This year (for the annual Christmas Eve story at my church) I adapted the last short story my friend and author, Gloria Houston, wrote as part of a Christmas anthology she was asked (by an editor) to participate in.
At this point in time… Gloria’s health was declining but she accepted and true to her lifetime mantra …” I am first, last, and always…a teacher” she wrote about the special relationship between student and teacher that lasts forever.
Specifically this is a Christmas story about a retired teacher pulling out her ornaments each Christmas Eve to trim the tree while remembering each student with a certain ornament made by them.
Like all Gloria’s stories..there is a warm mixture of laughter and tears and enough personal reflections to stay with us for a long time.
Here is my personal adaptation from Gloria’s special story of her close relationship between herself and her students… that lasted her whole life.
*I open the story with a familiar age-old question…”I wonder, does my favorite teacher still remember the ornament I made or gave him or her…and does she remember me each Christmas when she adds it to her tree?”
In a small town by the name of Irwin Ms. Mac (“Ms. Mac” had been her nickname so long no one even remembered her real last name except maybe the postman) had been the music teacher for more years than anyone could remember…having taught generations of students. She was quite popular, esteemed by all, and loved by everyone.
*(The story told last night was a personal adaptation tweaked for storytelling purposes from the original story: Ms. MacAdoo’s Christmas Guests– Gloria Houston.)
It seemed to the local citizens that she had taught almost every single person in town…even the present mayor who she taught to toot his own trumpet. (which, of course he did , as a politician quite well!)
By now she had taught almost every teacher in school and principal…. even the fire chief, Fred. “Poor Fred” Ms Mac thought with a smile tugging at her lips. When he was 13 he had a solo in the Christmas concert and right in the middle of “O Holy Night” his adolescent voice decided to change and the “O” jumped up about five octaves. Sadly he had never lived it down.
Even after all these years a practical joker classmate from long ago…would walk by the fire station…if it was a nice day Fred and the fire dog Sparky would be sitting out front on the lawn. The ‘troublemaker’ would start small talk with Fred and then “innocently” ask if there had been any action lately about a “FIRE (high octave) “FIRE!”
Fred’s face would turn red…Since he had put on some weight over the years and couldn’t run as fast as before..he would sic Sparky on the trouble-maker…usually resulting in the prankster having to get a new pair of pants.
Another student, Ed, who had the best Christmas tree lot in town would deliver Ms. Mac’s beautiful balsam every Christmas Eve. She would let him put it up in the stand but that was all…she wanted to decorate it herself. She told him not to worry she had plans that night and visitors to help trim the tree. Every year she turned down an invitation to have the communal Christmas Eve dinner with the town folks.
It always seemed strange to the town that they never saw any extra cars or sounds coming from the house except from an old record player where Ms. Mac’s former students …from long ago school Christmas concerts… had been recorded. The music now played throughout the evening.
The first thing Ms. Mac did was string the lights round the tree and then make an imaginary toast to Thomas (one of her former students who was singing on the record) …silently thanking him for returning again this Christmas Eve.
Then she took out a beautiful gold, red, and blue box filled with ornaments. The first one on top, all wrapped in soft tissue was a doll with silver wings made by the tiny hands of Angie. Ms. Mac always, traditionally, placed the angel on top of the tree.
What a beautiful voice little Angie had but the school only got to hear her voice once… because soon after the Christmas concert that year… her mother told her that she and Angie had to move because she didn’t have the rent. Ms. Mac prayed that somewhere out there Angie was singing that night and sharing her God-given talent as a gift for others.
Next Ms. Mac unwrapped a small box and lifted a tiny egg covered in costume jewelry. She began smiling to herself…she remembered first opening it and exclaiming to the children around her that she couldn’t accept it..it looked too expensive. But Patty had assured her it was from the whole family and then little Boo sealed the deal…when she added proudly “Our daddy’s the garbage man and he found a whole box of these…and said we could take one to you since we all love you so.” Trying to hide her grin…Ms. Mac replied:
“Oh Patty, Bobby, Troy, Margaret, and dear Little Boo…then, of course I must accept this lovely gift from all of you!”
The next article in the box was a newspaper clipping with a red bow…Ms. Mac’s eyes misted over…the classes that year had bought a page advertisement in the local paper wishing her Happy Birthday and Mother’s Day since her birthday fell on the other holiday.
Shaking her head sadly…Ms. Mac removed a ceramic candy cane. It was misshapen and crooked but oh so special. It was the only time Charlie Bob was able to sit still long enough to complete anything that year. It took place in the art room because he so badly wanted to give his Christmas gift to Ms. Mac. He had never felt safe his whole childhood, always nervously shifted from foot to foot… but just for her he had sat still to make his candy cane.
“If only if he had sat still on the bank window sill when he was caught robbing the bank… Ms. Mac thought to herself…perhaps I would still have Charlie Bob around. Looking up…Ms Mac prayed that wherever Charlie Bob was …that he now felt safe and loved.
A red ribbon attached to an airline captain’s wings greeted her and Ms. Mac’s eyes danced in glee. Herbie, the President of the choir, had taken her to dinner to celebrate the day he made captain…at dinner he gave Ms. Mac his wings to keep. “Wherever you are, Herbie, flying around this great big world…never forget me” Ms. Mac whispered in prayer.
One by one Ms Mac placed the rest of the ornaments on the tree. She “visited” with each one until the room was filled with memories.
*And then the magic came…six minutes of new light since the Winter Solstice…six magical minutes to spend with the past. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes and when she re-opened them…she saw them enter the room.
Angie, Patty, Bobby, Troy, Margaret, and dear little Boo; Charlie Bob, Herbie, Thomas…and Fred. They gathered around her old covered chair…she felt their tangible presence. Everyone hummed Christmas tunes and stared at the beautiful lights twinkling on the tree.
“Everyone think I am lonely on Christmas Eve” she told her invisible friends gathered around the tree. But how can I be lonely with so many children to visit me. Thank you children for leaving a part of yourselves behind, when you left my classroom, for me to cherish forever.”
*So in response to our question before the story….”I wonder if my teacher remembers the ornament I gave her and who gave it to her” I think I can confidently reply for most (if not all) teachers everywhere… a resounding “YES”! You are not only remembered but cherished! Merry Christmas Everyone and God Bless all of us this beautiful Christmas Eve!
So until tomorrow….”Kindness is seeing the best in others…even when they can not see it themselves.”
“Today is my favorite day” Winnie the Pooh
After all the cold weather and then torrential rains …Christmas Eve cleared up around lunch time and was absolutely gorgeous…in the sixties…bright and beautiful. We ended up spending most of our time out on the deck. We played games, snacks, and opened the stockings. Eloise is still very comfortable with Ben and spent a lot of time showing him all she got in her stocking.
Eloise is a true southern lady…feisty and goes no where without her pearls!
Then it was on to the Christmas Eve church service…and the telling of this year’s story…( included in the post.) “Some Enchanted Evening” should have been playing at the end of the service as Rhodes and especially Eloise found her cousin quite debonair- she decided to let him know just how she felt! Once their eyes locked it was love at first sight…”kissing cousins.”