Miriam Feder home


Manhattan Christmas

“Tomorrow you can see Diana’s new piece. I’m dancing in it.” Diana lives next door to my hostess on the getting-better upper West side. She’s a Liturgical Choreographer, whatever that means. Delightful—a free dance performance in Manhattan.

On Sunday morning I trudge off on foot through Central Park to the Church where the performance will start at ten. Ten a.m. seems an odd time for a dance performance.

The wind is especially wicked, whipping my unsuspecting flesh through my gloves and past my lungs. Although I’m in my twenties, I’m gasping and teary-eyed. It’s not even a full year since I said goodby to Minneapolis winters, walking that evil bridge across the Mississippi at night, sure I would die of it. My Chicago mile-to-school-up-hill-both-ways stories were in mothballs for future grandchildren. Cold weather in Manhattan is windier and lonelier.

I’m wearing everything I brought to New York. The ugly down vest is poochy and brown long before either were fashionable. The black wool coat weighs me down and twists around my legs in the wind. I might as well have left my jeans and long underwear at home for all the good they do me protecting my legs from this wind.

Central Park is empty. I endure it and don’t see a person until I’m finally across it, heading south on Park Avenue. He’s a mid-fifties sort of guy–age and address–in a black-diamond mink coat walking an Airdale that’s dressed more fashionably than I. Steam rises from both of them; I am invisible. That’s ok–I’m relieved to be walking measurable blocks alongside buildings. I’m able to focus on my destination rather than Jack London-style endings.

Oh I noticed that mink coat, all right. And the gracious buildings and suddenly classy cars. I wonder if this might not be a fancier affair than I contemplated? My brain goes to work, ice building up along the edges. It’s Sunday morning, two weeks before Christmas. Am I heading toward a church service? Is this some special sort of day? I bet it is. Suddenly I notice a swarm of limousines at a large building in the next block.

I’d never go to my own religious services dressed anything like this, even for an ordinary gathering.But here I am and it’s too cold to walk away. Besides, it’s all about the dance and I’m here to see myhostess in Diana’s new piece.

The limos and taxis discharge snow white winter suits, ermine collars, cashmere, sparkling hats, and pearls. Here, the rabble wear mink. What was I thinking?

I get caught in the swirl of entry for the gracious old church building and head toward the front. I haven’t come this far not to see the choreography. I skip the first couple of rows in case there is some special obligation. I get a good view from a third-row seat.

My ermine-trimmed neighbor and I exchange greetings. Her everything matches. It’s warm and wrming.

Oh, to be one of those people who sit wrapped-up in her coat. But in my world, it was rude and unwise to stay coated indoors. Too bad, In my fine black wool I could almost have passed. The panels of black mostly hid my raggy jeans. But now that I’ve finished lurching against the wind and stretching out to make each stride count, my cheeks sting hot, hands turn red and I might pass out. The coat comes off and I stuff the vest under a pew.

I am the lost last-decade hippy chick, au too naturelle. Maybe my neighbors will find something remotely charming in the ragamuffin’s  struggle through the cold to worship. And, for all its ermine, a congregation that has half-nude modern dancers and a string quartet on its alter in 1978 must be fairly enlightened.

Enlightened perhaps, but my neighbor is also intent on seeing that I sing my way to heaven. Her pointer thrusts into my hymnal for the many follow-on verses of O Little Town of Bethlehem. And there are many. I sing.

“Gratitude.” I’m grateful for the heat and that there’s no confusing kneeler or footrest. “Collection plate.” If I could have parted with money, I would have taken a cab here. But smiles abound and I’ve settled into my role as Bob Crampet’s older headstrong girl.

Finally it’s time for the dance—my excuse for exposing these lovely people to me. I recall nothing. Some thirty years later, it’s my sense of ignorance and surprise, the warmth of the space and the tolerance of my neighbors, even the genuine warmth of Ms. Ermine’s smile—the true spirit of Christmas all around me—that I remember.

How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heav’n.