When I was in high school, around this time of year, my friends and I were hanging out in the evening, driving around the city of Toledo with nothing to do. As we were going down a major street in the west side of town, we passed in front of a large cathedral that boasted a strongly-lit three-sided barn inhabited by a life-size Mary, Joseph, three kings, various farm animals, and Jesus in the manger.
It was one of those stupid dares. You know, the ones kids throw at each other all the time. The kind of dare no one really believes anyone would really do. The dare was for someone to go out and steal baby Jesus. I told BK to stop the car; I would do it. Everyone in the car was, “Whoa, no, really?”
“Stop the car,” I said. BK did, but we were on the far side of the street. In other words, I would have to cross four lanes of traffic, two going each way, to get to the holy land. It was night and very busy; it was the Christmas season after all.
I dashed across the street. I remember it was lightly snowing and cold. I walked up to the manger and, hoping none of the traffic saw what I was doing, quickly grabbed baby Jesus, held him like a football, and began my return jog to the car. I guess we weren’t the first ones to think of this idea, because I soon realized that Jesus was chained to Mary who was chained to the wiseman with the dark skin, who was chained to the cow and to Joseph and the sheep…. You get the picture. I had just reentered the street and had to make a quick decision. I ran back to the barren nativity scene, tossed Jesus onto the roof. Mary fell back inside on her side. The cow was on its head leaning on the wall of the barn and Joseph was face down in the snow. I had to negotiate the rest of the sundry plaster witnesses strewn in my path as I ran back to the car.
We peeled out of there pretty fast as I remember. I see myself sinking below the seat as if to make sure no one on the outside would notice me. There were lots of high fives (were there high fives back then?) or their equivalents, and great merriment over the exploit. I remember my heart beating really fast, but also feeling pretty high from the experience. We all went to Frisch’s Big Boy to celebrate by eating french fries and strawberry pie.
I can’t say I’m really proud of this piece of vandalism in my youth. However, had I been successful, I know that that baby Jesus would still have had a place of honor in our house. (We have a Mary, obtained under unconventional circumstances, in the backyard.) I don’t keep in touch with any of those fellow accomplices anymore. Except for one. And over 40 years later, she still thinks I’m the bomb.