Take Five: Tom and Joy James

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By Stephanie Doyle

Basic bio
Tom and Joy James of Bethlehem have been standing in Bethlehem’s live nativity for many years. Tom, a product design manager at Eminence Speaker, and Joy, a teacher’s assistant atHenry County Early Childhood Center , will participate again this year. The nativity will be Dec. 22 to 25 beginning at 6:30 p.m., with three 50-minute sessions.

How long have you been standing in the nativity?

James: I have been involved for 22 years. Joy has been doing it longer, much longer. She is from here. I moved here in 1989 from Knoxville, Tenn. I am Joseph. Joy is Mary.

Joy: I think I started around 10 or 12 years old – and am now 54. I went to Bethlehem Baptist Church as a child. I was an angel in the nativity. I thought it was really neat to be a part of it. It was just something special we have always done as a family. We moved away and then came back and I became involved with Henry Christian Church in New Castle but am still involved with the nativity.

What about other family members?

Joy: My mom (Joyce Hackett) was Mary for years and years. She passed away a couple years ago. My dad (Bill Hackett) stood in it for many, many years, up until two years ago. He had trouble with his knee and hip and had knee and hip replacements. He still stood periodically, though, between those surgeries – and he is 81. He was usually a wiseman. All of our boys have been involved as well. Our son Nick was about 8 when he started. He was kind of small but they said he could be a shepherd boy.

Have you stood in bad weather?

Joy:  It’s very, very rare that they call it off. I’ve done it in rain, I’ve done it in snow. One year, when I was a teenager, it was so cold and so bad. They brought heaters in. I was an angel standing on a hay bale and I was about ready to pass out, it had gotten too hot.

Tom: You’re in the freezing cold. But when you hear parents lean over and tell their child, “This is the real meaning of Christmas,” you could stand there all night.

Why do you continue to be involved?

Joy: We just think it helps bring back the meaning of Christ, of Christmas. It’s important to us that Jesus be remembered as the real reason for Christmas. What is your funniest memory?

Joy: Ask Tom about the donkey.

Tom: Joseph stands right next to where the stall is, where the donkey is. The kids love to interact with the animals. The donkey’s name is Rosebud. So Rosebud likes to chew on Joseph’s garments. I’ll put my right hand out of the way where people can’t see it, and I’ll scratch him to distract him. The next thing you know the whole manger scene is rocking and he’s reaching for the swaddling clothes. Everyone laughs and jokes about how this happens every year. A couple years ago Rosebud was cantankerous and they had to round up another donkey.