The Best Christmas Pageant Ever Chapter 4 By Barbara Robinson The first pageant rehearsal was usually about as much fun as a three-hour ride on the school bus, and just as noisy and crowded. This rehearsal, though, was different. Everybody shut up and settled down right away, for fear of missing something awful that the Herdmans might do. They got there ten minutes late, sliding into the room like a bunch of outlaws about to shoot up a saloon. When Leroy passed Charlie he knuckled him
behind the ear, and one little primary girl yelled as Gladys went by. But Mother had said she was going to ignore everything except blood, and since the primary kid wasnt bleeding, and neither was Charlie, nothing happened. Mother said, And heres the Herdman family. Were glad to see you all, which was probably the biggest lie ever said right out loud in the church. Imogene smiled-the Herdman smile, we called it, sly and sneaky-and there they sat, the closest thing to criminals that we knew about, and they were going to represent the best and most beautiful. No
wonder everybody was so worked up. Mother started to separate everyone into angels and shepherds and guests at the inn, but right away she ran into trouble. Who were the shepherds? Leroy Herdman wanted to know. Where did they come from? Ollie Herdman didnt even know what a shepherd wasor, anyway, thats what he said. What was the inn? Claude asked. Whats an inn? Its like a motel, somebody told him, where people go to spend the night.
What people? Claude said. Jesus? Oh, honestly! Alice Wendleken grumbled. Jesus wasnt even born yet! Mary and Joseph went there. Why? Ralph asked. What happened first? Imogene hollered at my mother. Begin at the beginning! That really scared me because the beginning would be the Book of Genesis, where it says, In the beginning and if we were going to have to start with the Book of Genesis wed never get through.
The thing was, the Herdmans didnt know anything about the Christmas story. They knew that Christmas was Jesus birthday, but everything else was news to them-the shepherds, the Wise Men, the star, the stable, the crowded inn. It was hard to believe. At least, it was hard for me to believe-Alice Wendleken said she didnt have any trouble believing it. How would they find out about the Christmas story?she said. They dont even know what a Bible is. Look what Gladys did to the Bible last week. While Imogene was snitching money from the collection plate in my class, Gladys and Ollie drew mustaches and
tails on all the disciples in the primary-grade Illustrated Bible. They never went to church in their whole life till your little brother told them we got refreshments, Alice said, and all you ever hear about Christmas in school is how to make ornaments out of aluminum foil. So how would they know about the Christmas story? She was right. Of course they might have read about it, but they never read anything except Amazing Comics. And they might have heard about it on TV, except that Ralph paid sixty-five cents for their TV at a garage sale, and you couldnt see anything on it
unless somebody held onto the antenna. Even then, you couldnt see much. The only other way for them to hear about the Christmas story was from their parents, and I guess Mr. Herdman never got around to it before he climbed on the railroad train. And it was pretty clear that Mrs. Herdman had given up ever trying to tell them anything. So they just didnt know. And Mother said she had better begin by reading the Christmas story from the Bible. This was a pain in the neck to most of us because we knew the whole thing backward and forward and never had
to be told anything except who we were supposed to be, and where we were supposed to stand. Joseph and Mary, his espoused wise, being great with child Pregnant! yelled Ralph Herdman. Well. That stirred things up. All the big kids began to giggle and all the little kids wanted to know what was so funny, and Mother had to hammer on the floor with a blackboard pointer. Thats enough, Ralph, she said, and went on with the story. I dont think its very nice to say Mary was pregnant, Alice whispered to me. But she was, I pointed out. In a way, though, I
agreed with her. It sounded too ordinary. Anybody could be pregnant. Great with child sounded better for Mary. Im not supposed to talk about people being pregnant. Alice folded her hands in her lap and pinched her lips together. Id better tell my mother. Tell her what? That your mother is talking about things like that in church. My mother might not want me to be here. I was pretty sure she would do it. She wanted to
be Mary, and she was mad at Mother. I knew, too, that she would make it sound worse than it was and Mrs. Wendleken didnt even want cats to have kittens or birds to lay eggs, and she wouldnt let Alice play with anybody who had two rabbits. But there wasnt much I could do about it, except pinch Alice, which I did. She yelped, and Mother separated us and made me sit beside Imogene Herdman and sent Alice in the middle of the baby angels. I wasnt crazy to sit next to Imogene-after all, Id spent my whole life staying away from Imogenebut she didnt even notice menot much, anyway.
Shut up, was all she said. I want to hear her. I couldnt believe it. Among other things, the Herdmans were famous for never sitting still and never paying attention to anyone-teachers, parents (their own or anybody elses), the truant officer, the police-yet here they were, eyes glued on my mother and taking in every word. Whats that? they would yell whenever they didnt understand the language, and when Mother read about there being no room in the inn, Imogenes jaw dropped and she sat up in her seat. My God! she said. Not even for Jesus?
I saw Alice purse her lips together so I knew that was something else Mrs. Wendleken would hear about-swearing in the church. Well, now, after all, Mother explained, nobody knew the baby was going to turn out to be Jesus. You said Mary knew, Ralph said. Why didnt she tell them? I would have told them! Imogene put in. Boy, would I have told them! What was the matter with Joseph that he didnt tell them? Her pregnant and everything, she grumbled. What was that they laid the baby in? Leroy said. That
mangeris that like a bed? Why would they have a bed in a barn? Thats just the point, Mother said. They didnt have a bed in the barn, so Mary and Joseph had to use whatever there was. What would you do if you had a new baby and no bed to put the baby in? We put Gladys in the bureau drawer, Imogene volunteered. Well, there you are, Mother said, blinking a little. You didnt have a bed for Gladys so you had to use something else. Oh, we had a bed, Ralph said, only Ollie was
still in it and he wouldnt get out. He didnt like Gladys. He elbowed Ollie. Remember how you didnt like Gladys? I thought it was pretty smart of Ollie, not to like Gladys right off the bat. Anyway, Mother said, Mary and Joseph used the manger. A manger is a large wooden feeding trough for animals. What were the wadded-up clothes? Claude wanted to know. The what? Mother said. You read about it- she wrapped him in wadded-up
clothes. Swaddling clothes. Mother sighed. Long ago, people used to wrap their babies very tightly in big pieces of material, so they couldnt move around. It made the babies feel cozy and comfortable. I thought it probably just made the babies mad. Till then, I didnt know what swaddling clothes were either, and they sounded terrible, so I wasnt too surprised when Imogene got all excited about that. You mean they tied him up and put him in a feedbox? she said. Where was the Child
Welfare? The Child Welfare was always checking up on the Herdmans. Ill bet if the Child Welfare had ever found Gladys all tied up in a bureau drawer they would have done something about it. And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, Mother went on, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and Shazam! Gladys yelled, flinging her arms out and smacking the kid next to her. What? Mother said. Mother never read Amazing Comics.
Out of the black night with horrible vengeance, the Might Marvo I dont know what you are talking about, Gladys, Mother said. This is the Angel of the Lord who comes to the shepherds in the fields, and Out of nowhere, right? Gladys said. In the black night, right? Well Mother looked unhappy. In a way. So Gladys sat back down, looking very satisfied, as if this was at least one part of the Christmas story that made sense to her. Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of
Judaea, Mother went on reading, behold there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem, saying Thats you, Leroy, Ralph said, and Claude and Ollie. So pay attention. What does it mean, Wise Men? Ollie wanted to know. Were they like schoolteachers? No, dumbbell, Claude said. It means like President of the United States. Mother looked surprised, and a little pleased like she did when Charlie finally learned the times tables up to five. Why, thats very close, Claude, she
said. Actually, they were kings. Well, its about time, Imogene muttered. Maybe theyll tell the innkeeper where to get off, and get the baby out of the barn. They saw the young child with Mary, his mother, and fell down and worshipped him, and presented him with gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. Whats that stuff? Leroy wanted to know. Precious oils, Mother said, and fragrant resins. Oil! Imogene hollered. What kind of a cheap king hands out oil for a present? You get better presents from the firemen!
Sometimes the Herdmans got Christmas presents at the Firemans Party, but the Santa Clause always had to feel all around the packages to be sure they werent getting bows and arrows or dart guns or anything like that. Imogene usually got sewing cards or jigsaw puzzles and she never liked them, but I guess she figured they were better than oil. Then we came to King Herod, and the Herdmans never heard of him either, so Mother had to explain that it was Herod who sent the Wise Men to find the baby Jesus. Was it him that sent the crummy presents?
Ollie wanted to know, and Mother said it was worse than that-he planned to have the baby Jesus put to death. My God! Imogene said. He just got born and already theyre out to kill him! The Herdmans wanted to know all about Herodwhat he looked like, and how rich he was, and whether he fought wars with people. He must have been the main king, Claude said, if he could make the other three do what he wanted them to. If I was a king, Leroy said, I wouldnt let some other king push me around.
You couldnt help it if he was the main king. Id go be king somewhere else. They were really interested in Herod, and I figured they liked him. He was so mean he could have been their ancestor-Herod Herdman. But I was wrong. Whos going to be Herod in this play? Leroy said. We dont show Herod in the pageant, Mother said. And they all got mad. They wanted somebody to be Herod so they could be up on him. I couldnt understand the Herdmans. You would
have thought the Christmas story came right out of the F.B.I. files, they got so involved in it wanted a bloody end to Herod, worried about Mary having a baby in a barn, and called the Wise Men a bunch of dirty spies. And they left the first rehearsal arguing about whether Joseph should have set fire to the inn, or just chased the innkeeper into the next county.
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