The trumpets announced his arrival at the top of the center staircase at the back of the auditorium. A 40-piece orchestra and 300-voice choir sounded the triumphant march through the packed auditorium in its full symphonic splendor, performing a richly resonant rendition of Mozart’s “Gloria” with all the vocal scale flourishes.
Glor— or, or, or, or, or – or, or, or, or, or – or, or, or, or, or— ia.
In Excelcis Deo
Converged with the visual pageantry and emotional symbolism rejoicing in the world-renowned telling of the creation of Christianity, the scene conquered the senses.
Human angels fluttered their shimmering wings of sequined tulle to ephemerally float through the air, giving life to the anthropomorphic apparitions of these purported messengers from God. The supernatural feat of flying apparently was accomplished with the help of invisible wire descending from the ceiling, reminiscent of a stage production of “Peter Pan,” but with a more spiritual effect. The saintly silver halos were divinely tasteful, and the sacred robes of these ecclesiastical beings were exquisitely gathered and layered in neo-classical swag fashion, covered with sheer white shoulder draping, making for a wistfully celestial impression so serenely, virtuously elegant.
The heavenly blue ceiling above the dark brownish fire-lit earth tones of the manger cast a mystical glow radiating the warmth of magic to come, as the manufactured stage-smoke clouds began to part. Holy men spread their incense blessings.
And there he was, the tallest and last of the three kings, the Magi of the East, a towering giant of a man resplendent in all his purple majesty – a full motion vision reminiscent of the flat static portraits of Britain’s Henry VIII in video. His elaborate costuming solidified the regal impression in a strikingly lavish show of stately grandeur. It was hard to miss the imposing figure cutting such a wide swath, clad in the opulent Tyrian purple velvet robe trimmed with a luxuriant garland of bright white fur.
And let it not be forgot, in this brief shining spot, there was that enormous gleaming silver crepe cape.
His presence commanded riveting attention.
Initially, the most spectacular adornment of the man’s sartorial ensemble was the huge purple Magi crown resembling an onion-shaped globe atop an Indian temple or Russian Orthodox Church. With its simple, but extravagantly bejeweled white elegance, it almost were if he carried the Taj Mahal on his head. As biblical lore had it, the Magi were, after all, Indian kings of the Far East, although thoughts of the Orient were not what immediately came to mind looking at this big tall white guy.
But he carried his crown so well. The intricate designs of white lace, beads, and sequins shouted, “Holy Majesty!” The classic Indian, faintly hieroglyphic replica of a glittering gem-encrusted royal falcon with wings fully outstretched stamped its symbolic strength across his forehead like a sovereign seal. The large imperial white collar sparkled in a silver sky of sequin diamonds of deity, a backdrop for a larger, contrasting violet falcon outlined in simulated amethyst stones – begetting visions of an artistic, but ultimately faux Phoenix rising from a Pharaoh’s tomb.
This supreme being of mortals stepped slowly and methodically, almost waltzing in a rhythm of audience adoration. It was a gallantly solemn, quietly dignified parade through the masses of what must have been thousands of intently attentive, piously awestruck worshippers. The man didn’t miss a beat in his stroll in the spotlight, to full dramatic effect. Beaming his noble but subdued pride, his facial expression was appropriately reverential.
Reaching his prized destination, the manger, this mobile monarch on a mission, from a faraway corner of the world, accepted an ornately sculpted golden urn from his honor guard. Bearing the vessel of a holy gift/sacrifice, his majesty respectfully bowed to the earthly parents of the Son of God, presenting his gift for the baby Jesus.
It was myrrh to mask the scent of human mortality, from this emperor in the finest of clothes, but with a truly mortal soul. Here was a man, subject – like royalty and commoner alike – to physical susceptibility and temptation, both as a symbol from the scriptures, and as the more modern-day actor bearing the costume. In ancient times the myrrh, a highly valued red-brown resin of dried tree sap used in incense and perfumes, was considered worth more than its weight in gold. The ruling Romans priced it at five times as much as the frankincense spice brought by the pageant’s Red King.
So the Purple King brought the scene heralding the birth of Christ to its climax with the preeminent gift.
It was a sight to behold for the moment and the ages.
Four attendants dressed in matching mauve satin balloon-type dhoti pants and generously flowing Arabian-style silk shirts, sporting tall turban-esque silver hats topped with bright plum-colored plumes, had deferentially borne the king’s long ceremonial cape throughout the procession.
Now, before the manger, at the precise moment of those last brass riffs signaling the glorious finale, these double-duty valet guards expertly unfurled the king’s magnificent purple and silver mantle of majesty – the cape of an emperor – with the fanfare of a royal navy setting sail for the ultimate pilgrimage. This cloak of the highest order of sultans was seemingly large enough to master the winds to propel a ship across an ocean, or maybe even conceal the ship. It covered half the stage and flowed out into the audience when fully extended, like a giant human pyramid with a purple onion globe at its head, or maybe a monarch butterfly preparing for flight. The potential for metamorphosis was promising for such a grand accoutrement that could take any creature or object to new heights, bestowing royalty or the means to a new destination in the universe for travelers and true believers alike.
The scene of the gathering before the manger was take-your-breath-away spectacular.
The entire pageant production was stunning, with a cast of hundreds, including all manner of camels, mules, goats, and lambs gathered for the celebration of the story of the birth of Jesus Christ.
The man with the purple crown seemed so distinguished, handsome, with a dark, probably dyed, neatly trimmed beard. But he also was somewhat incongruously vulnerable. This king was no longer a young man. His gait appeared to probably have slowed and grown less steady over the years. He was not quite as hard charging as might have been expected of a younger, more virile leader.
But his apparent limitations actually were somewhat endearing, giving credence to his humanity.
And, it would be appropriate for a Wise Man to be advanced in age, although wisdom was not necessarily intrinsic to the bearing of the man behind the costume in this story.
His sharp, unmistakably Anglo-Saxon nose and wide forehead were curiously similar to mine, as well as the ruddy but fair complexion. And there were those blue eyes – at least what appeared to be blue in the reflection of all the stage settings and lights.
This was my personal king of sorts – the man I had come to believe most likely was my biological, as opposed to heavenly father, a man by the name of Mickey Waterville.
Mickey had written love letters to my late mother around the time of my likely conception in May 1958. I had remembered my mother mentioning his name on several occasions, back in the 1980s, when I was in my twenties. I had not grasped the potential significance of his name or his possible relationship to me at the time. Unbeknownst to me, he reportedly had carried a photo of his “illegitimate daughter,” a toddler resembling me in the early 1960s, before meeting his wife and officially starting a family. Later, also before his marriage, he told another friend of a daughter my age.
Now, this was the first time I had seen this man in motion, in color. Mickey Waterville had been dead for more than two years, even if he lived on in an extraordinary professionally produced church Christmas pageant video. Not a person of particularly devout religious conviction, I now had to thank goodness for church videos.
My journey in search of the man who would be my king – albeit a purple one – my biological father – at this point had stretched for nearly two years, the purported length of the trip home for the legendary Magi after their much more illustrious brush with fate. There had been times when I had felt abandoned in the deserted wilderness, following a lonely star guiding me on a path of many bad leads and my not-always-so-accurate instincts.
Decades earlier, when a college English professor read my first literary analysis of a classic poem before a classroom of freshmen just wanting to fulfill a graduation requirement, he warned me never again to go overboard with religious symbolism, even if it could be fun. Later in the semester, he praised me on another poetry analysis for “restraining” myself, and keeping my “fine imagination in check,” allowing me to “use it, instead of it using (me).”
But the Purple King was such a literary gift from whatever God in which you might believe. The King’s real and literary presence could not be ignored, even if the hue of the prose would have to be toned down for the rest of the story. So mine was a tale of far less auspicious or significant beginnings than the subject of my suspected father’s dramatic performance, and the spirituality was seductively ambiguous. This was not going to be a story about an immaculate conception. At its root, this saga had to start with sex – my dear departed saintly mother’s youthful indiscretions, or forced compromises – and the dalliances of whoever the Hell was my father.
Most people don’t like to think about their parents as sexual beings, but that somewhat hypocritical queasiness doesn’t make the subject any less real.
It was by accident I was told the man I had always known as my dad, Nick McGuire, could NOT have been my biological father, a man with his own sexual peccadilloes, who I knew was not exactly an innocent in this matter. It seemed only a vagary of biology he wasn’t my father, having written to my mother in July 1958 of a special weekend they shared in May 1958, just before the Sunday or Monday night she appeared to have met with the young pre-ordained Purple King, according to the King’s “joltin’ jolly” letters of lust.
Plugging in my February 1959 birth date, the pregnancy calculators on the Internet suggested my prime date of conception was Monday, May 19, 1958, after what appeared to have been a likely late night tryst within the past 48 hours, strongly suggestive of the King if his request for a date had come to fruition. Several of the King’s letters referenced visits to her home at midnight.
What else would they have been doing in her one-room apartment in a small city in the South – if indeed they met that weekend? I don’t think they were going to church, or having a prayer meeting.
There were complicating factors about whether the rendezvous actually occurred, and whether there might be some other hitch to the story, but the letters I found years after my mother’s death, after I learned of my dad’s blood type incompatibility, were pretty damning, in lieu of any definitive scientific evidence.
This revelation of my construction worker dad being out of contention on the siring front certainly was not of biblical proportions, or of any special religious significance at all – it was not piety that brought me here – but it was compelling in my cynically confused mind. It was hard to get the thought of him not being my biological father out of my mind, and, propelling a mid-life crisis to full throttle, it became difficult not to follow the trail of intriguing coincidences, almost Celestinely prophetic, at least on the surface, especially if you were amused by quirky connections.
So many amusing and bemusing connections, what to follow, and what not.
To my generation, the search for clues was almost reminiscent of the old “Paul Is Dead” hoax about the former Beatle, or Charles Manson’s more gruesome attributions to the “apostles” in The White Album. With few exceptions, any series of facts can be put together to conjure up whatever theory you want – if you are determined, crazy, or vulnerable enough, especially when it comes to religion, a matter of personal obsession, or emotional weakness.
There were plenty of seemingly connected circumstances having nothing to do with religion in this search for truth that turned out to be just as meaningless as the fact that, like the more famous carpenter father of Jesus, my dad once worked as a carpenter, and, despite having married my mother, apparently biologically wasn’t really the father of me, the couple’s first-born child.
That’s about where the biblical similarities ended, even if my dad liked the coat of many colors I gave him for Christmas one year. And, Nick McGuire would be the first to disclaim any religious bearing – even if he liked to repeat a joke offered by a Jewish friend that he was a Jewish Reverend like Jesus, the “Reverend Nick B. McGuirestein.”
I suppose there could be millions of carpenters out there in the same predicament of being a father to the biological offspring of another man. And, many might not be aware of the DNA disconnect. With a world of some seven billion people, more and more culturally mixed with each generation, so many could share similar facial features, genetic mutations, blood types, and other physical traits with purported children. And resemblances among white people from Appalachia could take on an almost hyper-multiplier effect with a population so inbred as a result of centuries of seclusion up in them tough-to-travel hills.
My family having moved north to the Washington, D.C. area when I was six years old, I never really had noticed how much all us Anglo American descendants of the original Caucasian settlers looked alike, until I began my sojourn into paternity uncertainty.
It’s no wonder there are so many bad jokes about hillbilly intermarriage.
But, regional resemblances are to be expected with any relatively small, generally isolated gene pool. Appalachia is bigger than some European, Asian, African, and Latin nations where people are presumed to have certain stereotypical characteristics. And many of these groups, as well as others, have lived through some hurtful ethnic jokes. Those bitter grains of perceived truth can be hard not to internalize, but if the intent of a tale truly is humor, it usually is better served by substituting the slurs with stories on your own people.
Or, at least maybe who you THOUGHT were your own people. I realized through my search that more people than probably imagined should not be so sure of their origins, stretching back through the generations, especially with the onset of DNA science being so relatively recent. Many might be surprised by what they could learn through genetic testing.
But Nick always would be my father of record, most likely the only one I ever would really know, and I loved, and still love him anyway.
Nick was no saint. There were plenty of incidents of bad boy behavior in his history. But at times he could summon moments of great kindness and charity. And, he almost always could be good for a few laughs with his good ole boy humor.
I’ve always known he loved me.
Myself, I certainly don’t claim any special spirituality. At the point of my first encounter with the vision of the Purple King, my powers of divining what should have been the simple matter of the identity of my biological father were already in question after a two-year search and too much money spent on inconclusive but intriguing half-siblingship DNA testing. Despite my best efforts as a former investigative reporter and avid Internet researcher, Tweeter, Facebooker and Linked-Iner, no definitive case-closing scientific smoking gun had been produced, even if a few bullets had been tainted with silver – maybe purple and silver.
With so much passage of time and the passing of so many of the key characters in this mystery, the full story never could be known. But beyond the wisps of smoldering embers from a few myths surrounding my birth, and my newfound appreciation for mirrors to compare potential familial resemblances distorted by flat, one-dimensional photos, some of the evidence was undeniably clear.
As clear as the smoke and mirrors would lead me to believe.