The writer drew this Nativity when he was eight.
The writer drew this Nativity when he was eight.
" The Franciscan Sisters smiled and took their handkerchiefs from their sleeves and dried their eyes. "
In my mind’s eye, I see two in particular from more than 50 years ago, Peter and Amy. They are unsteady, nervous and hesitant, but they are there for each other.

I see Peter, a medium-sized, baby-faced 12-year-old with bushy brown hair, green eyes and a winsome smile, talking with his hands as if he was sketching his words into pictures in thin air.

And I see Amy, a slight, fair-skinned, 12-year-old girl, uniquely and unusually bright and beautiful, whose eyes were as brown as her long hair was deep red; each smile she smiled, enchanting and unforgettable.

Did Amy love Peter? Yes, and she knew it. Did Peter love Amy? Yes. He just didn’t know it yet.

It all happened in a seventh grade Christmas play at All Saints Parish in Portland. The Franciscan Sisters paired Peter and Amy together, as they had done for years.

Amy was to play Mother Mary, and Peter was to play Joseph, her husband. Amy pushed back her beautiful long hair and softly closed her eyes as the nuns placed a silky white veil atop her head for the final performance. The veil went splendidly with the blue silk gown her mother had made for her. How the sisters stood back and smiled and adored Amy and told her how lovely she was that evening! Peter couldn't have agreed more as he smiled upon her and then bashfully looked down to the floor. Amy looked like some Dutch master’s Madonna.

As Joseph, Peter was dressed in a long, brown-colored robe. He wore a headscarf and carried a staff, much in the manner of a shepherd of that Holy Night.

The two looked good together. They made the perfect pair. And before walking on stage, peeking from behind the curtains in a music room, Peter’s friend Jim grabbed him by the shoulder and whispered in his ear, “Now Peter, you don't have to say anything. You just stand there and admire your beautiful wife, okay?” Peter glanced at Amy and wondered if she’d heard that. Oh, Amy heard that, and she loved it, every word of it and kept it in her heart. He wondered if Amy noticed Jim winking and elbowing the bashful Peter, who smiled and blushed in response. Amy noticed that, too, and cherished every bit.

Peter thought Amy was sweet and he was happy to be her husband, if only for the duration of the play. Amy glanced at Peter and lovingly smiled, probably because she was thinking the same thing. They weren't tiring of the role they were performing for the eighth time that week. They had grown into it.

Before the two stepped out from behind the curtains, Amy held onto Peter’s arm and began to softly rest her head on his shoulder. Oh, he could feel the butterflies in his stomach, but how he tingled all over! Yet poor Peter got so nervous, probably appearing abashed by Amy’s affection, that Amy timidly withdrew. But much to Amy’s surprise, Peter turned to her and shyly smiling, gently took her cool hand and held it for the few seconds before they went on stage. He then looked Amy straight in the eyes and said, “I love Christmas. I really think it brings out the best in all of us, don’t you, Mother Mary?” He hoped that might make Amy’s heart dance with joy but knew he wasn’t capable of such a feat. “Oh yes, yes!” she joyously replied in a soft whisper, as her heart indeed danced with joy.

As the lights dimmed, the children’s choir sang "Silent Night.” Peter lightly pushed back the curtains and ushered Amy toward the light of a brightest star and the warm glow of an adoring audience.

The baby Jesus used in the play was a mechanical doll. When squeezed, it would make a crying sound. Peter and Amy were opposed to using the doll. They thought it irreverent, corny, and inappropriate for a savior. But they kept that to themselves because they were outnumbered. That said, Amy lovingly and gently cradled the doll in her arms and made it cry at appropriate times. For some reason that night, the eighth graders in the audience found the divine yet mechanical bawling comical. A few broke out in laughter. Then it became a contagion. On top of that, the mechanism malfunctioned and the doll just kept crying.

Amy was frazzled at first. She crossed her arms and gazed sternly at the rollicking teenage audience, and then back at Peter. Peter stared at her. She froze for a few seconds, blushing as the tinny crying continued to rise from the manger. The laughter began to die down.

Being from a big Catholic family, knowing full well how to make lemonade from lemons, Amy shrugged, turned to Peter, and smiling her enchanting smile, gracefully extended her slender hand to him.

And Amy, as Mary the Blessed Mother, and Peter as Joseph her vigilant husband, stood together in the spotlight at center stage and took each other’s hand. They gave a curtsy and a bow and then called the crowd to stand. They then led everyone in “Angels We Have Heard on High."

The lovely young voices resounded from the steamy windows of the joyous music room of the old Catholic school and floated mellifluously into the frosty winter's evening. The Franciscan Sisters smiled and took their handkerchiefs from their sleeves and dried their eyes.

Amy’s heart danced with joy again as she sang, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!”

Van der Hout lives in Southeast Portland and attends St. Pius X Church and Mount Angel Abbey.