Four Preps News Flash from Bruce Belland!

December 15, 2019

Hi Holiday shoppers!
Break out the eggnog and the mistletoe, it’s that time of year again.
The season inspired me to send along a little piece about a few different Christmases this preacher’s kid recollects with a smile.
I hope you enjoy it.


Have a Merry... oops!"

A lot of talented kids went to Hollywood High when I was there in the Fab ’50s. The school has an amazing history having educated stars since Lana Turner, Micky Rooney and Judy Garland went there as well as later celebs like James Garner and Carol Burnett and more recent biggies like Sara Jessica Parker and Jon Ritter.

And don’t forget two of my classmates David and Ricky Nelson whose parents, Ozzie and Harriet, lived a short walk from the campus.

Then, of course there were the jocks who were really popular with the girls… so were guys in a band… or ones with a really cool car…but there was one guy I admired more than all the other campus hotshots put together.

Because he could DRAW.

His name was Chuck Hathaway and he became one of my best friends which he still is to this day.
He was a magician with a pen and sketch pad.

At lunch on a bench in the leafy quad, he’d grab his pen and in 5 minutes hand you a perfectly drawn sketch of a beautiful girl, a galloping horse or two fighter planes in an aerial dog fight.
It blew me away and we became pals early on in our freshman year.
It was obvious Chuck was destined for a successful career and all of us were in awe of his talent. Including my Minister father who’d go to any lengths to help a young person pursue a goal.

Needless to say, the Christmas season is the time for every church to pull out all the stops when commemorating the Nativity, whether in music, a Christmas play or an elaborate Nativity scene out in front of the sanctuary.
And West Hollywood Community Church was no exception.
Of course, being a ham, I was involved in it as many of the Holiday productions as possible.
Naturally, the talent was all amateurs with the best of intentions, but sometimes silly mishaps would occur.
Like the time the curtain came up to reveal the sacred Nativity scene with Mary gazing adoringly at her baby in the manger, the three wise men standing nearby and an attentive Joseph… wearing sneakers and a wristwatch.

It tended to dilute the tableau’s verisimilitude.
(That’s a ten-dollar word I like to use every few years.)
Then one Christmas, the three wise men were to enter the scene, each one bearing one of the proverbial token gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The first wise man enters carrying an ornate box ostensibly containing the precious gold.
He trips and the box flies out of his hands and dumps its contents all over the stage… hundreds of foil-wrapped Hershey kisses.
The audience can’t help but laugh as the other two wise men make their entrance and proceed to slip and slide all over the candy.
One of the loveliest unplanned moments occurred one year at the juncture in the program where Mary leans over the manger and lovingly attends to the baby Jesus.
 Of course, the “baby” is a large doll appropriately wrapped in swaddling clothes.
On this night, just as the congregant playing Mary reaches in to caress the baby, a live baby in its Mother’s arm at the rear of the sanctuary lets out a cute little whimper and then an audible and gentle gurgle of contentment.
You can’t plan that kind of moment and the congregation reacts with sheer delight.
One Christmas while Chuck and I are in high school, my Dad comes up with a Nativity scene concept everyone loves.
The church sits at the busy intersection of Cynthia and Clark Street (later renamed San Vincente Blvd.), exactly two blocks from the Sunset Strip and the front door of The Whisky a Go Go.
So, a lot of sinners drive by and the good reverend wants to catch their eye with the Christmas display on the lawn in front of the church.
He envisions the traditional creche over which is suspended a giant rough-hewn timber bearing the words “THE FIRST CHRISTMAS GIFT.”
He gets the Deacons to okay $10.00 to pay an artist to draw the inscription.
At this point, I’m driving a delivery truck for a Beverly Hills florist and my buddy Chuck is picking up whatever money he can creating signs for the various merchants along Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards.
$10.00 is a lot of money to a teenager back then and my Dad, always wanting to encourage young talent, bestows the assignment on Chuck. 

My pal is delirious… not only about the money, but about the chance to impress my Father whom he admires and about being a creative contributor to a landmark Christmas display that is bound to get noticed.
Chuck shows up early the next morning with the tools of his trade and works long into night after night, painfully, tediously inscribing the words...
THE FIRST CHRISTMAS GIFT elegant and elaborate old English script, perfectly appropriate for the tableau.
Finally, the day for unveiling his work arrives and my Dad and a few Deacons approach the display with great anticipation.
Chuck moves to the giant timbre, reaches up and proudly pulls off the tarp to reveal his artwork.
And there, in foot-high letters is his inscription...

We all stare in disbelief at the misspelling… especially Chuck who is devastated.
My always kind-hearted Dad consoles him and insists he accept the money.
Chuck re-draws the correctly spelled “FIRST” on a hunk of wood and places it over his “typo.”

It suffices but lacks the polished impact of Dad’s original quote.
When we graduate, Chuck enlists in the Air Force where he sees the world and gets priceless, highly advanced art instruction.
When he’s discharged, he builds a hideaway nestled in the redwoods outside the quaint Northern California seaside town of Mendocino and opens a graphics company. He goes on to become one of California’s most celebrated and successful artists.
We’re both sports fans and try to talk every few weeks.
And of course, this time of year we always joke about his spelling goof and he never fails to send me a card each yule season that says, “Have a very merry Chirstmas.”
Old friends and fond memories always enrich this season and I want to wish each and every one of you—who I sort of think of as “family”—a blessed and peaceful Christmas and a joyful New Year.
Take care of yourself and each other until we’re in touch again.
All for now,

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