Thursday, December 19, 2013

People who made the season bright

Probably because the experience of the holidays can be so vivid, they bring with them memories, which as we get older and older tend more and more to be of people who are no longer with us. I think particularly of my father and my grandmother ("Grandma Mom") during the holidays. But there are also people outside my family who are part of my holiday-season memories, and who were important throughout the year as well.

Mr. Behm was a bit older than my father, and I always remember him as silver-haired, an elder statesman of our church. He was a Deacon and a Trustee at different times, and probably one of the most respected men in our church, at least in my mind. He was a leader and a central member of the church choir, anchoring the bass section. Outside of church he taught the sex ed class for the boys when we were in late elementary school (maybe it’s fairer to say that he taught the puberty class), and I think he did our typing class then too, but I may have just edited out some other teacher in his favor. At that same age, too, he taught what basically amounted to the "say no to drugs" unit, which included the actual lungs of a pig, to show us how smoking affects our lungs (yes, it must have been a smoked ham).

He was my seventh grade science teacher, and of all the things we learned in seventh grade science, I remember being struck by his assertion to our class that he didn’t see any contradiction between science and evolution, though he must have at least implied that a literalist interpretation of the Bible was, therefore, untenable. The thing was, I don't ever remember anyone else saying that they were  incompatible, or even that we had a very clear picture of what evolution involved. Still, to have someone in my church make that statement, I’m sure that helped make science seem trustworthy, and perhaps it inoculated me against later exposure to creationism, so I wouldn't reject the scientific worldview out of hand. Who knows what small moments in a life can make a difference?

 And then he was also the announcer for the football games when I was in high school, and I always remembered the way that he proudly sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” his voice carrying over the loudspeakers. The proud patriotism that he and my father and other men of their generation showed also certainly had an influence on me, so that later cynicism with my country--its people, its government--could never quite take over.

Mrs. Behm was, in her own way, no less impressive or influential. She was a cheerful, upbeat woman. She was my choir director in our church choir, I’m pretty sure she taught Sunday School at some point when I was growing up—though I don’t have any specific memories there—and during my earliest experiences in 4-H, she was the leader of our 4-H program.

And this time of year, though, the memory that's so clear is of the annual church Christmas party, when she would play the piano and he would lead the singing of carols that heralded the arrival of Santa Claus at the party. I can still remember the look and feel of the song sheets that we reused year after year, the position of the folding chairs and tables in the church basement, the food laid out. And then we would circle the chairs up and sing Christmas carols. It was there I learned to love "Silver Bells" but most clearly etched in memory was the way he sang “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the performance of which really centered around "five golden rings." Sometimes he would draw it out--“five golden ring-ing-ing-ing-ings!”--or draw it out to absurd lengths. And sometimeshe would cut right off—he knew how to get a laugh from us--at least us kids, I don't know whether the adults got as big of a kick out of it as we did. And then “Jingle Bells” would bring in Santa Claus, and Mr. Behm would leave the stage.

Both of them were a big part of my annual experience of the lead-up to Christmas, but they were also very influential adults in my life, who cared about me and surely influenced how I grew up and who I became. 

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely set of memories. Thank you for sharing. And thank you, also, for mentioning that Frost poem. I wasn't familiar with it, and now I am. This is one of the reasons I love Holidailies.