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Tue Apr 27, 2010 2:47 pm

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“Shhhhhhhh, You must be quiet while the other children are practicing!” We often heard those words as Mrs. Miller shushed us yet another time. She was really quite lenient with us because it was Christmas time and she knew how excited we were. She didn’t really care if we whispered quietly but we knew better than to be loud or rowdy. After all, it was nearly Christmas and those proverbial visions of sugarplums were dancing in our heads. It was time for the annual Christmas program at Baring School and our parents and the whole community would come to hear us.

The procedure was the same every year. We sat in our class groups on the gym floor of Baring school while we waited for our turn to practice our part of the Christmas program on the stage. We looked forward to it because we got out of our regular classes so we obediently marched in single file from our classroom to our spot on the gym floor to sit and wait.

The stage had been readied for the program. The temporary walls had been taken down to expose the full stage where we would perform. This meant that we couldn’t hoist ourselves up to sit on the “ledge” during noon hour and lean against that temporary wall and dangle our feet over the edge like we usually did. The stage would remain open until after Christmas.

While the grade school practiced, the high school seniors worked on decorating the Christmas tree. What a beautiful tree it was! There was a very tall stepladder being used because the tree was a huge cedar tree that one of the local farmers cut and brought to the school. I had never seen a tree so big! The fragrance itself was enough to make us think Christmas had surely come to Baring School. A couple of the boys put strings of lights on the tree and then other decorations were added until it looked beautiful right down to the final laying on of the icicles.

The night of the school program finally arrived and the gym floor was covered with folding chairs as families packed the gymnasium. Back stage we huddled in corners waiting for our turn on stage. The covers had been removed so the foot lights were on and the curtain drew back for the first scene. The program would begin with the youngest children and end with the oldest.

I practiced my line over and over because when the villain was caught I was supposed to say, “We will let you go when Santa has come.”

Nearly all of the Christmas carols were sung by the time each class had performed.

Each class in our school drew names for a gift exchange so there were lots of gifts beneath the tree the night of the program.

At the end of the program suddenly a “Ho! Ho! Ho!” resounded from the door and everyone’s attention was drawn to where Santa entered with his pack full of small brown bags. Every child was given one of the bags that contained hard Christmas candy ribbon and various other hard candies. The bag was topped off with a big round orange.

The gifts under the tree were given to their recipients and at the end there was one little girl who had not received a gift. My mother, who was a high school teacher, saw the little girl who had tears in her eyes. She looked at the little girl and said, “You know, I think somebody just missed finding your gift under the tree. Let’s go look again.” Sure enough there was a gift behind the Christmas tree stuck under the tree skirt and the little girl’s face lit up as she choked out an emotional thank you.

I knew at the time that Mama had that same gift in her tote bag earlier in the evening but it wasn’t until years later that the pieces of the puzzle all fell together in my mind.

Mama had simply determined that no child would feel sad and left out on Christmas if she could prevent it so she carried an extra gift or two whenever there was a Christmas gift exchange. That was because a long time ago there was another Christmas program, another gift exchange, and another little girl who didn't receive a gift. Back then, nobody noticed the little girl who didn't receive a gift because she was very small, and very shy. That little girl was my Mama.

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