Friday, December 18, 2009

The Jesus of the Broken Arm, or, Merry Christmas!

In my exuberance over the Christmas season, I have been enthusiastically exploring the treasures my folks have collected over the years. In doing so, I have done my part to help pare down the number of holiday-themed decorations that make their way out of boxes for a couple of weeks each year.

So in the thrall of downsizing, I have cleared out quite a few glass ornaments that really needed to go. Then I checked my stocking to see if Santa had come early. Lapped some water from the tree just to see if the pine infusion tasted any different than my usual mud puddle or pond water and cleared out a couple more ornaments for good measure.

Having thoroughly examined the secular side of the holiday in our home, it was time to turn to the religious. Hey, what's an Advent wreath but some twigs tied together in a not-so-Gordian knot, and some candles that seemed to yearn for a chomp or two?

But when I took a swipe at the Virgin Mary, Mom had had enough. So she sat me down and told me the whole story about how the Jesus with the Broken Arm came to be part of our family.

It was first grade, Catholic school. The nuns perhaps had received a new Nativity set as a pre-Christmas gift from some parishioners. When they unboxed their old things in anticipation of decorating their dreary 50's era residence, they must have realized that the Jesus with the Broken Arm had to go.

So they held a raffle. The child who bid the most money would win the four-piece set, which included the Jesus (left arm partially amputated), a real wood manger with real straw, and a Mary and Joseph, all in traditional garb, beautifully painted.

The children were marched, in line, past the set to examine it, then seated at their desks to create secret bids.

It was rare for Mom to have any money at all in those days, so on the tiny piece of paper provided by those frugal nuns, she wrote the amount that nestled in her plaid wool jumper pocket: 5 cents.

Either the other kids rejected the poor Jesus for his disability, or they were more cash-poor than Mom, because hers was the only bid. So Jesus came home with Mom that day, and has been part of her treasures ever since. After Christmas, the nuns retaliated by forcing everyone to eat leftover fruitcake (think of the starving children in Africa!), but that's another story.

I felt a bit embarrassed after this revelation, but my swipe did have the consequence of making Mom realize that in her haste to decorate, she put Mary on the wrong side of the manger: the right side, rather than the left. Any good Catholic child knows that Mary is always on the left side of the altar. That's where the girls had to sit when they went to church in Catholic school; boys on the Joseph side on the right.

Now, with the Holy Family in proper order, I can rejoice in being back on the nice list.