Christmas in the Country School

 

Merrifield School, Milton Twp., Rock Co., WI

 

Written by Carol Arnold, December 18, 2000

 

Courtesy of Clark Kidder

The morning is cold, with the mercury at about 4 degrees, a light snow is falling, and
about 9 inches expected before the storm passes. It's a gentle snow and lends itself to sitting by the window for reflection.
Yesterday I was invited to two Christmas programs and I was recalling the month of
December in rural schools. My brothers Alan and Randy and I all went to the Merrifield School, about 2 miles from the farm, and we always knew that right after Thanksgiving we would start getting ready for the Christmas Program. Everyone in all eight grades would participate. Rehearsal began for plays, the wire went up across the front of the room to hold the curtains, copies of scripts, poems and songs came out for everyone to memorize, artwork was done to decorate the room and the general air of excitement grew with each day.
Some would say that not much learning took place during those weeks. Others would
say that they were sure that reading, memorizing, writing original poems and stories, public speaking, cooperation toward a common goal as well as the science of the tree lights, the sociology of learning about various ethnic foods and customs, and all the other special associated subjects comprised a very rich learning environment.
Certainly, this frenetic activity resulted in eagerness to learn, pride in the school, and
increased self-confidence for all the students involved. One of the unseen benefits of the Christmas Program was to provide a community focus. The country school offered a natural social outlet for the people living in the area. Even neighbors with no children in the school came to see the program and enjoy fellowship with others that they didn't see often.
The first Christmas Program I remember (although it may be more from the retelling
of this favorite family story) was in 1941, the year I was 5 years old and my brother Alan was born. Since there was no kindergarten, I had been asked to recite a short verse for the program. Mother was still in the hospital following the birth of my brother, but Daddy made the 40-mile trip to Lake Geneva to bring me home from their friends' home where I had been staying. I'm sure this caused him a great deal of difficulty for him in between visiting the hospital, milking the cows and trying to keep the household going.
Well, we got to the big event. I had my favorite dolly, Pinky. I was called upon to
recite my verse. I can imagine Daddy's chagrin, when I stood shyly in front of this room full of neighbors expectantly waiting to hear from the oldest of the Jess ARNOLD children. Alas, not a single word came forth. I looked at all the faces and completely lost my willingness to speak the verse that I had been reciting for everyone at home for weeks! At last the teacher took pity on my situation and helped me get back to my seat. My loving, understanding Daddy never scolded me at all.
Each of the children participating in the program was well motivated to put "their best
foot forward" in this representation of what the school could do. Another of the ARNOLD family stories is about the year when I was in 8th grade. I had a strong voice, and wanting to be sure that everyone heard the words to "Silent Night," I sang with gusto and great expression, nearly drowning out the other 10 or 12 students standing with me. What I lacked in musical talent I made up for with desire to do the best that I could for my school!

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