The children sat by classes on the warm
floor that smelled of old wood and wax. One class at a time, they
rose for their performance, and then, relieved of any performance
anxieties, they sat back down, relaxing until everyone had had their
Then the tall, broad-shouldered,
ex-military man we knew as our kindly principal, Mr. Greathouse,
took center stage and began the traditional rolling of the brittle 8
mm film "The Littlest Angel." He stayed near the machine as the
large screen (used just this one time each year) flashed with the
jumpy, animated cartoon.
The story, if you don't know it, is
about a little angel with no money to buy a gift for a special baby.
The loud, rich-toned sound track slurred and garbled as the children
sat watching, the younger ones rapt in attention.
Suddenly there would be a snap, slap,
slap, slap as the film broke. Guaranteed, it broke no less than
twice each year. But the children always sat quietly waiting,
sharing friendly smiles and continuing to relax as the large, gentle
man quickly taped and reworked the film to get it going again (and
When it was over, it was almost without
words that the mesmerized children and teachers filed back to their
rooms, the children nearly falling into their seats like perfect
Every year was the same. At that
moment, in every classroom, as though they all read from the same
script, each teacher with her warmest smile and tone of voice,
wished her students a "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holiday."
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Then followed the traditional closing
activity. It wouldn't have been the same without it -- the handing
out of the Christmas bags that had magically appeared in each
classroom while the students were out in assembly. Oh, those sweet
little brown paper bags, each filled with an apple, an orange,
Christmas hard candies, chocolates and a candy cane -- tokens that
told each child they were valued.
With good wishes to each and every
student, and the clever line, "I'll see you all next year," every
teacher would dismiss her class for the holidays.
For the students, and I suppose the
teachers too, this was without a doubt the easiest, most relaxed,
warmest-of-the-heart school day of the year. It was a moment in time
filled with sights, sounds, smells, warm voices and smiles, memories
that would last a lifetime.
Most schools will break for the
holidays today, Friday, Dec. 20. I hope that children today
experience some of the magic the teachers and principal sought to
provide to students at Greeley Elementary, built in 1904, in
acquired a video copy of the 1940s movie "The Littlest Angel." I
will watch it at 2 p.m., in honor of my favorite principal, Mr.
Leonard E. Greathouse. While the film probably won't break, my heart
will ache with fond memory.