The house I grew up in was right across the street from the church.

On every Christmas Eve, the Sunday School classes put on a Christmas program — the kindergartners shyly singing, “Away In a Manger,” the men in their plaid bathrobes portraying the shepherds, the wise men draped in damask bedspreads. Everyone in the community came.

The evening concluded with excited shouts from the children as Santa Claus entered, shaking jungle bells, “Ho Ho-ing” merrily and handing out paper sacks of hard candy, nuts, an orange and an apple. Everybody got a sack of treats — even those who came to church only that one night of the year.

These traditions were a wonderful part of my childhood. It was the way you celebrated Christmas.

And then I became a teenager.

I noted that some people bought their trees instead of dragging home a scraggly cedar Daddy cut down along Persimmon Creek. The depression was over, trees were for sale for $5 and Daddy agreed to buy ours. Daddy was easy. Esther Hartle wasn’t.

Esther directed the Christmas program. I was the angel who brought the glad tidings.

It was the third year in a row that I’d had to wrap a white sheet around me, tie on a pair of tinsel-edged wings and fasten a tinsel halo around my head so I was pretty blasé about the whole thing.

I had a lot of lines which were delivered from on top of the baptistry loud enough to wake up Blind Bill who was dozing on the back row.

“Behold!” I’d shout, raising both arms so that you could see my blue velvet dress under the sheet. “I bring you good tidings of great joy!”

I was a senior in high school and the boy I was crazy about was from a town 25 miles away where my aunt and uncle lived. He was in the Army and when my aunt and uncle came up for our family dinner the Sunday before Christmas, they brought him along.

He urged me to go back with them so we could be together for his furlough. I thought this sounded terribly exciting and sophisticated and finally convinced my reluctant parents it was the patriotic thing to do. But I didn’t reckon with Esther.

“Mary Ruth!” she screamed in righteous indignation. “You can’t do that! We can’t have the program without the angel! You have to be there!”

I hardened my heart against Esther’s pleas and went home with my aunt and uncle. But Esther had laid enough guilt and community responsibility on me that I wasn’t having a good time. I called daddy to come and get me.

When it came time for the program, I sullenly wrapped the sheet around me, fastened on the wings, stuck the halo on top of my head and grimly climbed to my spot on the edge of the baptistry.

Then Esther’s training kicked in and I delivered my lines loud and clear. To my surprise, when I recited, “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy!” I really meant it. And by the time the organ and choir burst into the joyous, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” while the spotlight held on my wide-spread, tinsel-edged wings, I knew that being a teen-age angel with a tinsel halo wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to you on Christmas Eve.

Mary McClure lives in Lawton.

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