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Revisiting the Imperfect Little Angel

Revisiting the Imperfect Little Angel
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Welcome to the December 2009 edition of “Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather curious monthly musings of Judson Hale, editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine, published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

Revisiting the Imperfect Little Angel

Thirty years ago this month, I wrote about a little boy named Primo. Many people found it hilarious and have often asked for a repeat. Well, okay …

There’s no question that the quintessence of Christmas in my mind is my memories of Christmas in Vanceboro, Maine, where I grew up during the 1930s and ’40s. Packed in a four-horse sleigh, singing carols, oyster stew down by the bonfire next to our skating pond, opening stockings in the freezing dark, and on and on. However, of all the memories, perhaps the most vivid to me is the Christmas play that my mother put on at our school every year. And there’s no question that the most memorable of all the Christmas plays was the very first one — which began with a totally unexpected and sudden roar of laughter from the audience that threatened to reduce the whole solemn, religious affair into a ludicrous debacle. Here’s what happened.

One of the angels in the play that first year was a little eight-year-old boy named Primo. My mother made a special point of casting Primo in an angel role because she felt it might give him some idea of the respect due the Lord’s name. Primo swore shockingly well and constantly. On arriving at school in the morning, he seemed unable to give a simple greeting to his teacher that didn’t contain some sort of blasphemy in that hoarse, penetrating little voice of his.

Throughout the two weeks of rehearsals before the performance, during which time Primo and the other angels painstakingly built their wings with wire, wood slats, and papier-mache, Primo seemed to respond beautifully to his angel role. His swearing became noticeably less frequent. Finally, for the three days before the performance, Primo’s language was befitting an angel. He wasn’t heard to swear at all.

Then the performance. There were a hundred or more people in attendance, waiting in reverent silence for the curtain to rise. Snow fell gently among the pines outside the red schoolhouse. My family and friends were in elaborate costumes, complete with wire halos where appropriate, quietly taking our places behind the curtain and soothing the restless live animals in the Nativity setting. A moment of hushed expectancy.

It was a moment suddenly shattered by Primo’s instantly recognizable voice. “Some S. O. B.,” he bellowed, using the full words that the initials represent, “stole my G. D. wings.” Those initials, unfortunately, were also expressed in their spelled-out form.

The immediate reaction throughout the building was a shocked intake of breath in unison. Then came the explosion of laughter. It lasted, it seemed to us, at least five minutes, during which time my mother found Primo’s wings in a closet behind the stage, strapped them on him, and raised the curtain to begin the performance.

I don’t think any of our subsequent Christmas Nativity plays ever quite captured the special magic — or the dramatic opening line — of that first one so many years ago.

As to Primo (Earl “Primo” Morris), he finished school and went on to have a long and successful career in the U.S. Army, eventually retiring and returning to his home and family in Presque Isle, Maine. When he passed away last August, his daughter Pamela Michaud read the 30-year-old, and longer, version of the above story at his funeral.

God bless you, Primo — and Merry Christmas, everyone.

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Revisiting the Imperfect Little Angel

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