By Lauriate Roly
The school I went to had a boy’s side and a girl’s side, “and never the twain shall meet.” It was strictly forbidden for either side to mix with the other. Even in the big schoolyard we shared together, there was a heavy painted line that neither gender child would even think of crossing over. We stayed completely apart… until Christmas time. Every Christmas season, a mixed group consisting of specially chosen honor pupils from both sides formed the privileged team that would put together the sacred “crèche” that would be featured in the schoolyard so everyone in the neighborhood could see it and pay homage to the memory of the original Nativity scene.
It was a distinguished honor to be chosen, and there were perks: special lunches, free chocolate milk, okay to chew gum or eat candy, not to mention approved absence from boring classes. For at least a week, the task required creative thinking, hard work, careful workmanship and general willingness to do anything to get the job done successfully. Also, ingenuity and the ability to invent and improvise and furnish whatever props that might be required. The school had almost life-sized mannequins representing the humans and the animals, but supplying whatever else that was needed became the prime obligation of this “crack,” specially chosen team.
The stable was built from wooden crates willingly furnished by the various stores and small manufacturing businesses in the parish, all sturdily constructed by the students of the manual training class. The local florists supplied dried flowers, bushes and straw and hay, all carefully arrayed by the artistic group from the girl’s side. The garments and clothes for the mannequins came from the home wardrobes of the students, either on the team or from other pupils in classes in the school.
I was the student who lived closest to the school and because I was so eager to prove myself worthy of being chosen for the team, I thought nothing of running the half-mile home to get whatever we discovered was needed. My father, grandfather and uncles were all artists and sculptors who earned their living by working for the clergy. Having grown up in this atmosphere it was quite natural that I developed an appreciable knowledge of things “liturgical,” so I became the prime candidate to answer the special needs of Sister Theresa, the project manager.
Plant pots for the bushes and trees – Grandpa had marble ones he once made and gladly loaned us.
Scenery screens for the backgrounds – my father would quickly design and paint them.
Special illumination and spot lights – the specialty of my uncles.
Utensils, lamps, bowls, dishes, vases – mother put them all together in a box for us.
And furniture – “Mom, could we borrow that small coffee table in the living room?”
“Mom, do you have any kind of tape, like adhesive tape, only brown”?
“Could we borrow that little step ladder you use for dusting the blinds?”
“Mom, Sister Theresa needs special glue like that stuff you’ve been using in the kitchen. Could we have some?”
“Sister Theresa wants to know if you could lend us some of your ornamental dried fruits?”
Day after day, my family seemed to be like the official prop house for the project.
I would walk in the door and my mother would say, “What does Sister Theresa need now?”
Next day, Mom would say, “Now what?”
I was beginning to be sensitive to the fact that Mom was getting just a little fed up with the idea.
Nearing the end of the project: “Mom, Sister Theresa says we need a little baby Jesus. Do you suppose we could lend her Margaret’s DyDee doll?”
“You’ll have to ask your sister. If she doesn’t mind, then it’s okay with me, but I’ll be glad when they finally get that thing finished. Do they expect to have it up by this Christmas?”
It got so that I was afraid to go home.
The last straw came when the good Sister asked for swaddling clothes for little Jesus.
“Alright. I’ll put something together for her. It’ll be ready when you come home to lunch.”
Sure enough, true to her promise, Mom had assembled a box of all the little cloth things that were needed to wrap the baby Jesus. But as she handed it to me, there was no mistaking the look of a final ultimatum, and she said, “Now take this to Sister Theresa, and ask her, if she would like me to send over your father… to play St. Joseph.”
The beautiful “crèche” was finished in time, and every evening there were lines of school parents and church parishioners just standing and admiring or holding rosaries and praying. My Mom visited every evening and always came away with tears in her eyes.
Born in Montreal, Lauriate is bilingual; his mother a Geordie from Newcastle on Tyne, his father a French Canadian Quebecer. Lauriate has traveled widely and has lived in Europe. His involvements are primarily of a creative nature focused on Music, Graphic and Literary Arts in the communications fields of Advertising and phases of the Entertainment business through television and film production.