The day of the Christmas program at the Harrington School had arrived.
The drip, drip of the icicles melting and splashing the sidewalk rhythmically touched the consciousness of No. 4 Seastrand girl who had snuggled under her bed-partner, sister Lilly.
As I, Vivy, No. 4, stretched, my feet brushed the ice-cold brick that had been too hot to touch when we climbed in bed last evening. The startling sensation immediately sparked me to wide-awakeness and reality. Gone was the dream of a brilliantly decorated tree with its popcorn strings, red and green paper chains, and the white-haired angel on the top shining in gold and silver.
The bedroom air cracked blue and sharp. Quickly gathering up my clothes, I raced to the kitchen to the encompassing warmth of Old Black, the kitchen range. Mama Seastrand was busy stirring the whole-wheat cereal and placing the bowls on the round, never-ending kitchen table.
Moving Gary and Dickie over so there was room in the oven for my feet, I started to dress.
First came the long-handled underwear with one button missing on the fly in back.
There was too much excitement in the air to worry about reporting a missing button as the recitation that I was to give on the program at school kept going through my mind. I felt that squiggly feeling in my stomach as the thought of having to walk up in front and face the whole school dawned on me.
Mama spoke up saying, "Vivy, let's hear your poem once more so that I'm certain you will know it word for word."
After a minute's silence, "Go on, dear."
"C" is for the Christ child, born upon this day.
"H" is for herald angels in the night.
"R" means our Redeemer.
"I" means, ... "Mama do I have to wear this old pantywaist today? Can't I wear short socks like Edna Fae Firmage wears? The kids laugh at me when I turn around and they see the seams up the back of my stockings where you cut them down from Lilly's old ones," I said.
"Now, Vivy," consoled Mama, "Just move fast and turn around if anyone gets behind you. Go on with the poem."
"S" is for the star that shone so bright.
"Mama, why do you always put the big star with the circle around it and the sign 'Star Flour' right in the middle of our pantywaists? It shows up so much?"
"Well, you wouldn't want it on the side would you? It looks better centered," says Mama, as her critical artist eye checked to make sure that the "star" was centered exactly right over my tummy. "Go on, Vivy."
"T" is for three wise men, they who traveled far.
"M" is for the manger where he lay.
"A" is for all he stands for.
"Mama, please just for this special day, couldn't I please wear Lilly's pair of black satin bloomers instead of these flour-sack ones: I want to look pretty today."
Mama, dipping a thick spoonful of luscious cream from the top of the pan of milk with one hand and smoothing my flyaway white hair with the other said, "Honey, if you want to look pretty, never show your bloomers. You should be grateful that Papa can afford to bring home flour to eat and sacks to sew with. Some day you will look back on the year 1930 and be grateful that we didn't have to stand in lines to get food like most people are doing. Besides, 'Pride goeth before a fall' and Jesus said: 'The meek shall inherit the earth.'"
This didn't help much, but I knew it was all the answer I'd get.
"S" means shepherds came, and that's why there's a Christmas Day.
I did it, I knew I could.
"Now if you can just remember to stand up straight, smile and look at the audience, everything will be fine," encouraged Mama.
Chewing the everlasting whole wheat and swallowing the last gulp as I walked into the classroom, all of my brave courage vanished.
Smiling weakly at Miss Dunyon I took my place in the third row, fourth seat, behind Edna Fay Firmage, and noticed out of the corner of my eye that Edna Fay had on a new, red-taffeta dress with a ruffled petticoat that showed.
Maybe her bloomers didn't show, but she probably had on silk ones, not ones that were made out of Star Flour sacks. And yes, she did have on short socks, so of course she didn't need a pantywaist with garters attached.
Going through the morning Pledge of Allegiance, the prayer and the song of America was quite an ordeal. The boys and girls were like so many blackbirds wound up ready to fly and scatter at the drop of a hat.
However, my mind was on the poem and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Would the seams of the stockings show as I walked to the front of the room, maybe if I scrunched down a little so my dress was longer.
All at once Miss Dunyon announced it was time for the Christmas program.
Lora Grant sang a song and Cecil Ray Hansen and Lyle Tregaskis played a trumpet and trombone duet.
Then she announced me: "Vivian Seastrand will now give us a Christmas poem."
Mama's words of encouragement ringing in my ears were the only motivation that got me to my feet: "Breathe deep, walk slowly and smile."
I was so conscious of grinding in the pit of my stomach as I took the necessary steps forward that I failed to recognize the snap of the elastic breaking around the waist of my bloomers.
The next thing I was conscious of was that of lying face down in the aisle with my bloomers around my ankles, dress over my head and the kids all screaming: "She’s got a star on her blooomers. Oh boy, a Christmas star!"
Well, I wanted to die. In fact, dying would be easy. It was a coward's way out and I was willing to take it.
Lying there, not ever again wanting to move, Mama's words kept ringing and ringing in my ears: "We must all be humble, and remember that Jesus said the meek will inherit the earth. ... Pride goeth before a fall."
Miss Dunyon helped me to my reluctant feet, and with one squelching look quieted the class, as she announced that, "Vivian would give her poem after she had helped pass out the Christmas presents."
The thrill and pride of being chosen to do this most important job took all the meekness out of my embarrassed heart. Pride filled me once more and I thought I've had about all the meekness that an 8-year-old can stand. Tomorrow I'll work toward inheriting the earth.
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