Sunday, January 20, 2013

Christmas at Cross Ridge School...

During the recent holidays, I was asked to share a personal Christmas  tradition or memory with a group gathered for a dinner of fellowship and fun.  When asked, I hesitated only momentarily before I agreed to accept the assignment.  I knew of a memory I had been wanting to write about and this would provide the perfect time and place to share.  
With that story composed, I share it here as well.
Cross Ridge School as it looks now - not much different that it looked in the 1950's when I attended grades 1-8.
My elementary school days were all spent at a one-room country school named Cross Ridge School. 
It was 3 miles from our farm;
Aerial view of our farm buildings taken during the years we lived here - about mid 1970's
5 miles from the town of Fountain City, WI; pop. 934.  There was no kindergarten at this school but had students in grades 1-8.  The school usually had about 26 students with children in all 8 grades.  My older brother and 3 younger sisters all attended there as well.  I don’t know when the school was built or opened but I do know when it closed.  That was following the year in which I completed the 8th grade.  A new high school had been built for 2 small communities and the former high school buildings became additional elementary classroom space so children from the country were then bused into towns where they attended school.  
Celebrating Christmas at Cross Ridge School was a big deal.  We students prepared a program and performed everything from memory for parents and community members who attended.  

Cross Ridge School had one teacher.  She began to plan the Christmas program sometime in Oct. I think.  By the time a student was in 7th and 8th grade, the teacher would let us help with the selection of the plays and pieces we would perform.  That was a high privilege and I loved being entrusted with the thick, hardbound play books from her little teacher library.  My class consisted of 3 other girls and myself so we shared the task of reading and selecting program material when we reached the top grades.  I don’t really remember how many books the teacher had – not many - but we loved reading the plays and deciding who would have each part.  I’m not sure how many plays were performed but several each year.  These plays were about family situations but I can’t remember any specifics.  In addition to these funny and/or heartfelt, serious plays, we always enacted the Biblical Christmas story.  Being assigned the part of Mary was always the most coveted role and with sadness I report I never was selected.  But being an angel fit me more perfectly anyway don’t you think? 

Besides plays done by the older children, the younger children would all memorize a “piece” – a Christmas poem which often had a humorous twist.  Sometimes they spoke with a partner or as a class group.  Older children sometimes recited longer pieces.  There was always singing as well.  The whole school sang as a choir and usually included all the fun songs like Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolf, the Red Nosed Reindeer, Deck the Halls, Here Comes Santa Claus, Up on the Housetop, and nearly all the familiar Carols.

The process for duplicating / copying these program parts was to pass the books around the schoolroom to each person in order to copy his or her own part.  We used our Big Chief tablets and #2 yellow pencils to copy what we would need to memorize for the program.  

We helped each other learn the parts and gathered in groups during recesses to practice the plays. 

The really exciting part of preparation for this major stage performance was the actual building of the stage a few weeks prior to the program date.  Our school had a basement.  Down there was the wood burning furnace, the piles of stacked wood to burn, a hand pump over the cistern where we got our water, the 2 bathrooms – each contained 1 commode, nothing more – an area where we could play when it was too rainy or cold to be outside and the stage planks!  These were stacked in the back of the basement on top of the bracing used to support the planks when they were set in place.  It was thrilling when the teacher would instruct the “big boys” to go downstairs, get the planks, carry them to the front of the room and construct the stage.  The height of the stage was probably about a foot off the floor – it seemed so grand.  The staging also included curtains which were hung on wires attached to screw eyes creating 2 off stage areas on either side of the center stage and a curtain which spanned the width of the room and would open in the middle.  When the stage and curtains were in place and we began rehearsals on the stage, we could hardly contain ourselves.  

Props and costumes were also part of the production.  We scrounged at home for items needed and an elderly woman, Mrs. Engel, who lived near our school loved to sew and created angel, wisemen, shepherd etc. costumes.  Getting out of school for Mom to drive us to her home for measurements and fittings was also a delight.  

This program took place in the evening.  Each child came from the home of a dairy farmer so the program had to be scheduled after everyone had milked their cows.  And this was Dec. in WI so ice and snow with slick roads was nearly always part of the equation.

Another exciting element was that each year we got a new dress for this occasion.  Sometimes my dress was a hand me down from a family at our church, sometimes a church lady made each of us Groves’ girls a new dress and once in awhile, we had a dress we bought at a store.  Those times Mom often bought us 4 girls matching dresses.

The program started with all the children waiting in the boy’s cloakroom which was the entrance to the school.  After all the parents, pre-school siblings and some grandparents had arrived and crowded in, the teacher welcomed the crowd and the program began.  Our teacher started each song which we sang accapella as we processed into the room 2 x 2 and up onto the stage. Some of us had bells to shake as we sang Jingle Bells.  From there we sang all the songs with hand motions for some.  Following that the recitations and plays began with our teacher introducing each element.  Older students helped with costumes and coaching if there were glitches.  We all wanted to open and close the curtains but those privileges went to boys that probably had ADHD.  There were a few solos, duets and trios sung.  One year I was asked to sing THE FIRST NOEL as a solo.  It had been decided in my family that “Linda can’t carry a tune in a bushel basket”, so my mother was aghast at the thought of my performance – because she said she didn’t want me to suffer humiliation publicly.  But I rehearsed with my teacher and performed during the program quite respectably which surprised, pleased and silenced my mother.  And settled the  many butterflies in my tummy.

The REAL CHRISTMAS STORY was the last play and ended with everyone joining to sing Silent Night, Holy Night.  A final song was song by the full cast which was WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS.  Parents were invited to sing along with that also.  
We had a decorated tree in the room and had had a name exchange earlier.  Each student picked a name and bought that person a little gift.  We kept the names a secret until the night of the program when the gifts were given out.  We all knew what was coming as we took our seats after our final song.  As the room became hushed there was the sound of tapping and scratching on the windows.  It was too dark
Old windows have been removed on this side.  See above photo... 
to see who was outside tapping on the windows but we could tell that someone was moving along the length of our school and was heading toward the entrance door. We could see the dark profile of a large, human figure.  In a few anxious minutes, the door burst open and a loud "HO HO HO" was heard.  Santa had arrived in full costume with a big gunny sack slung over his back.  He boisterously made his way to the front of the room where we kids were huddled and crowded closely together waiting for gifts to be distributed.  Santa opened his sack and began calling names.  Our teacher gave us each a little gift and we received the gift from another child.  We also received a little box of Christmas candy – some ribbon pieces and some traditional hard candies.  And after all the gifts were given out, Santa shouted his need to get out to his reindeer and on to other children so waved his good byes with wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year along with promises to return next year.  

Then the Moms served cookies, coffee and kool-aid.  We were packed like sardines into our little one room schoolhouse but it was an extremely memorable and exciting night.  

Cross Ridge School is still standing.  It is now the meeting place for the township it’s in.  It’s used as the place to vote and where county committees have meetings. 
Former students gathered for our reunion - members of the Groves, Suhr, Litscher and Literski families.
Mom and the 4 girls.  Jim missed the photo but was there also,
The Worden families except one daughter-in-law and grandson

Several years ago, a reunion of people who had attended the school was held.  The event coincided with my Mother’s 90th birthday celebration so all of my siblings, 

my children and grandchildren were there with quite a few others from our school years.  It was my first time back inside the room since graduating from the 8th grade in 1959.  Much had changed but there was evidence of how it used to be so it was a fun time of reminiscing. 

Don’t you wish you could have attended Cross Ridge School?  Or maybe you did attend a similar school where you grew up.

1 comment:

Marge B. said...

Having just returned from our belated family Christmas gathering in the Sierra Nevada Mts. late last night, I'm finally taking the time to catch up on your blog site.
It was a 'trip down memory lane', as I read this entry about 'Christmas at Cross Ridge School'. Your memories are much more detailed than mine, so it is very interesting to get your perspective, to enrich my fond memories.
Since I attended Cross Ridge just grades 1-3, my memory bank there is much shorter than yours. Some of my recollections are my own & perhaps some are from hearing of yours & others.
The Christmas Program was a major event at Cross Ridge. When I knew how seriously the older students viewed it, I knew it had to be very important.
It seems to me that some fathers came to assist the older boys in building the stage. Did Mr. Litcher ever get involved in that?
I so remember Santa Claus arriving at the end of the Program. It seemed to me he didn't just tap..tap..tap on the school windows. It was more of a banging & a pounding of the door as he entered. It was always scary to me & I think I could have done without his arrival!
Thanks for sharing your descriptive fun to read!