Green cedar boughs and tinsel garland covered the walls of the little log one room schoolhouse in Curtisville. Sheets draped across the back of the room with Merry Christmas printed on them. The room was so crowded that some had to stand outside and watch through the windows. The excitement grew as those in the crowd waited for the Christmas program to begin.
Christina Landon, 86, of Hubbard lake, remembers the excitement surrounding the night of the Christmas program in the days of the one room schoolhouse.
She remembers looking forward to the programs as much as the students. "It was a way to have fun. We had no recreation on any kind so you had to make your own. In the wintertime, we would slide down hills on our sleds, skate on a pond in the woods, and have our Christmas program. And, "she adds, "the parents really wanted their programs."
So did the kids. They would start asking about it in October. The excitement started to build when practice began in November. The two weeks before the program Mrs. Landon would spend every afternoon working with them to piece it together; the children even gave up their recesses.
She would ask every year, "Are we going to have a tree? Who's going to get a tree? Usually one of two of the boys in the class would bring one in. When the school couldn't afford construction paper, Mrs. Landon sometimes used the red paper from a sugar sack and other homemade ornaments to decorate the tree.
From Sears and Roebuck she ordered tinsel garland, bells that opened up, and red streamers which hung from the ceiling. (To pay for these, the school would have a box or pie social).
A group of students would build a stage and place it in front of the classroom so that everyone in the audience, including the young ones, could see the students perform. All the books and papers from desks were placed under the stage so the would not be lost or damaged by those watching the program.
General Grant’s Grand March
It started with music and the curtains opening. All the children who did not have a speaking part lined up in the back of the room, and they marched to the front while Mrs. Landon played "General Grant's Grand March" on the piano. They sang a Christ mas carol and marched back where they waited until singing again at the end of the program. If someone couldn't sing, he pretended he could.
All students had some part. Some played in scenes, others had a recitation or took part in a humorous dialogue. In one scene, a little boy came in with a load of wood, then fell and spilled it. That was his part. Many dressed in costumes made by their mothers; a few brave ones had to be first before the others would don theirs.
Mrs. Landon always played the piano for the program. And every year she ordered candy from Sears and Roebuck to give to the children. "It wasn't a bushel and a peck,' she says, "but it was enough for each to have more than one."
Mrs. Landon remembers that her own love for Christmas programs began when she was going to school in the days when Ellis Martin was teaching. Every year he had students do a few recitations, but she always missed the program because or the two and a half mile walk in the dark from her house to the school.
She had her first program during her first year teaching at the Comins School. "It was a flop," she says. But while teaching at the little log school in Curtisville, she remembers the people enjoyed the funny Christmas programs she directed. They contrasted with Mrs. Anderson's religious programs in the Methodist Church.
She remembers one year in Curtisville when she asked two boys in the class to bring in the Christmas tree. It so happened that the families of the boys had an ongoing feud because of a dispute over a bee tree.
The next morning, one of the boys and his father went down to Stuart Creek to chop a tree. The other boy went over to meet them and found they had already gone. So he and a neighbor chopped down a huge tree which they took to the schoolhouse and set inside. the tree was big it filled the whole classroom.
The other boy and his father had in the meantime gotten a smaller tree and placed it in a shed in their yard, saying "Well here it is if Mrs. Landon needs it."
When Mrs. Landon saw the big tree in the classroom she didn't know what to do. She knew it wouldn't fit in the small schoolhouse. And she also knew that cutting it wouldn't do any good because the bushy part was at the bottom. How could she find another tree without hurting the feeling of the boy who brought it and risk igniting the long-standing feud between the two families?
Together with Hazel Stevens and Stella Stevens she came up with a plan. They hooked up a dray (a homemade sled) behind a horse and went to the shed in which sat the small tree. They hooked it on the dray and hauled it up to the schoolhouse.
They tugged, pulled and managed to get the other tree out of the schoolhouse and loaded it on the dray. They then headed for Kitty Campbell's where they unloaded the tree, chopped it up and hid it in her barn. Afterward they decorated the small tree from the shed and placed it in the schoolhouse.
The night of the program, Mrs. Landon was on pins and needles. The boy who brought the big tree saw was not at the front of the classroom. But where did it go? After the program, he and some friends followed the dray tracks to Mrs. Campbell's. She told them she knew nothing about a large Christmas tree.
What could he do? He couldn't blame the other boy for taking the tree because if he had, where did he take it? Thanks to Mrs. Campbell, the Stevens sisters, Mrs. Landon and their plan, no fights erupted between the families and they were able to have a tree for the program.
Also in Curtisville, Mrs. Landon remembers three bachelors, Art Latter, Fred Bowser, and Manley Bell who came to the program every year from the village to put presents under the tree which they had bought for each other. Half the fun of the program, she says, was watching them open their gifts.
She carried her ideas for the program to each school at which she taught. While at McDonald School, she remembers finding a funny song which she included in the program. That was the first year, she says, that Floyd Thompsons from Chicago lived here. "Floyd couldn't believe something that nice could be put on 'in the sticks'."
After the Norwegian School was moved and connected to the McDonald School, it was decided not to have a program because there were so many kids. But, Mrs. Landon says, "We decided we'd have one, no matter what. So we took it over to the township hall."
She remembers working with Margaret Blake and other teachers such as Floyd and Bonnie Benghauser, Don Rasmussen, Alfred Anderson, Bob Kowalski, Clover Polkinghorne and Geneva McCoy. One year Tommy Clark came with a loudspeaker so everyone could hear the recitations in the program. But the loudspeaker didn't work so no one could hear.
Mrs. Landon plans to watch a Christmas program this year. It may not be quite the same, however, as those programs "in the sticks" she helped direct.
Courtesy of the Alcona County Review, Harrisville, Michigan