This is it… the last day of the 12 Days of Christmas STORIES project. I hope you’ve enjoyed the fiction we’ve come up with the last few weeks. Happy 12th Night / Epiphany. — cheers, Rita
Quinn Turner was finished his picture of a Christmas tree. He showed it to her proudly. “I got to help decorate it this year.” He said eagerly. Mrs. Collingsbee smiled “Very nice Quinn.” Quinn was a nice boy, a little clumsy and never in the top academically, but worth his weight in gold. She tried not to have favorites, but Maribelle Collingsbee would take one Quinn Turner over a dozen Petie Nileys any day.
Frannie Juarez was working frantically to finish her picture as Mrs. Collingsbee approached. Frannie was a quiet girl with long black brown hair. She was Mrs. Collingsbee’s only ESL student this year. Her parents had moved from Chili last year. She wasn’t the only hispanic child in the class, and she wasn’t the only one who struggled with language (frankly Maribelle had some native English speakers who had more trouble stringing two complete sentences together than this little girl) but she was shy and often overlooked.
That’s why she was over here with Quinn and Maddie Brownling — the girl in front of her — this was kind of the misfit corner of Room 2-E. They were all good kids, but a bit awkward. By grouping them together Maribelle hoped they would bound and form their own friendship group.
Frannie finished her illustration and carefully put her crayons back in their 8 crayon pack. “What did you do Frannie?” Mrs. Collingsbee asked clearly but quietly to the little girl.
Frannie passed her the illustration with a huge smile. “Taco.” She whispered back to the teacher.
The drawling was a mess of colors. A roundish brown object was down at the bottom. Streaks of yellow, purple, orange and red criss-crossed the center in a frenetic whirl. A black triangle and two black dots were sort of at the top. — was that a face? She’d carefully written TACO at the bottom, next to the round thing. And she’d decorated the border of the paper with stars and hearts of every color of her limited color palate Maribelle didn’t know what it was supposed to be but it certainly didn’t look like a taco.
Mrs. Collingsbee handed her back the paper. “Very nice Frannie.”
She moved up the row — Maddie had gotten a pair of in-line skates, Annie Helms a set of legos (yeah! gender neutral and educational! 10 points to the Mr. and Mrs. Helms’), Jake Brown got a boxed set of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” (Yes, actual paper books! Thanks you Lemony Snickett! and thank you Ms. Brown — because Jake, while a good reader, was not quite at the Snickett reading level yet. So Di Brown — one of the classes three single parents — would be in for some serious mother/son reading with Jake in the next few weeks.) Last but not least Edward King enjoyed making and eating Christmas cookies with his parents.
By the time she reached the front of the class room every one had finished. “Very nice Children.” Mrs. Collingsbee glanced at the big round clock on the back wall. The second part of her lesson plan was for the class to come up to the chalk board and talk about their illustration. Some kids would have no trouble chattering away, others would squeak out a few words and slink back to their seats. She had to set parameters.
She pulled out her Magic Ugly Hat — a decrepit thrift store old lady’s hat she found a few years back.– The hat contained 36 soda caps, each one had a student’s name written inside it. This was her way of randomly choosing a child for a task.
She reached in and stirred the soda caps.
The children tensed. What was their crazy teacher up to?
“Now you are going to share your ‘gifts’ with the class. You will come up to my desk and speak about your ‘favorite thing about Christmas break’. We’ll use the ugly hat to decide the order. I’ll pick the first person who will hand me their drawing. I will hold it up for all to see then we will pin it to the bulletin board. Then they will pick out the bottle cap of the next speaker and will hold his or her illustration as they speak and help them post it. Is that clear?”
“Yes, Mrs. Collingsbee.”
She gave the soda caps a few more stirs, deliberately building the tension in the room. “Please remember not to pepper your speech with ‘um’s and ‘you know’s and ‘er’s. We are all very interested in what you have to say and you’ll only have between 1 and 2 minutes to say it so don’t waste time on uncommunicative words.”
Lucy McCall’s hand shot up.
“Yes Lucy, did you to volunteer to go first.”
“What? No — I mean — I don’t care — I mean… Who’s going to be time keeper?”
“You may be time keeper, if you like. Then when it is your turn you can choose some one to take over for you.”
Lucy lit up. This was heaven for a little attention seeker.
“Will you come up here so you can see the clock, please.”
Ahhh, thought Maribelle, the good manners of a small child getting her way.
She gave the bottle caps in the hat one more swish and pulled out the first name.
Between the extemporaneous speeches, the careful — SUPERVISED — stapling of the illustrations to the bulletin board and the time it took for the children to shuffle to and from their seats Maribelle Collingsbee’s morning was progressing nicely towards lunch.
There were only a handful of bottle caps left in the hat when she pulled out Lucy’s name. The girl graciously gave up her post as time keeper to her friend Kiely Romsley after only a minute’s consideration.
After Lucy’s short funny account of the big dinner her family enjoyed on Christmas day she pinned her illustration on the board and pulled out the next bottle cap.
“Frannie Jawaraz” She said struggling with the last name.
Mrs. Collingsbee didn’t know if it was part of Lucy’s penchant for showing off or if she really did have trouble with the Spanish name, but Frannie didn’t notice or she didn’t care. She grabbed her illustration and ran up to the front of the class.
After surrendering the paper to Lucy, Frannie smoothed down her long black braids and folded her hands in front of her like she was member of the Von Trapp Family about to burst into a chorus of So Long Farewell.
“Good Morning Mrs. Collingsbee and fellow students.” She said is clear, strong, very enthusiastic voice, “and Happy New Year to you all.” She smiled broadly doing a perfect imitation of a politician. “I had a difficult time with the assignment this morning — not because I didn’t understand it, but because my Christmas break was filled with so many wonderful things it was difficult to choose just one. My Nana came to visit and it was so good to see her! We had such a good time! And my mama made much wonderful food for all of us and we played music and games. It was a very, very pleasant way to enjoy a Christmas.”
A bubble of excitement brimmed up inside her and she looked adoringly at her illustration. “But the very best thing that happened over Christmas break was when I got my beautiful Taco on Christmas morning!”
Silence hung in the classroom and several seconds went by while Frannie Juarez waited for them to join in on her enthusiasm. “You got a taco for Christmas?” Petie Niley asked with derision. Mrs. Collingsbee gave him a warning look — which he dodged.
“Not A taco.” Frannie explained. “Taco is her name. She is a chicken.”
“Doesn’t look like a chicken to me.” He intoned.
“Pardon me, Petie, but Frannie has the floor.” Grady O’Day told him firmly.
Frannie was unfazed. “I know she doesn’t look like a chicken?” Frannie let out a little enthusiastic giggle. “That’s because she’s a crazy chicken and she runs all around! And when my papa plays the piano she jumps around and dances every where!” Her joy over her new pet was infectious. “Taco has beautiful yellow and red and orange feathers and she is super soft. And when I come into her yard she runs over to me and lets me pick her up and stroke her.”
The little girl was talking quickly to fit in everything before her allotted time expired. “She gives me an egg every morning. I know that’s what chickens do, but Taco never gets angry when I come to get the egg, she just moves over and lets me take it. Isn’t that nice of her.” Frannie pointed to the brown circle at the bottom of the picture. “So It is like I get a present every day.”
She thought for a second, “I feed her ‘Chicken Chow’ and sometimes my little brother feeds her bugs.”
She smiled over to Mrs. Collingsbee “That’s the end of my speech about Taco.”
“Thank you Frannie.” Before the girls could move to the bulletin board several hands shot up. “Oh it seems the class has a few questions.” No one else had gotten questions, but no one else got a chicken for Christmas.
Frannie turned back to the 35 boys and girls who had never really noticed her before. She surprised them even more when she called each person by name to answer their question.
“Joey, your question, please?” He wanted to know if she had asked Santa for a chicken.
Maribelle took a breath, the children were on that bubble in regards to their faith in Santa.
“No,” she giggled, “No, Taco was a real big surprise. But she is a good one, yes?”
Annie Helms asked if she was allowed in Frannie’s room.
The little girl ducked her head a little “No, but some times she comes in, so don’t tell my mama, OK?”
Petie said “I thought chickens were white?
David Callendar rolled his eyes “Not all of them. It depends what kind they are and where they come from.”
Frannie, who knew that Petie and David were often at odds, defused the argument by saying “I don’t really know where Taco came from, except that she came from an EGG.”
Odena Washington asked where Taco slept.
“She has a pen in our back yard and my papa made her a little hen-house out of my old doll house. So some times I’ll come looking for her and she’ll be sitting in that doll house like she’s playing dolls. Its sooo cute.” All the girls gave a little coo of agreement that a chicken playing dolls was very cute indeed.
“One more question, I think.” Mrs. Collingsbee told the class, “Quinn?”
“Can you bring Taco in for show and tell?”
Frannie looked hopefully toward her teacher.
“Does she have a crate?”
The little girl looked down at her shoes, crestfallen, and shook her head.
“My puppy has a traveling crate,” said Tommy Underhill. “Taco can borrow that.”
Mrs. Collingsbee upgraded her assessment of Tommy Underhill a few notches. “If your parents give you permission, and when the weather turns a bit nicer I think Taco will make a excellent guest for show and tell.”
“Thank you Mrs. Collingsbee.” Frannie said with joy.
“Well girls where shall we put this expressionistic picture of Taco?”
The bulletin board was almost full.
“At the top!” Insisted Lucy. She quickly dragged a desk chair over to the board and climbed onto it.
“Be careful, Lucy.” The teacher warned more against horseplay than against any real danger as she got up to make sure the girls were O.K..
Lucy was being careful, but some how, after she’d gotten the top staple into the picture, she slipped. She caught herself before she fell, but she tore the illustration.
The class gave an audible gasp.
Lucy looked down at the torn piece of paper in her hand and burst out in tears. “I didn’t mean it.” She still standing on the chair she turned to the chalk board and cried. She was sure that every one would think she had done it just to get attention.
Before Mrs. Collingsbee could reach them, Frannie climbed up on the chair behind Lucy. She stroked the little girl’s back. “It’s O.K. Lucy.” she said gently. “Its only a drawling. I can make another. Si?”
“But …its your picture of Taco.” Lucy wailed.
“Si, si, but Taco is both a Christmas chicken AND and New Years chicken. And what happens on New Years?”
Lucy sniffed, “We watch the ball drop and make resolutions.”
Frannie nodded. “Yes, and we get a chance to start things fresh.” She took the stapler from Lucy “Taco starts each day with a new egg, yes?” Frannie aligned the two pieces and stapled the top of the other side. “So why don’t we just start fresh and forget this little mistake happened. OK?”
Mrs. Collingsbee handed the Frannie a piece of scotch tape and the little girl reached up and repaired the rip. “Good as new, yes?”
Lucy looked at her, grateful for being so easily forgiven, “Si.”
Maribelle Collingsbee helped the two girls to get down from the chair. She gave Lucy’s shoulder a little squeeze before she went down the aisle to her seat. “You were an excellent time-keeper for this exercise. Thank you for your precision.”
As Frannie Juarez reached her hand into the Ugly Hat to pull one of the few remaining bottle caps Mrs. Collingsbee relaxed into her wooden swivel chair, content that this mornings lesson was instructive after all… even for her.