The Thanksgiving Pageant

It was Thanksgiving week at Rankin Elementary School, and there was great excitement among the second-graders.  Our teacher had been telling us for weeks that we would put on a Thanksgiving pageant, and preparations were underway.

Construction paper, crayons, and blunt scissors with rounded edges were put on every table.  Pots of paste and Elmer’s glue left a distinct tang in the air.  Pilgrims hats and bonnets and Indian headdresses needed to be made for the boys and girls.  We worked hard to cut out yellow buckles for the hats and colored feathers for the Indians.  It was tough to make a hat that fit and didn’t rip when you tried it on.

Most of the boys wanted to be Indians.  The members of our tribe had brought in empty Quaker Oats containers, which made perfect tom-toms when decorated with paper and crayons and even sounded like a drum when you tapped the top with your hand.

Our worried teacher had written the script and done the staging.  A few students had a line or two, but most of us would just don our Pilgrim or Indian garb and stand there while Squanto and the Pilgrim fathers gave stiff speeches about friendship and Plymouth Rock and being thankful for the harvest.  Eventually one of the girls wearing a white Pilgrim bonnet would bring in a turkey made of Play-Doh and the show would end.  When the big day came, the show went off without a hitch.

Of course, there was no pretense of historical accuracy or political correctness.  We didn’t know whether Squanto wore feathers and carried a tom-tom, or what the Pilgrim fathers said on that first Thanksgiving, or even whether they ate a turkey for their meal.  But it was fun to make things with my classmates after long weeks of spelling and arithmetic, we got to work together as a class to put on our little pageant, and we learned something about Thanksgiving, and each other, and the tensile strength of construction paper and the edible properties of paste in the process.

Do they put on Thanksgiving pageants in schools anymore?

Hope, In The Form Of A Valentine’s Day Box

When I was in grade school, Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, Christmas Day, and the Last Day of School, was a red-letter day in the Kid Calendar.  It wasn’t just because three of those days involved free candy, either.  Instead, Valentine’s Day was special because you got a tangible indication of your schoolhouse popularity.  For awkward and unpopular kids, it was a nerve-wracking day.

The focus of hope and potential disappointment was your Valentine’s Day card box.  I don’t know whether schools allow them anymore, in this treat-everyone-equally-for-empty-self-esteem-purposes age.  Back in the more rough-and-tumble early ’60s, however, every kid made a Valentine’s Day box and brought it to class.  The boxes were gaily decorated with red tissue paper or leftover Christmas wrapping paper and hearts, cupids, and doilies, and making them was a big deal. One year I used aluminum foil, aiming for a cool, space-age Valentine’s Day tribute to the Gemini astronauts.  Another year, in my quest for a good box, I found one with a flip-top lid in my parents’ closet that would have opened up like an old-fashioned mailbox, rather than requiring you to cut a slot in the top.  I asked my very modest mother if I could use that box for Valentine’s Day, but she snatched it away with horror and said she’d find another.  At the time, of course, I didn’t have a clue about what a tampon was.

While you were working on your box, you also prepared the small cardboard cards made specifically for schoolkid purposes.  They had generic, non-romantic messages and came on a perforated sheet that you separated and put into cheap envelopes that had the worst-tasting glue in the world on the flap.  Usually there were one or two bigger, better cards in the box, too.  These were reserved for that special someone, perhaps with a piece of candy taped to the envelope.

When Valentine’s Day arrived, the boxes and cards were brought to class, and the boxes were lined up in a row on the windowsill.  During the day kids would walk down the box line, putting cards in some boxes but often not others.  As the lunch hour approached, you’d casually find a reason to walk past your box, hoping to see signs that there were envelopes inside.  At the end of the day, though, you’d open the box and see where you really stood with your classmates.  Some boxes were full to bursting, others were empty except for the obligatory card from teacher and cards from the kids whose parents made them give cards to everyone.  I just hoped for something in between.

Having Class Outside

Today was a beautiful day in Ohio.  The sky was bright, the sun shone down with friendly rays, and it was unseasonably warm.  Looking longingly out the window from the conference room of an office building, I was reminded of grade school and those fabulous days when you convinced your teacher to hold class outside.

It usually happened on the first warm day of spring.  You would walk into your classroom through a landscape reeking of grass and growth, with flowers starting to bloom and birds chirping.  One of the kids in the class would raise the possibility with the teacher, and then other kids would join in.  Soon the pleas would build to a crescendo:  “Please, Miss Tibbles?  Please???  We promise we’ll be good!”  And then the teacher, who probably was dealing with a touch of spring fever herself, would relent, and we would go outside and sit on the asphalt of the playground to listen to the day’s lessons.  And, because we appreciated the gesture and didn’t want to get our nice teacher into trouble, we actually would try to be good.

I always had a soft spot for teachers who agreed to hold class outside.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, it showed some real flexibility — and real confidence in their ability to control their class.  And when it happened, it made those rare spring days that much more special.  Who doesn’t look back fondly on the days when they got to have class outside?