about to my classmates.

Christmas was one month away. Mr. Fuller told us to be prepared the next day — he would be choosing class members for plays and singing, and other acts. Already knowing my fate, I dug out my towel and the piece of rope for my headgear and Grandpa’s old striped robe for my costume. I still had my shepherd’s crook that my mother had made from a willow branch, soaked and bent at just the right angle.

Class on “choosing day” was relaxed and fun. It was hard for Mr. Fuller to bring us to any kind of order.

“Class! Listen up,” he announced. “We are doing something very different this year. I’ve talked to the other teachers, and no one else has used the entire class for their contribution to the concert. We are! Every one of you will be in this play. It is a musical rendition of the Nativity. That means it is all singing, so you better oil your vocal cords! Yes, we are doing the first musical ever at Warren Central School. I want your attention, and I need volunteers.”

He had a long list in his hand. I didn’t have to volunteer. I knew I would be appointed the shepherd, even if it was in a play in some-one’s living room. Everyone knew I had the outfit.

“Who wants to be Mary?” he asked.

Well, that wouldn’t be my first choice. I wanted to be an angel. Karen put her hand up, and she was Mary. Joseph was next. Lance became Joseph. I wondered if Joseph had a crop of blond peach fuzz on his chin like Lance, but they would likely cover it with one of Mrs. Reid’s woollen beards. She made beards for everyone, including Santa, if we needed one.

Mr. Fuller told us he had auditioned his newborn baby at home last night, and the baby had passed the test at two in the morning. He said he knew how to sing just like the Baby Jesus did so long ago in that stable far away. So, we were also having a real baby in the manger! This was looking like great fun.

“Okay, good news for the rest of you,” he continued. “Really easy costumes.” Yep. Really easy. I had mine ready. I could see me now, kneeling in the background, with my shepherd’s crook.

“The rest of the girls will be angels,” he said, and that was all I heard. As far as I knew, I was one of “the rest of the girls” and I was finally going to be an angel! I would be the best angel they had ever had. I had been practicing for this role for years in my dreams.

I willed the bus to go faster that night. My mother had an angel costume to make, and for once it wasn’t her usual darling who would wear it. I was the newest angel on the cloud.

I will likely never forget that Christmas concert, mostly because I was an angel. A halo-bedecked, white-gowned angel with coat-hanger wings covered in organdie filched from a discarded crinoline belonging to my aunt. I was “precious,” my grandpa said, although my mother was much less effusive in her praise of my costume.

“It’ll do,” she muttered matter-of-factly as she pulled it from the sewing machine the morning of the concert.

It’ll do? It was far better than “it’ll do.” It was the most breathtaking costume I had ever had on my body. I knew my songs inside out. They were old favourite carols we had grown up singing at home and at Sunday school.

We sang like angels, and Mr. Fuller’s little baby boy, the Infant Holy, squalled like any newborn as we sang. The musical was an unrivalled success in the Christmas concert history of Warren Central School. And best of all? I was finally an angel.

~Gloria Jean Hansen

Elliott Lake, Ontario

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