Wednesday, December 06, 2006

O, the wonders of a flashlight and a bit of orange cellophane

It was all about anticipation, the week before Christmas vacation (and it was called Christmas vacation back in the day - that's how old I am).

At Barger Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the waiting game was spent decorating the classroom - usually a big bulletin board snow scene of some kind, rehearsing for the Christmas program (and, yes, it was called a Christmas program), and making sure our mothers were on schedule to bring in goodies for the Christmas party (yes, . . . ).

We were repeatedly reminded to bring in our choir "robes," cleaned and starched and ready to don before the first performance of the program. These robes, fashioned by our mamas, were nothing more than one square yard of white broadcloth (often an old bed sheet) with a hole cut in the middle for our heads to poke through. A big black cloth bow was pinned to the center of the neckline and - voila! - instant angelic choir attire. (see hand-drawn illustration) Kids often kept the same robe throughout elementary school, so the fabric completely suffocated a first-grader and barely made it to the elbows of a sixth-grader.

Each grade played a particular part in the Christmas program, ranging from the little kids singing "Away in the Manger" around the specially-selected sixth-graders chosen as Mary, Joseph, Angels, Shepherds, Wise Men, to fifth- and sixth-graders providing the background music as the school chorus.

My least favorite year was fourth grade. To the ear-grating chagrin of audience and participants alike, fourth-graders had to work their way through "Jingle Bells" on recorders. Yeow! A real painful stinker. The Christmas equivalent of fingernails on a blackboard.

But the best - the very best - part of the program was reserved for third-graders. Our teachers lined us up two-by-two outside the room as the lights in the auditorium were dimmed. Each of us had a flashlight with a piece of orangy-yellow cellophane fashioned as a "flame" covering the light and held in place by a rubber band. Picture it: sweet little 8-year-olds in their white robes with big black bows, slowly entering the auditorium singing "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella."

Third-graders can be quite somber and reverent when called to be so (or when afraid of falling in the dark). The flashlight/candles made an impressive snake of glowing circles on the ceiling of the auditorium. It was a wonder to behold!

Of course, there were always a couple of wise-guys (almost always guys, doncha' know) who got a thrill out of flickering their flashlights hither and yon, destroying the solemnity of the occasion, but for the most part everyone maintained the required decorum.

It was a bee-yoo-ti-ful thing. And it makes for a warm and fuzzy memory. Wonder where I can find a piece of orange cellophane? Bring a torch, Jeanette Isabella. Bring a torch and quickly run . . .


Tamar said...

Ooh, this is such a beautiful post, MaryB. So nostalgic and full of the Christmas spirit. You really conjure up a Festival of Light in deed.

Jay Branum said...

I found my little "choir" robe when we were cleaning out Mothers' things after she died.I still have it somewhere. It was used as a pattern for our "little ones" at church years ago. I saw them the other sunday hanging in the choir room at church. I can still remember our torches and warbling out those carols while smelling those peanut butter cookies in the cafeteria. Funny you brought this up . I was commenting to my wife about Mrs. McCafferty the other evening and how we were terrified of her. Have a wonderful holiday!

MaryB said...

Aw, I'm blushin', Tamar. 'Tis the time of year for nostagia, eh?

Jay, what a keepsake! Our "robes" are long gone. I think I wore David's - guess Cindy got one of her own, since she's only 2 years behind me. At any rate, that square-foot of white cloth was quite serviceable! And don't get me started on Mrs. McCafferty (or as Daddy used to call her, "Old Bug-Eyes.") ;-) Seems I spent a lot of time in her office in the 4th and 5th grades. :-(

SACLMT said...

Mary, you brought a tear to my eye. I had forgotten/repressed the 4th grade recorder episode. But I do remember the torches... and the carol... and the starched sheet-cottas. Thanks for the memories!