Sunday, December 9, 2012

Merry Cucumber and a Happy New Yam

Six years ago, I was driving with my daughter, then 4, who asked from the back seat, “When can we go to the vegetable of lights?”

“What vegetable?” I asked, confused.

”You know, the place where we drive through and see all of the Christmas lights.”

Then it dawned on me that she was, in fact, referring to the annual Festival of Lights. And I didn’t correct her because, well, how cute is that? So to this day, our family refers to the annual show at River Forks Park as the Vegetable of Lights.
And the kickoff to the Vegetable of Lights is “The Nutcracker.” One time, before the ballet began, the Festival of Lights chairman came onstage and encouraged everyone to come check out the nudist plays at the event. Whodowa? I gasped. Then I took a few minutes to rewind what he was saying and realized he had actually said NEW DISPLAYS, not nudist plays. So apparently my daughter comes by this misinterpretation gene honestly.

When she was just 2 years old, I began taking Lily to see “The Nutcracker” at Umpqua Community College, and she did great until the rats come onstage. I think it may have been the larger-than-life dancing rats, coupled with the red, beady eyes and the scary music that sent her into a meltdown. I had to carry her out of Jacoby Auditorium as she screamed, “I no likin’ the rats! I no likin’ the rats!”

My first attempt to calm her backfired. I tried to tell her that the rats are really pretend, just like Mickey Mouse. Except Mickey doesn’t carry a sword ... or have red, beady eyes ... or a scary soundtrack behind him. OK, scratch that, I mumbled, trying desperately to regroup. But by this time she was wailing and I was failing miserably as a mother.

The next year was marginally better. She simply buried her face in my hair and only asked, “Is it done yet?” about a dozen times before I could most assuredly say, “Yes” and peel her fingers, one by one, from the stranglehold around my neck.

But as I watched the ballet I started to realize that aside from the incredible dancing, the rest of the story is quite alarming.

First of all, Fritz is a holy terror. I mean, what kind of kid takes his sister’s new doll and whacks its head off, resulting in nothing more than a finger wag and an “Aw, shucks” shrug from his dad.

Secondly, Herr Drosselmeyer, the toymaker, is about as creepy as they come. Seriously, a bow-legged man with wild hair and a patch over one eye? And this is the best they can do for the magical character in the book? I wouldn’t let this guy give me a ride if I was stranded on a deserted road, let alone invite him into my house for Christmas Eve.

But then heroine Clara falls asleep (a welcome respite from the ghastly Fritz, I’m sure) and goes to dreamland. Here’s where the ballet truly becomes amazing.

And it’s not because the nutcracker turns into a real man, and it’s not because of the incredible talent displayed by the Eugene Ballet. No, it’s because of the transformation that happens to dozens of young people from Roseburg each year, right before our very eyes.

During my 16 years in Roseburg, I’ve seen a neighbor girl who baby-sat my children be transformed from a lanky teenager to a graceful party guest, pirouetting her way across the stage. I’ve seen my son’s friend, Emily, the same baby to whom I fed strained peas in a highchair, become a graceful angel, winging her way dancing for Clara’s pleasure. And a few years later I watched Gretchen, a friend’s child I held just days after she was born, dance with the other baby mice on stage.

It’s nothing short of miraculous.

And that’s when I want to say to Herr Drosselmeyer, keep your magic dust. These young lives transformed on the stage, even if for just one night, are magic enough for me. And it’s a time when all of us in Roseburg can be transformed, even if for just one night, and become a little bit more of the amazing creatures we were created to be all along.

Eileen Burmeister is a freelance writer who lives in Winchester. You can follow her on Twitter at EBurmeister or email her at

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