by Leslie Zurla
an excerpt from Leslie Zurla’s Steady Ender essays
My classmates and I journeyed from Kindergarten through all the years of our primary education – except for the Catholic kids. Most of them joined us in High School, having had their K–8 educations at the church school. Aside from teenage angst, we all got on really well. It didn’t occur to us to “divide and conquer” according to ethnicity or religious beliefs – that was left for dating and popularity wars.
Our town was small and everyone knew everyone. There were two rival stores on Main Street – Gelman’s and Singer’s Department Stores. Both were owned by Jews. My Aunt Bea worked at Singer’s, so we had a bit of an allegiance to shop there, however, Gelman’s gave the best Holiday Parties and had the most festive decorations. Izzy Gelman was also the mayor.
We all sang in the choir together – that’s just the way it was. Plus, those of us destined to be Broadway stars needed to brownie the music director in hopes of landing a lead in up-coming shows.
We began rehearsing the Christmas concert in November. Never did we sing the Dreidel Song – and no one seemed to care.
One day I came home and announced that I had been given a solo in the Christmas Concert. My parents never wanted to discourage me. I knew they were expecting something like “Winter Wonderland” – I told them they’d see it at the concert.
The smell of heat in the house on cold November nights made the holidays and the concert seem that much closer. The gas stations were the first to stand the evergreens in cement blocks. They’d never spell out the whole word C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, though, they always said X-M-A-S. I don’t know if there was ever an abbreviation for the word Hanukkah.
Manger figures that were always chipped, bottles of glitter and artificial snow started to fill the shelves of the 5&10. Plastic canes filled with tiny round candies hung on racks, and there was once again as he had been for the past many years…. Santa Claus. We all called him by his first name, which was Pat. Year after year he rang his bell and wished everyone a Merry Christmas. You could always see the collar of his flannel shirt under the massive red jacket. No one ever minded.
Well, the big night of the Christmas Concert finally arrived. My choir robe was maroon with a white collar and I just loved wearing it. We waited outside the auditorium until everyone was seated so we could make our entrance – and what an entrance it was! We were lined up according to height – shortest first – that would be me. Each of us held white candles, flame flickering. There was a “protective” paper sleeve to stop the wax from hitting our hands. It didn’t always work. Barry Bernson tried to fight the tears of pain as we sang “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” and marched toward the stage. We also sang a verse in Latin. There were candle monitors who collected the candles as we approached the steps to the stage. I think I can still smell the burning flesh of those who had faulty wax shields.
There was applause as we took our places on the risers. I saw where my parents were sitting and gave them a proud smile.
My solo was during Fred Waring’s “The Night Before Christmas.”
My moment arrived: “He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle” – At this time, I performed a piercing whistle that could be heard all over town.
Yep, that was it. I delivered the whistle. So well played, it brought down the house.
It was then that I knew great things were in store for me. New York, here I come.
I want to thank Leslie for allowing me to include one of her “Steady Ender” essays, “Jews in the Choir”, in my December Blog. It’s an ideal addition for the Holiday Season. But Les is not a first timer here. In addition to being the Producer on “For the Life of Me”, and my “go to proofreader” for all my contributions, she has been a contributor as well. She wrote “Marion Blumenthal Lazan – Why She Became My Hero“, and “Paul and Lilly“, here in my Blog.
She was also instrumental in bringing us two more fascinating stories: “General Morris (Two Gun) Cohen“, and “Thin Ice” by Frieda Korobkin. Also an extremely talented artist, she created the artwork for the cover of Frieda Korobkin’s book, and teaches art as well. You can see samples of her work on her Facebook page.
Her long term career began back in the day on the New York stage, then gravitating into films, and TV commercials, both on the production side and with a number of ad agencies. And if this isn’t enough, as a long time lover of Jazz, she worked for many years as second in command at the storied “Jazz Bakery”, here in Los Angeles.