NORMAN — One of my favorite holiday traditions is reading the Bagby Christmas story first published in this newspaper in 1965. Normally I wait until Christmas Day to read the tale. This year, I had the pleasure of hunting it down in the Transcript archives and reading the story a whole week before the big day. One of the perks of the job.
The Bagby story is probably part of the foundation of this paper and I’ve even gone so far as to protect that story on a small hard drive, just in case it should go missing from our files. I was raised as a just in case child. I was told to always keep $20 in the freezer, you know, just in case. I was told to always have a can of tomato soup in the cabinet, just in case. And one year, for Christmas actually, my father gave his then single daughter a bag full of jumper cables, a can of fix a flat, the biggest bottle of antifreeze I think I’ve ever seen — all your standard just in case items for being stuck on the side of the road.
I’ve read the Bagby story so many times, that I could probably recite it without even looking at the words. Kind of like my senior year of high school when I was a drama geek. Lines had to be learned and blocking had to be remembered. I think I could re-enact the entire stage version of “Blithe Spirit,” if I had to.
One thing that got me this year while reading Bagby’s tale is if this story were to happen today, would anyone notice when a member of the “Cherub Choir, a boy of about 2, took a fancy to the doll representing the infant Jesus lying in the manger?” Would anyone notice that this small child “made a beeline for the crib and was diverted from his goal only by the action of an alert father?” Would we notice or would we be too busy on our smart devices texting a friend or loved one telling them how we were forced to go to yet another pageant?
In a world that seems to be electronic, I also imagine that yes, indeed this story would get noticed if it were to play out today. I could see it going viral, as they say. First, the video would pour onto YouTube and then Facebook. Instagram would be the next stop and then it would go straight to Twitter.
After the story made it’s rounds on the World Wide Web, I imagine that it would hit the television. First would be local stations. After that it would get picked up at the national level.
Something funny about 1965 is that the newspaper was all the Internet the world had to offer. Before hitting print, word got out from those at the performance. From there, news spread from coffee shop to dining room table. After all that, it was spread on newsprint, guaranteeing that the town knew what transpired on the First Presbyterian Church stage that Sunday night years ago.
I’m happy that we are able to keep Bagby’s work alive. A true testament to a journalist’s career is being read centuries later. I doubt that Bagby ever imagined his story would be such a tradition to this community. I also doubt that he would have ever dreamed that a city editor would have saved his story on a device smaller than her thumb. You know, just in case.
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