Saturday, December 11, 2004

This is my little Christmas present to you. Please spend it all in one place. :)

Marion's Cookies - A Chintzy Little Christmas Story by Mackenzie MacBride

Last night I attended a C budget local musical pageant called "The Christmas Rose." It was in a glorious domed downtown church that I'd walked by for years (has it been that long?!) but not entered until last night.

In the past I tended to avoid going into restaurants and churches that I can see from my loft window. In case I'm forced to look at them later and remember the "good times" that have slipped away. And basically be tortured by the memories. Lately I've been trying to subscribe to the philosophy "it's better to have the memories than not".

This little musical pageant was complete with child singers, divas playing singing monks and a little orchestra. The plot concerned, as one might guess, a Christmas rose. Basically the characters spent the entire pageant chattering about and disbelieving in the existence of a rose that blooms every Christmas Eve. At the end a little child walked out onto the stage when the lights were low and dropped the Christmas Rose in front of everyone. Plop. There it was.

I was reminded of Sunday school pageants I participated in when I was little. One of our pageant's plots concerned a Christmas bell. The children sat up in the choir loft in front of the congregation. Singing songs and acting out little skits I've long since forgotten. It seems the children were not told what the ending of the play would be.

I just remember at the end of the pageant when the long-awaited, mysterious Christmas bell was supposed to make its entrance we kids looked down into the pews as the senior citizens who made up the choir, including my own dazed and awkward old aunt Ira, pulled big gold bells out from their shimmering blue polyester choir gowns and rang them with guilty looks on their faces. Guilty like they'd betrayed the fact that there was no Santa Claus. (A fact I still refute.) These were the Christmas bells. These were the Christmas bells?! I remember looking out at this bell ringing episode and thinking "Who's fool do you think I am? The seniors in the choir rang the bells. Not angels." I guess that was the start of my moth to the flame appeal/ contempt for B movies and C grade church pageants. I can't help but enjoy the laughs these productions inspire.

Sunday school was an especially tortured experience from start to finish. It was operated by a purple haired hair dresser named Dina, her over-bearing and mean high school woodshop teaching husband named Irwin, a quintessential grandma named Marion, and a few other shrews from the surrounding area. Dina's two sons Mark and Rick were in the Sunday school and always given preferential treatment. They got to stand in the front of the lines. Use the best markers. Bully the other kids, including myself.

Irwin, the father, was a bully too. During preparations for the previously mentioned Christmas Bell pageant I tripped on the stage. Looking back i guess I did do it for attention. Irwin yelled, "This is not a stumble show!" I yelled back, "I know." I remember that show down as one of the first times I ever stood up for myself. It's no wonder when Irwin later showed up dressed as Santa Claus I refused to accept my bag of treats and instead sat on the church steps waiting for my father to pick us up. This was very controversial behaviour at the time. But I refused to accept Irwin as Santa Claus. And I still believe anyone who could accept this was seriously settling for less.

The Sunday school format was always the same. My brother and I would be chased out the door into a whatever used car my father was trying to sell at the time and driven at full speed to the next village where we were deposited in front of the church, hopefully before anyone got a look at whatever car we were driving. We would then stand in the front of the church in a line with the other kids and sing songs such as, "Jesus Loves Me" and, "Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock".

We would then go into the church vestry to complete some religious themed craft. Some of the more memorable crafts were: 1. trying to take ceramic hand-held sized versions of the 10 Commandments and paint them brown with watery water paints and having them come out looking like they were china plates sprayed with diarrhea instead of the ancient slabs of mud rock that the 10 Commandments were said to have been written on. And 2. Irwin deciding we were all on "God's team" and therefore all needed to wear these hideous matching black team tee shirts with gold numbers on the back. And all of the tee shirts had #1 on the back. Because we were all #1 to God. (Irwin thought this craft was a real brain wave.)

The morning would always finish with a snack of watery McDonald's putrid orange drink and white short bread sugar cookies with coloured crunchy sprinkles on top. For years we ate this. Years! My brother would always get us laughing by sarcastically saying, "Got to get some of Marion's cookies. Yum Yum" And we'd laugh even harder in the pews during family Sunday, as we stood next to our father and watched our mother sing louder than everyone else from the choir loft, when my bother would say, "Now we turn to the E- piss- els". (Epistles being a book from the Bible. Duh.) Where did those days of innocence go? One day they just seemed to vanish. Along with the cookies.

Every spring, when the Sunday school would close for the year, the "Perfect Attendance Pins" were handed out. To get one of these lovely golden pins in the shape of doves or crosses the child had to have made it to all but 2 Sundays through out the year. For some reason my brother and I were rarely successful in attending all but two Sundays. So every other year we were humiliated in front of the entire congregation by being handed these chintzy little consolation pins that said "God still loves you" with red foam hearts sticking out of the centre of the pins.

Mark and Rick however got their "Perfect Attendance" pins every year. Not that they made it to all but two Sundays. They would go to Florida every winter and miss more than 2 Sunday's. But purple-haired Dina always had a flawless plan to help the boys cheat. Dina explained to the congregation that she personally administered the Sunday School lessons to Mark and Rick on the road. Thus they had not missed any Sundays and were entitled to receive their "Perfect Attendance" pins.

And it went beyond just pins. Each child's name was then put on metal plate and applied to a wooden plague constructed by Irwin, Dina's woodworking toad of a husband. Beside each child's name it was listed how many "Perfect Attendance" pins they had received. So by the time we all grew up Mark and Rick had 15 "Perfect Attendances" where as my brother and I had two. This plaque probably still hangs in the dusty old church today.

The cheating continued for Mark and Rick when their father took over the local Cub Scouts organizations and the boys had soon, I'm told, won the Cub car races and collected every badge there was to collect. Up to and including the "Pet Care" badge. Which was possibly the biggest farce of them all since they didn't even have a pet. The excuse given for why they should be able to wear a "Pet Care" badge on their sleeve when they had no pets was - they looked after the neighbour's dog for a day. Gave it some water or something. This was the beginning of my long standing disgust for cheaters, liars and patronage.

So I thought of all these memories as I stood in this foreign church hall during the intermission of, "The Christmas Rose". As I simultaneously: 1.stared down sneering children, 2.glared at little Cosmo girls who'd apparently wanted to date my boyfriend in the past, 3. fended off an obnoxious gay man who was telling us to, "Eat drink and be ferry" and that "Santa Claus really brought out your claws" and who only left when I asked, "Do you rehearse this stuff?" and 4.Ate a corner of my boyfriend's short bread white sugar cookie.

"I can tell these aren't Marion's cookies- they're missing the coloured sprinkles."


Note: Names have been changed to conceal the identities of the guilty.