Sunday, December 12, 2010


The year was 1945. The town was Long Beach, California. The occasion was the John Greenleaf Whittier Elementary School Glee Club having its picture taken just before the school children came out to sit on the asphalt while we gave our annual Christmas Program. I was 10 years old.

Little Chuckie Newmyer, one of the smart kids, stood solemn and official in his role as Narrator of this little Christmas concert. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for “Chuckie” because his mother and my mother were friends and pregnant with us at the same time in 1935. Sometime after we were born one or both families moved away, but our mothers discovered each other again when we moved into the Whittier school district in 1945. I don’t think Chuckie ever knew that in my baby book there is a notation that his mother gave me a baby dress when I was born.

But moving back to this early Christmas program we needed a Joseph and Mary and baby Jesus. A doll was used as a stand-in for baby Jesus. Joseph was played by Joseph Fayant, a tall fellow with dark hair who probably looked more mature than most of the kids and truly made a good Joseph. Mary was portrayed by Loretta Carlson, who had a sweet face and a widow’s peak, which gave her a heart-shaped visage just perfect for the role.

I can still identify close to half of these kids in the choir. This is amazing, I think, because some days I can’t remember what I ate for breakfast! But about twelve of the girls in this picture were in a newly-formed Girl Scout Troop 28 and we stayed active until we graduated High School in 1953 and then have had regular reunions and personal contact through the years. But other than that, most of the kids from Whittier Elementary went on to Alexander Hamilton Junior High School and then graduated from Long Beach Poly, and having them as classmates for nine years surely has helped their names being imprinted in my mind.

I suspect that the narrative was read from the Gospels and that Chuckie did himself proud in his delivery. I do not specifically remember what songs we sang, but it shouldn’t be too hard to surmise what they were. I also doubt that they were sung with any parts, as we didn’t have a formal choir at the school; I’m sure we all knew the traditional Christmas songs and one of the teachers probably offered to wave her arms at us to try to keep us on the beat. I’m also sure she used a tiny pitch pipe to give us our beginning note, because rolling a piano or even a little portable pump organ onto the asphalt was beyond the call of duty. It was a capella for us.

It was a good program. The weather cooperated and our parents all came and stood behind the students seated on the ground. My only sadness was that my new boyfriend, Charles Clifner, was not in the choir. I asked him a couple of years ago why he wasn’t in the picture and he said he was many things but a singer he was not!

In those days it was perfectly ok to mix religion and education. No one fussed. It was just not thought to be a big deal, and hearing Chuckie read the gospel did not raise any church/state conflicts.

When I look at this picture I can’t help but think about how different Christmases were back then. However, maybe Christmas just wasn’t so different but Society was. Kinder. Safer. More polite. More considerate. Slower, for sure. We still were quarantined if we got measles. We entertained ourselves on the playground with jacks, hopscotch and monkey bars, merry-go-rounds and rings. We walked to and from school with little fear of being kidnapped. Girls wore dresses to school. Children looked like children, not like mini-teenagers. We secreted “Sen-Sen” in folded-up sheets of Kleenex and couldn’t wait for recess to share those powerful tiny little black licorice squares. In spite of the depression and the second world war that affected us, we mostly had a wonderful childhood.

Christmas is a time for remembering “the reason for the season” and it is also time for looking backwards at Christmases past. I was blessed with good family, good friends, a good school, good teachers and teaching, and a good town in which to grow up. I have Christmas pictures taken at an earlier stage of my life, but looking at those doesn't really bring any specific recollections. But the Whittier Elementary School Glee Club photo is full of remembrances and recollections – and makes an awfully good trip down memory lane in December of 2010 – sixty-five years later.

1 comment:

Olga said...

Great wealth in those memories. you are indeed fortunate.