Elizabeth Daughton, the littlest angel, wasn't supposed to steal the show at the St. Paul United Methodist Church pageant. She didn't have a speaking role, like her older brother, one of the Wise Men. She didn't have a fancy costume, like the sheep, covered in cotton balls. She didn't have a dramatic entrance, like the baby playing Jesus, who'd been born just four weeks earlier and wasn't used to following a script.
What Elizabeth had was a star, made of masking tape, marking her place on the red church carpet. There were five other angels in the pageant, but the star was hers alone, a point that Elizabeth's mother tried to emphasize the night before Sunday's performance.
Where does the angel stand, Elizabeth?
On star, Mommy.
Then Elizabeth ran around her house, waving her arms like wings, even though her role didn't actually call for flying.
This could be interesting, thought her mother, watching the littlest angel flutter by.
The morning of the pageant, one of the Wise Men overslept, requiring Elizabeth's brother Charlie -- she calls him "Arlie" -- to learn an extra line at the last minute. The spotted cow cried for his mother. A sheep with cold feet ran offstage, trailing cotton balls.
In the front pew of the tiny clapboard church in Norrisville, in northern Harford County, the littlest angel whispered to her mother: "On star, Mommy. On star."
"Not yet," said her mother. "Not yet."
The littlest angel waited. She waited through the Advent wreath lighting and the Scripture lesson, through "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and the baby Jesus' grand entrance, when the minister placed the wriggling baby in the 8-year-old Virgin Mary's arms.
Finally, it was time.
"Go to your star," said Elizabeth's mother.
"Go to your star," said Elizabeth's father.
Elizabeth went to the star. Near the star was the baby. She is very fond of babies.
"Baby, baby," she said. "Me hold baby. Me hold baby."
This could be interesting, thought Elizabeth's mother, watching as the littlest angel -- straying from her star -- took off her halo and laid it on the baby Jesus.
No one had expected the littlest angel to steal the show. Then again, when Elizabeth was born, the doctors told her parents they couldn't be sure what to expect. For starters, she'd need heart surgery, a physical therapist and a speech teacher; she'd need extra time and practice to walk, to jump, to talk.
But on days like Sunday, when all the practice paid off, when Elizabeth shared the spotlight with the sheep, the baby and the Wise Men, her parents were reminded of what they'd believed all along: Down syndrome would challenge their 4-year-old daughter, but it would not have to define her. Raising Elizabeth, says her father, is like watching a flower bloom in slow motion: She blooms just as beautifully, only at her own speed.
The rest of the pageant? Oh, it was great. Charlie delivered his lines regally. The reluctant sheep was coaxed back on stage. The baby Jesus stayed quiet until the gap-toothed shepherd finished his speech: That baby's mother looked at the baby as though she knew something about him that no one else did. As if on cue, the baby burst into tears, prompting the Virgin Mary to hurry down the aisle and thrust the infant back into its real mother's arms.
"Baby, baby," called the littlest angel, who wasn't supposed to steal the show, but did.
Pub Date: 12/23/97