There is nothing more precious than a baby. As the third of four children born over a 5½-year time span, I did not have any recall of an infant sibling. Then, 12 years after child number four, Mom had Joey.
I ran home from school the September afternoon my mother brought him home, just beating out my younger brother Paul to be the first to see the new baby. As beautiful as Joey was, my Mom looked beautiful, too. I had never seen her with a child so small in her arms.
Mom was very creative with lyrics and melodies and it seemed she spun songs spontaneously. It was much later when I realized her songs were as old as her oldest child, pulled from memory with each new birth.
I was in Sister Renee’s eighth- grade class at St. Paul’s School that year. The eighth-graders had put on the Christmas pageant for as long as I could remember. The whole school assembled in the gym/auditorium. The parish priests attended. Monsignor Ring passed out boxes of hard candy to all of the students. The student body sang traditional Christmas carols as part of the program, but it was the eighth-graders who had the solo parts for the three kings and the character roles for the nativity scene.
Sister Renee was new at the school. She had a script for a Christmas story that had never been done at St. Paul’s before. It called for two additional solo parts – for girls.
The play started in a toy store, with two young shoppers talking about Christmas. That was the lead-in to hearing the story of the Christ child. We sang songs that the school had never even heard of that year: “But Now Bethlehem” and “He Shall Be Great.” We even sang “Silver Bells” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” in the toy store scene.
Sister Renee had another original idea. She said it would be really nice to have a real baby to play baby Jesus. I practically burst with excitement as I raised my hand to say, “I have a baby brother!”
The play was presented in the afternoon for the student body, and then repeated in the evening for the PTA and other family members.
At the first performance, the school chorus sang, “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem” as the curtains opened to the nativity scene. I wanted to cry. Joey wasn’t on stage. I was an angel standing behind Mary and she was holding the baby Jesus understudy – a big, plastic doll.
When the chorus started to sing, “Silent Night,” Sister Renee appeared at stage right, unseen by the audience, flapping her arms, calling for the curtain to close. We kept singing as the curtains swiftly were drawn and then redrawn. In a smooth-as-it-could-be prop change, the doll was pulled out of Mary’s arms and Joey was laid gently in. Mom had fallen asleep during his afternoon nap and had arrived in the nick of time.
As soon as the curtains re-opened, Joey, in his role as baby Jesus, started to cry. Mary, aka Dru Doyle, one of 10 children herself and no stranger to a fussy baby, began to bounce little Jesus in her cradled arms. Jesus reached for his mother’s long blond hair and began to pull and kick his chubby legs. The audience was awe-struck. There was an initial gasp and then a silence that had to be very much like the silence that filled the first Christmas night.