The wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

That was my line in the annual 14th Ward Christmas pageant. Thats all I had to say. One simple, declarative sentence about the gifts of the magi.

Never mind that it is historically inaccurate (the magi probably didnt arrive on the scene until some time after Jesus was born, when he was more of a young child than a baby). It was my line, my moment in the spotlight, and I was prepared to milk it for all it was worth.

I became especially excited about my line after our first rehearsal. I mistakenly pronounced the gifts as gold, Frankenstein and mirth, and had the whole cast in hysterics. It was an honest mistake — I really DID think it was Frankenstein and mirth, along with the gold. To a 10-year-old boy they seemed like pretty cool gifts. But everyone thought I was just being funny, and I became something of a folk hero on the set — the goofy kid who said Frankenstein instead of frankincense. Every time I came out on stage people paused to listen. They wanted to hear it if I messed it up again.

And I did — just to be funny. Several times.

But I knew better than to say Frankenstein during the actual performance of the pageant. For one thing, Paul, the teenager playing Joseph, threatened to beat me up if I did. And for another, Gayle, my fourth grade girlfriend, was going to be there. And nobody likes to look like a goofball in front of his girlfriend. You know what I mean?

So I walked around backstage repeating the word frankincense over and over again. Not only was I going to say it correctly, but I was going to say it with style. Frankincense was going to roll off my tongue like I actually knew what it was . . . which I didnt. But that wasnt the issue. The issue was saving myself from a beating and making myself look good in front of Gayle. And all that would be required was a well-spoken, multi-syllable word that sounded an awful lot like Frankenstein.

But wasnt.

As my big moment on stage approached, I was behind the curtain repeating the word: Frankincense. Frankincense. Frankincense. It was still swirling in my mind as I approached the microphone. I could feel the warmth of the spotlight on my face and the whirling of butterflies in my stomach as I cleared my throat and spoke: The wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and . . .

Suddenly my mind went blank. I had spoken frankincense clearly. Frankincense was resonating all over the cultural hall. But I couldnt for the life of me remember what came next. If I could have seen my mother, she would have mouthed the word to me. But with the spotlight glaring in my eyes I couldnt see her in the darkness.

So I started over: The wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus: gold, frankincense and . . . Still nothing. Total blank. It was a short word. I knew that. One syllable. So I said the first short word that popped into my mind.


To this day I cant say that word — nuts — without feeling my ears burning with embarrassment. I can still hear the roar of the ward's laughter. I can still see Pauls icy glare from the Nativity scene. And I can still feel the pre-adolescent heartbreak of Gayles post-production cold shoulder. I learned the hard way that its easy to become so focused on one thing that you lose track of other, equally important things.

Especially at Christmas.

With or without the nuts.