Volume 5, Number 9, Fall 1975
The children of today have missed the fun of attending a country school. Taney County had seventy-five one room schools as late as 1920. It was my good fortune to teach at South Bee Creek in 1920. Forty-five children and young adults enrolled in September, ages five to twenty-two. That was a good year. A bounteous cotton crop gave most families a little cash income.
Autumn passed swiftly. Soon, preparations were under way for Christmas. The school Christmas tree and program highlighted each school year in the hills. A month before Christmas we began selecting songs, poems and recitations for our programs. A national magazine, "The Normal Instructor and Primary Plans," gave teachers a lot of good ideas for programs. I ordered a little book of poems and plays. Soon each child had selected the "verse" or "piece" he or she wished to recite. Nine small children were chosen to do a selection together. Nine cardboard squares, each with a letter from the word CHRISTMAS, were colored with crayons. Each child would hold up his card and the word CHRISTMAS was spelled out in big letters. (I have before me today, the old book, yellow with age.) The child would recite a two line verse as he held up his card. For instance, for letter "C" the line was: "Christ was born on Christmas day, in a manger low he lay."
The verses and songs were practiced over and over again, until each child was ready and confident. Several Friday afternoons were devoted to rehearsal. We made all the decorations for our tree.
Eleectricity was not even a dream, and a third of a century was to pass before White River Valley Electric Co-op brought lights and service to the hills.
The beautiful lights and gaudy decorations of today were unknown. We did not have colored crepe paper. The children colored white tablet paper with crayons and cut strips for making chains. Paste was made with water and flour, and the little loops of colored paper made into chains for draping a-round the tree.
Popcorn, and popper were brought to school. A big batch of popcorn was popped over the big wood heater. The girls brought needles and thread and the task of stringing popcorn began. Bright red holly berries were gathered by the boys, and then strung with the popcorn. A big star was cut from cardboard and covered with tinfoil. The country storekeeper had salvaged the foil for use as he unpacked plug chewing tobacco.
We did not draw names, most of the children were too poor to afford gifts for others. The teacher,
by long tradition and custom had a bag of hard candy for each child.
The program was at 2:00 in the afternoon, usually the Friday before Christmas. Children came early on that day, the little girls with bright ribbons in their hair and the little boys with hair slicked back. Beautiful cedars grew on the slope above the big spring. An older boy brought an axe, and the teacher with the boys, went into the woods for the tree. The tree was then dragged to the school house and set up on the stage. The older children decorated the tree with the bright paper chains, the strings of popcorn, holly and little wax candles.
Finally, the tallest boy, standing on a bench fixed the big star on the very tip-top of the tree.
Many parents came, they wanted to see their children in the program. When all were gathered in the room, a hush fell, a silence in keeping with the spirit of the day. All that could be heard was the crackle of the fire in the big stove. The teacher read from the Holy Bible, the Second Chapter of St. Luke, the story of the birth of the Christ Child in a manger. The verses, pieces and songs were soon done; the presents handed out. Suddenly it was all over. Friends lingered to visit a little while and then trudged homeward in the growing dusk as night settled over the Ozark Hills!!
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