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Security Blankets, Linus and Oratoricals

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When I was a young child, I was overly attached to my security blanket, affectionately known as "Blanky." Many young children have security blankets and suck their thumbs, but I preferred my index finger. Not extended, like #1, but compacted like if you were making a fist. What started out being cute turned worrisome to my much older brothers as the years passed and I refused to give up the habit. They were constantly trying to rip the blanket out of my hands and, over time, Blanky suffered many casualties of war and was much smaller than when he was created.

More than once my brothers convinced me to announce that I had given up Blanky. I'd hold up just fine all day, until it was time to go to sleep. I don't know how many times I failed, but I do remember when I hit "kiddie rock bottom." I had thrown Blanky directly into the trash earlier in the day. That night, I was picking through the garbage. I had to remove some scraps of peach and the pit that clung to the blanket. As I fell asleep, I rationalized that the fresh peach scent was too good to pass up.

I always loved the Peanuts gang and back then, I heavily identified with Linus, Charlie Brown's thumb-sucking, security blanket-toting friend. One of my favorite scenes of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is at the beginning, when all the kids are outside. There's a can sitting atop a ledge, and Linus is sucking his thumb and watching as kids are throwing snowballs at it, trying to knock it off. They're all missing, and finally Linus makes a snowball, wraps it in his blanket, turning it into a sling shot, and knocks the can off the ledge on the first try. Way to go Linus, my brother in arms!

Blanky was long gone by the time I was in fourth grade, when I had my first "tough" teacher, Ms. Daly. The mere mention of her name can still cause grown men to shudder. She demanded you give every ounce of effort. If you strayed or lost focus in any way, she would let you and the rest of the class know it. It was in her class that we were first introduced to public speaking. Once a quarter we were expected to give a speech, except Ms. Daly called them "oratoricals." I didn't care what she called them, it was terrifying. Not only was it hard to get up and speak in front of your classmates, it was hard to figure out what to talk about. The topic was up to you.

It was second quarter, and I was struggling to think of a topic. My brother John was helping me, and he came up with the idea of giving the speech Linus recites in the Christmas special. It was about the true meaning of Christmas, and it came from the Bible. While it was a public school, we were told our oratoricals could be about anything we wanted, as long as it was a respectable topic. Brilliant! I set about memorizing the passage. My brother John helped find some old bed sheets and towels, and showed me how to dress up to look like a shepherd. The night before I was scheduled to present, I gave a dress rehearsal performance at home.

The next day, I reviewed the list of presenters, and told Ms. Daly that I had a costume and would need some time to change. She asked to see my costume, and determined that I could go into the hallway, and change right outside the classroom. I could look through the window of the classroom door and she would signal me when it was time to go on. Perfect. Everything was falling into place. When it was time, I went into the hallway with my shopping bag. I draped the sheets around me, and started to wrap the towel around my head. Just then, a bell rang. It didn't really mean anything to our class, because in the fourth grade you didn't change classrooms for each subject like the junior high kids. But I forgot that the classroom directly across the hall from ours was used by sixth and seventh graders. They began to stream out, and when the guys saw me, their faces lit up. The next thing I knew, I was on the floor under a pile of linen, and covered in soon-to-be bruises. I calmly got up, put on my costume again, and saw the signal. It was over in a blur, but the irony did not escape me as I delivered the last line:

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.