Saturday, December 5, 2009

Just Some Manger Looking for a Joseph

For the last couple of years I have been setting up and taking down the Christmas decorations at my step mom’s place (first at the house she shared for many years with my dad and for the last two Christmases at her much smaller assisted living apartment). 

The decorations have gotten pared down quite a bit over these years - from a 3 foot fake tree and decorations all over the house to no room for a tree at all.  But there are still little dabs of Christmas:  Santas and sleds, angels and snowmen and figurines and wall-hangings here and there that spell out “NOEL.”  And of course I still set up the Nativity Scene in a prominent location.

The stable itself is made of crumbling printed cardboard and it dates back to my childhood.  The Baby Jesus in his manger of straw, one resting camel and one standing donkey, all made of solid plaster, also date back to the fifties.  There are three Wise Men, 3 shepherds, and five bug-eyed sheep carved from olive wood and brought back from the Holy Land by some earnest pilgrim.  The wooden figurines are on a slightly smaller scale than the plaster ones (I position them in the shadows, no one notices.).

Somewhere along the line we lost our matching Mary and Joseph.  Since my years in charge I have alternated between using a creepy looking shepherd lad and an old Confucius-looking guy (with Dan Blocker’s “Hoss” ten gallon cowboy hat at his knees), made from hollow rubber, to fill in for Joseph, but these are not really Josephs at all.  The young one looks like he could be a serial killer and the old one is probably supposed to be one of the Three Kings.  The Bonanza hat remains a mystery.

The Mary in the scene was at least the same scale as the faux Josephs, but she was hollow plastic and had her hands folded across her breast in such a fashion as to make her look more worried than delighted by the radiance of the Babe in the Manger.  I repainted her cloak a couple of years ago but she still had that terrible body language and her face also bothers me – she looks too old and jowly - so this year I went hunting at one of my favorite thrift shops and found a lovely new Mary (“Made in Italy” on the base) that probably dates from the sixties.  This much younger Mary is graced with a tender pose and a beautifully-painted smile.  She is the same scale as the plaster figures – so in other words, Mary no longer looks alike a Little Person who has given birth to a gigantic baby.

Last year I stored the cardboard stable and all of the contents in my garage and due to high levels of humidity everything mildewed except the plaster.  I carefully cleaned, repaired, restored, and reinforced the cardboard, scrubbed the mold off of the carved figures, treated everything with anti-mildew spray, let them dry in the sun and then coated them with varnish.

So now I am on the lookout for a suitable Joseph to keep my new Mary from having to remain a single mother – I have banished both of the rubber figures – I figure for now no man is better than a hollow one (Anyways they are both too short for the new Mary!).

If anyone has a Joseph to spare I would gladly give him an audition (but I guess that is not the correct word since I do not expect him to have any kind of a voice).  The new Mary is almost 4” tall in a kneeling position.  Joseph is usually depicted kneeling as well, so he would have to be slightly over 4” tall (because men are supposed to be taller than women).

(I also have to apologize for this post - once the title popped into my head I simply could not resist!)