First grade brought new opportunities, and new responsibilities. Kindergarten was a breeze- I remember the crisp rustle of construction paper and the slightly sour tang of milk-glue giving hours of delight. In first grade this was replaced by reading primers (See Dick go! Go Dick, go! See baby Sally! etc.,) and the aroma of spirit duplicator worksheets (I wonder how much alcohol I absorbed through my skin?) But the Really Big Show was the Christmas Pageant. It required the learning of lines, of blocking and stagecraft, direction and (gulp) PERFORMANCE. I was one of the three wise men, with a crepe beard and a brown bathrobe, and one line- "We come from the East, with gifts for the Christ-child!"
The show was staged for the mothers and a few night-shift fathers of the kids; the auditorium was packed as we thespians waited our turn in the long hall that went down to the primary grades wing. My teacher, Miss Studer, was a friendly young woman who, like every other grade school teacher I had, would leave the year after having had experienced the glorious educational experience that was me. She was in charge of keeping the manger scene under control. As I sat on the steps leading up to the auditorium, silently mouthing my line over and over, a palpable knot of fear made itself manifest in the pit of my stomach. "I'm nervous!" I exclaimed to Miss S. She smiled sweetly (she did everything sweetly) and said "Why would a nice boy like you have anything to be nervous about? The play will be fine, and it will be over sooner than you know."
And she was right, of course, but then you could hardly see me standing in the back (the BVM and the baby Jesus - who was really just a light bulb- were the "stars"), although my mother did see me, and later she told me how good I had been. The seeds of my downfall into the "performing arts" were sown that afternoon, if only I had known!