Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Christmas disasters often come back to charm us

(The Bellefonte supplement to the Centre Daily TImes has ceased publication as of Dec. 21, 2005, so this is my final column for that venue.)

The Christmases I remember most vividly are not the joyous ones but the ones when something went wrong. The year the Christmas tree fell forward with a swish and a tinkle of broken glass just as the last ornament was put in place. The time a domestic squabble erupted into a kitchen war with much slamming of pots and pans. The cookies that burned.

I don't remember the pretty gifts over the years as much as the shabby ones, like the doll I got when I was about 6. She was very small with a cloth body and a molded head and even a molded hair ribbon. She had no feet, just black stumps under her dress. The shame I felt was palpable. I did not play with this doll. I did not even want to look at her.

In my first Christmas entertainment, I was to be a skater in a short, red taffeta dress. Awkward at doing the leg extensions to "The Skater's Waltz," I made only a halfhearted attempt at the steps. When Sister assigned a third-grader to move my feet in time to the music, I resisted. The older girl told Sister I kicked her; I say she deserved it.

For our high school Nativity play, my two best friends and I were cast as vestal virgins. We giggled our way through practice, but the night of the performance we lost it completely. I entered and delivered my line, "Veronica, hast thou kept the watch?" and the three of us broke up. We could not control our hysteria even with priests, parents and nuns staring in stony silence.

Over the years, there was always at least one disaster of the season. When I was teaching, a new administrator required all faculty to participate in a door-decorating contest. As I was stringing up lights, I noticed I was standing in water that was pouring out of the boys' lavatory across the hall. When no janitor arrived, I learned that another administrative edict had just taken effect: No repairs could be done until a work order was issued from "downtown."

This year, the stress began early. I listened to Christmas carols over the phone for 25 minutes waiting for another party to pick up. I called my long-distance provider for the third time to complain about a suspension of service notice for a bill already paid. A telemarketer would not get off the line, insisting that I press "1" now. Some people, it seems, just don't have any Christmas spirit.