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Kid Christmas 5: The Green Bean Banquet Disaster

December 19, 2016

1a1We were taking up quiz papers near the end of class and preparing to leave when one of my students raised his hand:  “What was one of the oddest Christmas memories you had as a child?”

I stopped for a moment.  This was a real test for me, you might imagine.  I can hardly remember a Christmas when something funny or strange didn’t happen – it was part and parcel of the Zockoll childhood.

A couple of examples came to mind:

In second grade at the Dallastown Elementary School, I started off the Yuletide season in serious trouble when Mom discovered that I had a little masquerade going on among my classmates.  I was desperately desiring to top the various stories the richer kids were sharing about their gaudy Christmas presents and lavish holiday trips, so I made up a fascinating story that won the day.

I told the class that my family was raising a chimpanzee in our basement.

I’m serious.

What possessed me to dream up this stupid story is lost in my memory.

Why I ever thought I could carry this off without Mom finding out, I’ll never know.  I was  so brash in my tale that I allowed a kid named Todd to come to our rickety old home and stand at the top of the basement stairs to view the marred and aged concrete walls below.

“See?” I lied.  “That’s where the monkey went wild and started scratching the walls.  It’s been hard to train him.”

“Can I go down and see him?” asked Todd, trying to peer into the downstairs darkness.

“Are you crazy?” I cried in astonishment, pulling him back.  “He doesn’t even know you.  He’d tear you up.” Todd nodded slowly and backed up across the linoleum.

The ruse lasted for a good solid week before Mom got wind from another parent, asking about the condition of the chimp.  Oh, yeah, she really wailed on me for that one.  Yes, the Fli-Back paddle again.

Then there was the time during an especially harsh Pennsylvania winter somewhere near my third grade years.  We were all sitting around in the twilight hours waiting to watch either the cartoon Flintstones or a good rousing adventure in Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and we heard a stupendous CRASH above us on the second floor, in Brian’s room.  The explosion had a definite glass-shattering sound to it, and panic ensued.  Brian had been put to bed in his crib only twenty minutes before.  As a group we made a mad dash upstairs to his room.  Mom threw on the light.

Brian was standing up in his crib, neither harmed nor especially frightened.  Glass was all over the floor, and in the midst of the mess was the biggest icicle I had ever seen.  It was a freak accident; a huge clump of ice broke off and bounced its way right through the second story bedroom window.  Couldn’t happen again to anyone in a hundred years, but then, consider the family you’re reading about.

But what came to my mind is what I am going to write to you about right now.

It’s about banquets.

Yes, Christmas banquets.  I remember two of them distinctly.  And both of them have stuck in my memory indelibly.

One was a Cub Scout Christmas pot-luck we were attending in a local school cafeteria.  It was to be a nice informal affair – a year-end recounting of the many manly deeds done by the boys in blue and gold.

The Scoutmaster (actually called a Cubmaster, if I recall correctly) had made a quick phone call to the parents of the groups.  “Just bring something to eat, make anything.  We’ll all share and have a great time.”  There was no effort to name the type of dishes to bring.

And it happened.

As all of the pans and plates were laid out, the room grew quiet at the sight.  Every dish – every dish – was either green beans or macaroni.

And not the good macaroni that people take and bake with real cheese and maybe a nice spicy ring to it.  No, this was the low-end cheese-powder rock-hard elbow noodle tripe that stuck in your throat and had you running for the garden hose to wash it down.  There was tons of the stuff.

And the green beans were the off-brand that had that tough leathery taste.  And you could fish out a few sticks out of them, too.

So help me, every Pyrex dish in the cafeteria was second-hand green beans or off-yellow macaroni.  No dessert.  No meats.  No pastas.  No nuthin’.

We all pushed our food around the plate, mumbled some Christmas cheer and went home to raid our home refrigerator.  The Cubmaster was beet red the whole evening.  What a night.

The other memory is not as disastrous socially but nevertheless remains with me as a sad recollection.

I was in middle school at the time.  Snow was falling outside.  We were all piled into the basement of our little Delmarva region country church after the Christmas program and were bellying up to a really good feed:  fried chicken, cakes, baked potatoes, fried chicken, pork chops, pies, fried chicken.

The tables were full and the chatter was loud and happy.  The food was excellent as usual – the Eastern Shore cooks were in top form.

I was sitting near the gaggle of mothers who had pulled the whole potluck meal together, and as I plowed through my third plate of mashed potatoes I overheard the ladies’ conversation.

“Well, we pulled this one off,” said one woman.  “I’m so glad it’s over.”

“Me, too,” said another.  “So now, what’s next – New Year’s dinner?  My goodness…”

“Mmm hmm,” said another.  “And we’ve got to get ready for Valentine’s Day banquet…”

I sat there, shamelessly overhearing their remarks, and I gathered that this was not a joyous event at all.  It was an assignment that had to be met in order to keep a tradition going.  The same with New Year’s. The same with Valentine’s…

It hit me right then and there.  I had heard them talking like this all through the summer at every dinner our church had.  They were never in the moment.  They were always glad the moment was coming to an end, and they were gritting their teeth in preparation for the next event.

And sitting at that basement table, I looked up at the crepe paper Christmas decorations and became depressed.  Is this how grown-ups view Christmas?  A ritual to endure?

I recall that same feeling years later when I visited a local Christian school here in Tennessee. As I was being escorted around, my host bumped into the youth pastor of the church.

“Say, Tim,” said my host, “Are you ready to emcee and direct that Christmas cantata?”

“Oh, Law, I’ll be glad when this is all over,” said the youth pastor, shaking his head and waving his hand. “I just want Christmas to be over.”

I looked at his wearied face and wondered.  Is it really worth it?  You want to bypass the greatest holiday of the year?  You want to rush and race past all this?

It caused me to take inventory, I told my class.  I wanted to know if I were doing the same thing – running through the rituals of the season and not enjoying Jesus Himself. I reminded myself of the verse in Psalm 77:12: I will meditate on all Your work And muse on Your deeds.”  That word meditate means to repetitively utter the reality of the Father – to take time and remind ourselves of God’s glory and His work in our lives.  The word muse is just as powerful and personal.  It means to talk to yourself and discuss with yourself the truths of the great God we enjoy.  Taking time to sit at the kitchen table in the early or late hours of the day.  Alone.

Spending some quiet time to enjoy the Lord.

Yes, we enjoy Him. Both His gift of the Messiah and His continual agape love to us.

And I committed myself from that time on to drop any Christmas activity that would push away my opportunity to “be still and know” that He is God.

I invite you to do the same.

Call it the Lesson of the Banquets.

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