Several years ago, I was part of a committee that put together a Christmas party for our church congregation's women's group, the Relief Society. Besides the dinner, the decorations, and a program, our committee decided to make Christmas gifts for each of the women who attended the party.
One of the committee members came up with a Christmas decor item we could make, which involved a black-line festive image on a background of gold and silver leaf, framed. Somehow I got roped into re-creating and simplifying the chosen image so that it could be transferred onto the metallic backgrounds. I was given a deadline to submit the modified image to another committee member, who would then take it and make dozens of copies that would be used in the making of our gifts.
On the day of the deadline, I had completed the black line drawing of Mary and Joseph approaching Bethlehem with a star shining brightly above them. I was quite proud of it as an artistic achievement, considering it had been a long time since high school art.
The image was supposed to have a line of text above it, reading, "A star led the way." After finishing the drawing, I had used my computer to write the text in several different fonts, planning to print out the options in the appropriate size, and give them to my fellow committee member. I thought she could decide which version of the text she'd like to use.
There was only one problem. My printer was experiencing technical difficulties. I messed around with it for a while, then gave up, realizing my deadline was nigh. Instead, I used my most artistic hand-writing before running out the door to quickly inscribe the chosen message, "A star led the way". I delivered the completed drawing, and suggested to the other woman that she should use her computer to print out a computerized version of the text, and paste it on top of my handwritten version before she made copies of the image.
"Oh, absolutely not," she exclaimed at my suggestion. "This is just exactly what I wanted. Your handwriting is beautiful! I'm just leaving it as it is, perfect."
Leaving the image behind, I was oddly uncomfortable. Something about my handwriting....it just didn't seem right. I shook it off, rationalizing that since I hadn't been able to get my printer to work, I should just live with it.
On the night of the party, the gifts were complete. As I helped decorate, I kept passing the table where the now gold-leafed images awaited their recipients, sparkling in their new frames. The other committee members oohed and aahed over the lovely gifts we were going to give to our guests. I just couldn't put my finger on it, but something about those pictures still bothered me. It had to be the handwriting, I reasoned. I really would have preferred the more finished look of printed text.
Several days after the party, I was on the phone with a friend who had been there. She complimented the food, the decor, the program, the music, and then she said, "Everything was just lovely. Except the gifts. I just don't know what to do with mine. I mean, I'm sure someone put a lot of time and effort into making them--not to mention the expense of the gold leafing--but really, how can I put it up in my home when it looks like it was written on by someone who doesn't speak English very well?"
My eyes, now very large, focused on the small frame sitting on my mantle. A simple line drawing of Mary and Joseph approaching Bethlehem, a star shining brightly above the walls of the city. And, written above:
A star lead the way
Not "led". "Lead".
No wonder I hadn't been comfortable with the final product. It wasn't my handwriting, it was my spelling! My grammar! My syntax! My glaring mistreatment of the English language!
The English major in me died a thousand shamefaced deaths that day.
Now, perhaps this could have served as a momentary dose of humility, which would be nice. But no, it has become yearly pride smack-down. Because, guess what? Apparently not everyone who attended the Relief Society Christmas Party that year noticed my error. Or cared about it, if they did. Invariably, sometime after Thanksgiving, that darn gold-leafed picture shows up somewhere. I walk into someone's home, and it is there. It gets put in creche displays at our church. It will be used as a display on a classroom table, when someone gives a lesson before Christmas.
I cringe each and every time I see it.
And too this day, if I have to use the words "led" or "lead" in a sentence--particularly if I have to write that sentence--my left eye begins to twitch.
Forget the figgy pudding, thanks to my grammatical faux pas, I get to eat humble pie every Christmas for the rest of my life.