Silent Night, Holy Night

It was 1946. Miss Krein, my third grade teacher, was leading the glorious hymn-sing at the Christmas pageant, all parents assembled. We were eight years old, arrayed on portable tiers four rows deep. Errol O' Malley, my personal tormentor, was pinching my backside. "Hey, Chubbo," he hissed, "Suck in your butt. You're crowdin' us off the platform back here." If he didn't knock it off, I figured a well placed elbow would precipitate him backstage to the choir invisible where he could cool his jets, the pest. "Round Jon Virgin, mother and child," we sang; O'Malley's mother'd never miss him. Miss Krein now brought us to my favorite line, "the holy infantso, tender and mild." What exactly was "the holy infantso"? I had puzzled over this in pageants past, but now I saw its happy meaning. The Savior Himself had been a chubbo, the tubby, little me. I, of course, was no longer an infant, but I was a fatso...had been since infancy. My ample girth set me visibly apart, I well knew. Could this become a problem? I'd begun to suspect so, but here was evidence to the contrary, a hymn celebrating fatso-hood, the very essence of the Infantso fully recommended, one of the beatitudes perhaps. Were we not to be in His image if we could? If so, was I not already leagues ahead of my peers, who dissipating themselves at baseball and other sweaty pursuits, while I did God's work in lonely isolation at Kresge's Luncheteria with hot-fudge sundaes every afternoon? I was! The Infantso and I were porky soul mates. Miss Krein fatso she. Miss Krein, for whom I nourished secret passion, was more in the "tender and mild" line. Fresh from college, Miss Krein had something that stirred my third grade soul, though I couldn't exactly put my finger on it...or knew I oughtn't to. As I stood mesmerized by her rising and falling...baton, Miss Krein now reminded me a good deal of Ingrid Bergman, whom I had seen five times that very month enacting Joan of Arc at the local theater. (I had to do something on my way to the Luncheteria.) Ala Joan, I now imagined Miss Krein going up in flames, baton and all. This breastplate martyrdom was cool, but in the movie, it was really Ingrid's nemesis, the French dauphin, that caught my fancy. He wasn't a fatso himself, but he had a fat friend, the evil cardinal...Sydney Greenstreet, or someone even fatter...and he was royalty, the dauphin. I too was a doughfan! Fan, heck, I was a regular dough nut! I bet the dauphin could get himself and the cardinal trays of doughnuts, just by snapping his fingers. This guy had the world by its eclairs. Let Saint Joan serve God as she would; surely a fat cardinal and a doughfan were near the Lord as well. If I was the image of the Infantso, Miss Krein, aka Ingrid, aka Joan, could darn well die for me for a change. My mind ransacked the rolls of religion for further evidence of obese deity. The Buddha, known to me but by statuette, was some kind of drowsy, tropical deity of energy conservation, as far as I could tell. "Sleep in heavenly peace," indeed. Buddha was a doughfan for sure, looking as if he'd just polished off a plate of cream-filled fortune cookies. He spent most of the year as one ought, I supposed, in sun-drenched repose, rising briefly in December to travel north for his Christian incarnation, donning whiskers and a Santa suit. Fat was definitely in, heavenly-kingdom-wise, any way you sliced it. Perhaps the kingdom I would rule as Doughfan Supremo would be in warmer climes as well. I'd heard of a Peacock Throne somewhere; mine required as apt a title. The flat-top haircut mom insisted on made me look... fresh from my tub in the bathroom mirror... not unlike a steamed pumpkin, its stem cropped short. "The Pumpkin Throne" might do well for me, the orange fatso Himself contemplating His round essence. Pumpkins invoked my other favorite holy day, Halloween. No mystery about the meaning of that word if you'd carved the jack-o-lanterns I had. Punkins clearly were Hallow...eenside, hence Hallow-een. Would "Pumpkin Kingdom" then have a hollow connotation, a domain lacking substance? Greeting signs at the gates would clarify it all. "Enter here the Pumpkin Empire, Round Jon Virgin, Doughfan Infantso Supreme. Shepherds quake at the sight. Welcome to our hot fudge, free doughnut Kingdom, Holy not Hollow. Bring your 'gold, frankincense and more' directly to the castle." O'Malley gave me another painful tweak, wrenching me back from this idyll. The carol was winding down. Miss Krein seemed pleased. "Radiant beams from her holy face," I sang lustily, "Glories stream from heaven afar, Heavenly hosts sing al-le-lu-ia, Christ the Savior is born."

Merry Christmas,