Cactus Hill Observatory
1940 to 1950
The 4 days of Thanksgiving Holiday were over and we went back to grade school with a whole renewed agenda the teachers had worked on during the long week end. The mood changed, the music changed and so did the art classes.
We began practicing singing the beautiful Christmas songs to be sung in the Chirstmas pageant that we presented on the last day of school, just before Christmas. Sometimes the teachers would play the ever present piano in the room.
We had two school rooms. The first through the fourth in one room and the fifth through the eighth in the bigger room with a stage at the front. Sometimes we sang without the piano. Sometimes there were pupils that played the piano and they got to play for the off key singing group of class mates.
I was one of the struggling piano players. I had a little experience playing the piano for the “Little Mrs. Rev Grether” (she was tiny and wife of Rev Grether) in Little Church at the Big Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins. If I lost track and got behind the singing group, Lillte Mrs. Rev. Grether would just keep singing until we caught up. She was a great teacher.
When I played the piano in grade school, I was so intimidated and nervous, many mistakes were made, but the kids kept on singing loud, sometimes with a few snickers, until I caught up!!
I took my playing of Christmas Carols seriously and practiced and practiced at home. My problem was I have a “tin ear” and no concept of timing after all these years of practice. I am, you see, related to my Dad, who sang all the time around us, at the top of his voice, off key and most of the time making up his own words. He loved getting us all to sing when we were packed in the old Pea Green Dodge going to church. He gave you the “stink eye” in the rearview mirror if he thought you were not singing!!
I understand that my Dad’s love of singing on the way to church was related to the fact that his Kansas mother, loaded up her children in an old Model T, along with other kids in the neighborhood and they sang as the chugged all the way to church. I see that picture in my head of my little Grandma McClure behind the wheel of a Model “T” with bunch of singing kids crowded around her.
We designated the first through the fourth grades and the “little kids” and the fifth through the eighth as “big kids.” The “big kids” got to practice the Christmas play. It never varied – except the players of the characters changed from year to year. The “little kids” were the singing angels and some of the “big kids” were the Three Wise Men and Shepard’s from the fields with the imaginary sheep. Joseph was one of the tallest boys.
We practiced our speeches and verses every day after lunch from the mimeographed paper that always had a particular smell. I was finally old enough to get to run the big drum that printed off the words in purple on white paper. I felt so important. The reward was purple fingers!!
And again I finally got old enough to play the Virgin Mary for two years in a row. Now I really felt important. I grew to 5 ft. 3 inches at the end of the seventh grade and therefore I was the tallest of all the students. (By the way – I remained 5 foot 3 inches during High School, one of the shortest!!)
My Mom made my “costume” out of a bed sheet – that she sewed in a fashion that suited her and covered me so I looked the Virgin Mary part. A shawl borrowed from my Grandma covered my head.
I got to bring my beautiful blonde haired doll to play baby Jesus. The Manger was stored in the basement of the school in the furnace room. I brought fresh straw packed in a pillow case for the baby to lay on.
The second week of December we put up a Christmas Tree provided by a farmer, sometimes my Dad, in the front corner of the room near the piano. We decorated it with construction paper rings and ornaments that had been stored from year to year.
Last of all, and the most fun was hanging the tinsel on the tree. Some of my teachers were very fussy about how it should be carefully put on the tree. One of the most fun teachers. Mr. Dean – very tall and skinny – was always having fun of some kind – .let us toss and throw the tinsel on. What fun we had!! His wife, after school, came in and straightened it out so it would look presentable for the Christmas Night Pageant.
Next week :
More practice for the most important play of the year.