In Charles Dickens' 1843 novel, A Christmas Carol, when the Ghost of Christmas Past makes Ebenezer Scrooge watch his younger self break up with his fiancée, Belle, Ebenezer’s torturous regret begins, but it does not end there. The Ghost then makes him watch “another Christmas” in which a happy Belle, now married to another man and surrounded by happy children, has forgotten all about Ebenezer. In the 1976 stage production of A Christmas Carol I acted in, I portrayed one of Belle’s happy children.
Having just turned ten on a rehearsal day, it was a complex scene for me to wrap my head around. It was a happy family scene, but old Scrooge was standing off to the side (we weren’t allowed to look at him), absolutely heartbroken, begging the Ghost to show him “no more!” We were torturing Scrooge with our holiday joy. He had been so mean and scary, I guessed he deserved it, but this seemed so cruel and unfeeling!
My only other role in that production that had a name was Want.” Ignorance and Want”, normally played by a small boy and girl, are dirty, ragged, pitiful ghosts who huddle around the legs of the hefty, jolly Ghost of Christmas Present. They are there to remind Scrooge of the danger of neglecting the poor and underserved in his society.
“Beware them both,” warns the Ghost, but he says Scrooge should beware the boy, Ignorance, most of all because he has “Doom” written on his forehead. I looked, but there was no word on Ignorance’s forehead. My dad said it was figurative language or something like that.
Hearing that line about the doom of Ignorance at each performance was slightly insulting to me, as I was playing Want. I represented poverty and starvation, while the boy next to me represented, uh, not knowing things? How was Ignorance more dangerous than Want?
I had not lived long enough to know the dangers of lack of education, illiteracy, gullibility and misinformation to society. I also did not know how ignorance of other people’s feelings in one’s own life could be harmful, but I would soon find that out.
From the time my mother watched my performance in a dress rehearsal of this production, she was critical of it. She said I moved around too much as Want, adjusting my rags and brushing my hair out of my face. I was embarrassed, and I knew she was right. Want was to be a haunting presence, not a self-conscious fidgeter. I did better next time.
My mother said she was proud of me after opening night. She gave me a gift, even though it had been just been my birthday the week before. It was a bracelet she had gotten from her mother. It had different colored gems carved to look like beetles that she called scarabs. Now I was proud too.
A few months later, when Christmas and A Christmas Carol were long over and I was hanging out in what we called “the playroom”, playing on the floor, I found myself looking at that bracelet. I decided to play a pretend game where I was in a TV show (which I pretended a lot) and I was looking for a buried treasure which would contain this beautiful bejeweled bracelet.
I put it on the green carpeted floor, as if it were buried among the crabgrass. Then Mom called out that it was dinner time. I ran out of the room, had dinner, watched some TV and went to bed, forgetting about the bracelet treasure on the floor.
I would not ever have remembered this incident if it weren’t for what happened the very next day. I came home from school and went to the playroom. The floor, which yesterday was covered with books, probably Legos, other toys, and my scarab bracelet, was now completely bare. Mom had been here and cleaned, as she did a lot.
“Where’s all my stuff?”
“I put it all away. Except for the scarab bracelet. I have taken that from you and will keep it until you are old enough to take good care of it. Do you know you left it on your floor last night? It could have gotten stepped on and broken. I can’t believe you would just leave it on your floor, like you don’t even care about it.”
“I was — playing a game”.
I don’t remember her response to that. I only know that I never saw that bracelet, her gift to me, again. I learned there was no way she could understand that the bracelet was on my floor because it was my treasure. She was ignorant of such pretend worlds.
My mother passed away a few months ago after more than two years of dementia, so I’ll never know if she remembered and regretted any incidents like this from my childhood. But from the time I was very small, she personified a very personal type of Ignorance, and I lived a life of emotional Want.
This chapter was originally published on Medium.com.
About the Creator
An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm