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Chapter 9 of Days of A Christmas Carol Past: My Thirty Year Relationship With Victorian Ghosts

The steeples called

By Rebecca MortonPublished 5 months ago Updated 5 months ago 4 min read
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Chapter 9 of Days of A Christmas Carol Past: My Thirty Year Relationship With Victorian Ghosts
Photo by Amy-Leigh Barnard on Unsplash

I have to admit I wish the previous chapter had been longer, if only to devote more time to the man who played my “Papa” in the stage production of A Christmas Carol that I acted in. I was trying to stay focused on the theme of non-traditional casting, but I’m concerned that it might have made my brief inclusion of openly gay, (according to Wikipedia), African American actor, Franklyn Seales, look like tokenism.

My first experience with tokenism was the character of Franklin in the Charlie Brown cartoons. OK, it is just as I’m typing this that I realize that cartoon character and the actor I described have different spellings of the same first name!

Back in 1976, I did not see my Franklyn, my “Papa”, as a white character painted brown, as seems to be the case with the Charlie Brown character, who barely speaks, and has no plotlines about him that I know of.

By Sandy Ravaloniaina on Unsplash

I’ll always remember Franklyn Seales’ beautiful voice and his gentle kindness when dealing with a group of hyper children.

I can still feel his strong arms as he lifted me up at the end of our scene together, carried me off into the wings, and set me down backstage with a whispered compliment, like “That was great!” THIS WAS OVER FORTY YEARS AGO! Yet, I remember this actor, whom I never saw again in person after the show closed when I was ten years old, better than some of my dorm mates in college.

Why is this? Why do actors like Franklyn Seales and others stay with me and mean so much to me over so many decades when people I’ve known far longer have not? I think it’s because we actors were all working together to create something bigger than all of us individuals.

We were on a mission together to bring a work of art to life for others. We were trying to lift people out of their own worries and into a connection with one another through the magic of live storytelling. It was spiritual. It may seem strange, but it eventually led me to church.

Raised by two atheists, I only went to church for short periods during my childhood, mostly because my parents wanted me to know a bit about the Bible. This was for my literary and cultural education. It was probably also so they could get a break from me and my sister on Sunday mornings. I totally get that now, as a parent.

But I enjoyed Sunday School and church. It was like another family that I watched from a distance, all caring about one another and working together for a common good. At least this is what it looked like to my very young eyes.

Lest you think I’m straying from the theme of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, I am not, because the next time I was involved in a stage production of this Christmas ghost story, it was at my church, and I was the director.

My previous experience with a church group sewing panels for the AIDS Memorial Quilt showed me that open minded, liberal Christian churches do exist, so I began to look for one closer to my apartment. By 1992, I was a member of a United Methodist church in my small New Jersey town. I had read on its sign that the pastor was a woman, which I thought was cool.

As I learned is often the case with small churches, after joining, I was almost immediately asked to teach the children in Sunday School. In Christian churches, this assignment almost always carries with it obligatory involvement in the yearly Christmas pageant.

The pastor said she was tired of the same old Nativity pageants. Hmm, what could we have the kids perform if not the well-known Nativity with its manger and angels and shepherds and all that? I had never been in a church Christmas pageant. I had only seen one in A Charlie Brown Christmas and other shows on TV.

What other story about Christmas could the kids bring to life in front of the congregation? I flashed back to a group of children, including me, sitting around a dinner table for our meager Christmas feast. The Cratchit Family dinner. That was it!

By Austrian National Library on Unsplash

I was too new in my Christianity to know yet how a story with spirits or ghosts may offend some Christians. However, we did not have any ghosts in our church play — just Bob, his wife, and all the little children, including, of course, Tiny Tim.

I phoned my dad to ask permission to use his adaptation of this scene for free. He agreed. Almost all of this scene was straight out of the Dickens novel, which is in the public domain.

And because it is in the public domain, I will close this churchy installment of my series with some churchy quotations from A Christmas Carol:

As the Ghost of Christmas Present guides Scrooge through the streets of London, “…the steeples called good people all, to church and chapel…” (35).*

And, when Mrs. Cratchit asks how Tiny Tim behaved in church, “‘As good as gold,’ said Bob, ‘and better….he told me, coming home, that he hoped people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.’” (38).*

The young Bob Cratchit in our 1992 church Christmas pageant delivered those lines loudly and clearly as our Tiny Tim sat on his stool, holding his crutch. There was not a dry eye in that congregation. At least that’s how I remember it!

* Dickens, Charles, A Christmas Carol. New York: Dover Publications, INC. 1991

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This chapter was originally published on Medium.com.

NonfictionMemoirAutobiography
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About the Creator

Rebecca Morton

My childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm, and now I have a Substack newsletter at https://rebeccamorton.substack.com/

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