The lights dimmed; mothers had already found their seats after coming from the classrooms where they had put makeup on little children’s faces and checked their costumes to make sure angel wings and halos were secure and costumes were on right side round. I was at the piano, music and script lined out. The gym was full to the brim, every seat taken, with folks lining the sides and back walls, for the whole town had turned out. Early birds got the seats! Christmas wasn’t Christmas in the Fraser Valley unless it included the program at Fraser School (now the Town Hall). I began the overture and chatter stopped. I had played for this event for ages, starting in 1958. High school students were gone by then, moved to the new Union High School in Granby, but 7th and 8th graders were still there. And in 1958, the first kindergartens in the district were established. It was a time of excitement and anticipation, of fun, and of panic? Well, no, not panic, for the teachers were beautifully organized.
The program was chosen during October. Each teacher had a specific job. For instance, Martha Vernon, the art teacher, did sets. Helen Hurtgen was responsible for dialog. Edith Hill did costumes. Nancy Bowlby was in charge of the music. Others coordinated the whole. And I played the piano, with Nancy sometimes accompanying me on her violin.
Mothers were asked to contribute sheets and any fabric they could spare. Patterns and material for costumes went home to be sewn into various sizes and shapes -- angels, gingerbread men, knights or royalty. In the gym, we stitched on finishing touches, bright patches to decorate jester outfits, townspeople, and such, while watching various groups practice. Bits of tinsel became crowns, tinfoil turned into wands, cheesecloth into wings. Lace scraps and sequins added color and “class.” The budget was extremely minimal at first, but over the years, more money was directed to Christmas programs. Instead of old sheets, we could buy cotton fabrics, velveteens, sometimes satin. One year I even stopped by a furrier’s in Denver and begged some fur scraps. Were we uptown then! We had fur trim around the necks, cuffs, and hems of the costumes for the prince, queen, and king.
The day before the play, PTA mothers gathered in the gym to fill brown paper sacks with an apple, orange, nuts, and candies, provided by R. L. Cogdell from his grocery store.
Every single child in school took part in the play, as a class, except for those with speaking parts, of course. Fraser grew and grew, then as now. Soon the 7th and 8th grades moved to Granby. Then the 6th graders went, but the 4th and 5th graders handled the leads neatly. Our stories were usually simple Christmas tales, but sometimes we tackled ambitious efforts such as the Nutcracker Suite or a version of Gilbert and Sullivan. The only children not included were the Jehovah Witness youngsters. They couldn’t be in the play and they couldn’t come watch it either. We all felt very sorry for them, because everyone had such a wonderful time. Their teachers tried to give them special projects to entertain and interest them while they sat off in a corner or in their classrooms. The plays always went well. Tiny kindergartners came out onto the stage, to stand behind the colored lights. They knew their song perfectly in practices, but I have to admit that a number of them usually stood silent, stunned by that mass of faces looking up at them. No matter. They were darling. “Hi, Mom,” some were sure to call. “Mom” beamed.
There might be a glitch or two every year. For instance, little Diane was chosen to do the Arabian dance in Nutcracker Suite. Her parents were dark, as she was, and she was slender as a dancer. Trouble was, she didn’t have an ounce of grace in her body at that stage of her life. I thought Nancy Bowlby was going to have grey hair before she got that child moving properly. But the night of the program, Diane looked like Anitra herself, doing her exotic dance. One year the king jumped his cue and entered on stage. His first words were, “Did I miss anything?” The prince muttered, in an aside, “Yes, three pages!” But the cast went on as if nothing had happened, while down at the piano I sat, flipping pages rapidly, trying to figure out where the dialog was now.
Another year, our son James was to take part in a minuet. “Uck! I have to touch a girl?” By the greatest good fortune, he broke his leg and got to be a guard at the palace door, standing at attention on crutches, while another boy took his place. (I think he did that on purpose.) Songs and parts were adapted to the talents of the students. We had five boys once, who couldn’t talk, dance, sing -- anything. So they wore monks’ costumes and filed on stage, supposedly singing a Christmas carol, but supported strongly by the cast present. Another time, Twyla’s parents couldn’t come, so Miss Vernon took her home to get ready. Now, Twyla usually looked like a dirty ragamuffin, but after a bath and hair wash, she truly looked like the angel she portrayed. For the finale, the entire school came on stage to sing a last carol, with the audience joining in. Then Santa showed up to distribute the goodie sacks, and the great night was over. Coming out into the quiet night was a wonderful feeling. Sometimes we moved through drifts of new falling snow; sometimes the sky was filled with icy stars. Gay lights showed in windows throughout town.
We never talked much on the way home, as we thought of the play, the success of everyone¹s efforts, and how happy the children had made their parents and families. My last program was the first year after the new school was built. It was fun still, but the school population had grown enough that it was impossible for whole classes to participate as one. Things weren’t the same as they were in the little old school.