Stories of Strangers

The Time I Learned German and Ruined the Fifth Grade Christmas Concert

At some point I should have stopped joining extracurricular activities. My track record as a member of fifth grade left much to desire. From the time I joined band and ruined everything to the dog poop incident of fifth grade that caused a bio-hazard and shut down my school, my prospects of ever being cool looked grim.

Joining chorus would solve this, right?

Wrong.

 

0517171209-1

Me at 10, imagining new ways to ruin everything.

 

I’ve mentioned before that I do not sing. I do not sing in the shower, I do not sing in the car and I do not sing in front of my friends. I do not sing here, there or anywhere.

This is the reason why.

The choral uniform was a white collared shirt, black pants and a red ribbon tied around your neck. Already I was behind on the game because while the other kids sported sleek, satin shirts that glistened under the light of the stage, I wore an atrocious, ill-fitting, Peter Pan collared number fished from the back of my mother’s closet.

I was suddenly glad for my baby-giraffe height that relegated me to the back of the ensemble.

We learned holiday songs for the Winter Festival. There was a song about a dreidel, a number about snow, a non-fiction horror account of grandma being run over by a reindeer, and “Oh Tannenbaum” which is “Oh Christmas Tree” in German.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Wie treu sind deine Blatter!
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Wie treu sind deine Blatter!
Du grunst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,
Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Wie gruen sind deine Blatter! 

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit
Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!
O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!
O Tannembaum, O Tannenbaum
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

I’m sure whatever butchered versions we sang of these lyrics would leave a German speaker scratching their head in confusion. I often wondered if I was being tricked into saying something dirty.

Sometimes I replaced the word “Blatter” with “bladder infection” sung as fast as I could manage. This was the sort of upper crust humor that made me laugh at the time.

When I learned German for real in high school, I learned that “Wie treu sind deine Blatter” literally translates into “How loyal are your leaves/needles.”

How loyal is your bladder infection?

I ruin everything.

I learned every word to this song, my squeaky voice adopting what I thought a German accent sounded like (I had never heard German spoken or sung). When it came to singing in front of other people, this is where things fell apart.

Was it my shyness? Was it my track record of ruining everything? I had developed a crippling fear of failure at this point that would continue to plague me for years. Failure meant humiliation and I didn’t need more reasons to look down upon myself.

The Christmas concert came. We lined up on bleachers with our little black pants, white shirts of varying quality and little red ribbons tied around our necks. I was in the back, elevated slightly and seemingly inches from the hot stage lights.

With the light shining so aggressively in my eyes, I found that I could not see the audience. I couldn’t much see the people in front of me for that manner. The lights were very bright, very hot and I quickly began to sweat through my mother’s atrocious Peter Pan-collared shirt.

I could sing! I was not met with the catch in my throat and immediate urge to vomit so familiar when put on the spot to open my mouth.

 O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Wie treu sind deine Blatter!

That stage light is awfully hot.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

Wie treu sind deine Blatter!

I feel much too warm.

Du grunst nicht nur zur Sommerzeit,

Nein, auch im Winter, wenn es schneit.

Maybe I shouldn’t have drank that milk at lunch.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

Wie treu sind deine Blatter!

(Bladder infection, haha.) First verse done. Oh man, I don’t feel good.

All of a sudden the hot light, the milk in my stomach and my nerves sent me tumbling backwards, down down down to meet the stage floor.

I landed with a soft thud. My head spun. I opened my mouth to wail but suddenly realized that nobody had noticed. The rest of the chorus sung away, unaware that I had gone.

Wonderful, I could salvage this.

I thought about climbing back into place but realized that the concert still had four or five songs to go until the end. This could be my opportunity to make a clean break.

The chorus room door was at the bottom of the stage, down four or five stairs. If I could sneak quietly out the sides, nobody would notice my absence.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

I got down on my belly and began to crawl stage left. Through the chorus members legs I could see the music teacher waving her arms to conduct our squeaky mouse voices into proper rhythm.

The stairs were right there. On my belly, like a serpent, I wiggled down each step. In my mind of course I was the epitome of stealth. Nobody was watching my clean break.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum
Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

At the bottom of the stairs, I slowly, slowly reached out a hand to crack open the chorus room door. I eased my head and shoulders inside the black mouth of the opening.

Wie oft hat nicht zur Weihnachtszeit

Ein Baum von dir mich hoch erfreut!

My hips and legs followed suit. I gently closed the door with a soft click. I was now alone in the darkness.

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

I closed me eyes and drifted off as the chorus finished their final line.

O Tannembaum, O Tannenbaum

Du kannst mir sehr gefallen!

The piano music came to a close, then started up again as the next song began. Again and again the music started and finished as the fifth grade chorus worked its way through the Christmas concert without me.

At a certain point my mother must have noticed her Peter Pan-collared shirt was missing because as the fifth graders squeakily reminisced about their matriarchal figure meeting a grisly end to an enchanted deer, I heard thick soled shoes pounding down the hall.

“Ally? Ally where are you?” my mother frantically called out. I heard the school nurse’s voice calling my name behind her.

Grandma got run over by a reindeer

Walking home from our house Christmas eve…

Glumly I emerged from my hiding spot.

You can say there’s no such thing as Santa
But as for me and grandpa we believe…

Then I tossed milk and cookies on the floor.

She’d been drinking too much eggnog
And we begged her not to go…

Bleugh!

 

 

Advertisements

One thought on “The Time I Learned German and Ruined the Fifth Grade Christmas Concert

Share your Thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s