It was my dad I was thinking about again! The songs at Christmastime just play inside this head of mine. I was thinking about that manger just to the left of the altar. And I was thinking about all the ways that my dad kept me from exploding when I sat there in church. The peppermint lifesavers were a standard, and those he used all year long. But at Christmas? It was the manger and good old (well, young, I guess) baby Jesus that kept me in my seat.
"He's watching you, you know," he'd say. I'd look up at him...my dad, that is. 'How could that be?' I wondered. Baby Jesus was a statue, statues couldn't watch me...I don't think, anyway. I'd suck myself in and pull back, hidden by my dad. I'd stretch out my patten leathers and push myself further back. I'd look at the priest...Father Sico (pronounced like psycho...really!) and I'd make myself as invisible as I could. It worked. The wiggling would stop without even the sight or smell of a lifesaver. I'd look up at my dad from time to time and he'd give me a wink, or a sudden smirk. I'd smell his Aqua Velva (oh God, I loved that smell) and I'd really believe what he said. I'd make it all the way through Communion and then the rest was a piece of cake.
After Mass, my father and I would wait on line as all the other kids streamed up to the manger. Dad would always hold back a bit, adding to my anticipation and anxiety, I think. And then...that moment: the baby J and me. Dad and I would kneel up, and say a prayer...I'd stare at that huge barely clothed statue and not pray...but somehow make a wish--and while I did that, I'd open my eyes just in time to catch my dad...nipping a 'wee bit' of straw right from under baby Jesus' butt! DAD! I'd want to scream...but he'd already have his hand to his lips. And there it was...he'd tuck the straw inside his pocket without even looking around. So smooth, so casual, so clear.
Meanwhile, I'd be having a heart attack...ready to run to the confessional to tell. But Dad? No way. He'd escort me out the side door. We'd make our way to the car. And just before he'd open the door, (because of course, he wouldn't want my older sisters to see) he'd slip that little bit of straw into the pocket of my coat. "Just a little something from baby Jesus to you." He'd lean down then and give me a kiss. "Because you're such a good girl in church." And right at that moment, I really felt like the baby Jesus wanted me to have that little bit of straw. Right at that moment I was the most special one on the earth.