In second grade my class performed the Twelve Days of Christmas for the Annual Holiday Pageant. Twelve of us were selected for the lead lines while the rest of the class stood on risers behind us and sang the repetitive chorus “On the X day of Christmas…my true love gave to me….”
Of course position one, the First Day of Christmas is the plum role, that line gets repeated every single verse.
Julie Connor was the Partridge in a Pear tree, and she reveled in it, telling the rest of us how her part was the most important and that everyone would be looking at her when she sang the final line. She gloated over how she would get to sing her line twelve times and told us that the only other good parts were up to day six. We tried to ignore her, but it was true. Anything over day six was pretty much a dud assignment. She did have the best part.
My best friend Penny had Seven Swans Swimming.
I was Eight Maids a Milking, pretty much the worst day in the song.
Really it is the worst day. Let’s break it down: There’s a wild and crazy assortment of birds, the coveted five golden rings, and then the gifts of the performing arts: dancing ladies, leaping lords, drummers, and pipers. But what’s up with Eight Milk Maids? They just don’t measure up the other gifts of birds, bling, and performers. The Eight Maids a Milking were basically the human chattel gift. This irked me.
But things got worse.
Our teacher, Mrs. Taylor, made our costumes that were for the most part successful.
Karen Harper was the envy of all the girls in her pink ballerina outfit for Nine Ladies Dancing and Richard Esquivel looked like Liberace with five enormous papier-mâché golden rings on one hand.
For Four Calling Birds, Mrs. Taylor wired stuffed crows to each of Stacy Martin’s shoulders, which unfortunately began to droop during the performance, and made her look like she was being pecked in the head. It was not unlike like a scene from The Birds.
My costume was pathetic. An ersatz Holly Hobbie. I wore a scruffy red corduroy jumper, an ill fitting apron, black rubber muck boots and a white bonnet that made me look half Amish and half insane. A tin pail was my sorry accessory.
Prior to the holiday pageant, I’d received some pointers on how to breathe from my belly and how to relax my throat so as not to constrict the sound when I sang. I was told me to find a face in the back of the hall and sing out directly to that person.
The night of the show the curtain rose and our song began. When it was my turn to sing my line I stepped forward, found a face in the back and sang out. I delivered the line strong, and clear -- Eight maids a milking.
I grew louder and more confident with each repeated verse.
Eight Maids a MILKING.
EIGHT maids a MILKING!
On the final round of the song, I noticed Mrs. Taylor trying to catch my attention from the center aisle in front of the stage. She waved her hand in a frantic downward motion signaling me to drop the volume.
I stepped forward for the last verse and gave it my all adding an operatic flourish at the end as if I were Brünnhilde the Valkyrie—warrior maiden in Richard Wagner’s Ring cycle opera.
EIGHT MAIDS A MILKING ……LAAAA AHHHHHHH!!
Then I thrust my arm straight up and flung the milk pail into the air. It looped around then crashed down on the stage with a horrific clang, like a cymbal hit by a truck.
Mrs. Dempsey raised her hands abruptly from the piano keys. A stunned silence fell over the auditorium. Julie Connor stepped out of line and glared at me from inside her pear tree.
The milk pail rocked back and forth on the stage in a lazy arc.
I nudged Penny (who appeared to be in a slight trance) to indicate it was her turn to go. She chirped out Seven Swans Swimming and Mrs. Dempsey resumed the piano.
I don’t even remember hearing the rest of the song, the last partridge in a pear tree. But I do remember Julie Connor never forgave me for stealing her pear tree thunder.
I wonder what ever became of her?