Biff America: Away in a (plastic) manger
Blame it on male menopause, senility, or good bourbon – Whatever the reason, Friday night found me standing in a neighbor’s front yard, bawling like Tiger Woods re-reading his pre-nuptial.
All brought on by a plastic nativity scene.
I have a soft spot for those tacky manger decorations. A homemade, Christ-in-the-manger display was the focal point of my family’s Christmas decorations while I was growing up. My sister made it in Girl Scouts. A milk carton was the manger with pipe cleaners and cloth depicting Mary, Joseph, and the three Wise Men. A small yellow light bulb was stuck through a hole in the milk carton/manger and when it was left on too long you could smell burnt wax.
The manger and crew, minus the Christ, would be set up in early December.
On Christmas Eve, my mother would ceremoniously place the Savior – made from baked Silly Putty and wrapped in swaddling clothes made from old socks – in the milk carton stable. The family would sing “Silent Night” and then head off to bed.
My fond memories are certainly a product of my being the youngest of my family. Though I looked forward to the tradition, my older siblings thought it lame and participated begrudgingly.
Thirty-plus years of resort living has anesthetized some of the Christmas spirit out of me. Not only have we commercialized much of the purity out of the celebration but work, being childless, and living in a community packed to capacity, have turned the holidays into something to endure rather than celebrate.
Wednesday night was my company’s holiday party. Juicy, my secret Santa, gave me some lip balm and a pint of Crown Royal. Due to the fact that I was driving, I opted not to open the whisky. Rather, I drank an obligatory eggnog (ingredients: fat, sugar, cholesterol) enjoyed a meal with my co-workers and bid a hasty retreat.
About 4 inches of snow had fallen, and the drive home was slick even while sober. I negotiated my truck carefully, enjoying the decorated homes along the way.
About a half mile from my house I passed a yard lit up with Christmas bushes and a life-sized, manger scene; the lighted plastic beckoned me back.
Leaving my lip balm but bringing the booze, I jumped on my bicycle and cruised through the snow back towards the manger scene. It was late, and I had no idea who lived there, so I stashed my bike and quietly approached the plastic figures.
The fact that the scene was store-bought rather than home-made did little to ensure quality. I remember thinking my sisters’ milk carton and Silly-Putty version looked good when compared to the molded plastic.
The image was both beautiful and sad. Though Joseph was slightly melted and disfigured and Jesus looked like a Smurf, I was overcome with emotion.
It could have been holiday stress, the whisky, joy of new snow, or the gaze of the Christ-child staring up at me in Smurf-innocence, but I was overcome with a wave of both melancholy and gratitude. I imagined myself the fourth wise man; but rather than gold, frankincense and myrrh, all I had to offer was a bottle of Crown Royal with a few sips missing.
The snow continued to fall as I pedaled home. I stopped a few times and looked back behind me to see my bike tracks were no longer straight.
Almost as if on cue, the clouds broke briefly and one lone star became visible over the peaks of the Ten Mile Range. I was struck by the near impossible beauty and the possibilities it implied.
Aging is not always pretty. But so far for me the ravages of years, sun and history have been more than compensated by the perspective and wisdom that simply living provides. It has lent an insight into what is important and what is not. The one thing that terrifies me about getting older is the cynicism and anger that often seem to be a by-product of years on earth. For that, it is helpful to have some possible antidotes – like male menopause, my eventual senility and, in the meantime, good whisky and bad nativity scenes.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on RSN TV and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff’s book “Steep, Deep and Dyslexic” is available from local book stores or from http://www.webersbooks.com .
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