I was looking for a holiday story to share, and thought I’d share one from my grandfather’s childhood at Jewell Hill School, outside of Quinter, Kansas. Ten years ago, I was working on a “fictionalized” biography of my grandfather, Chester Long, for my eldest child’s birthday,. I tried to find as many details as possible about his childhood in western Kansas to make the book as realistic as possible. As luck would have it, I had a wonderful letter from 2002 from Rose Long Hurd, his first cousin, in which she shared a few details she remembered. She wrote in third-person for much of the letter:
It seemed that Chester favored Rose Long, his cousin, in many of the games we played at noon and recess time. This one time stays in my memory when Chester’s sister Verna Long was our teacher. Always a Christmas program and all pupils had a part to play. In this little dialogue Verna asked Chester to play the part of Santa Claus that came to fill a stocking for Effie Ashworth. Chester said he wouldn’t do it, but Verna insisted and yet Chester said, “No I won’t.” Verna asked him if he would play it with anyone else, and Chester said, “I’ll play the part with Rose.” All I remember of it was, I hung my stocking and said something about it for Santa, but I forgot my part, but I remember what Chester said as he filled the stocking. “Look at that sock, look at that boot! Look at that tiny little foot. But I don’t blame the little dear for Christmas comes but one a year.” And Chester stuffed something in the sock.
For whatever reason, it occurred to me, even then, to type the dialog she remembered into Google. I was amazed and delighted when the search engine provided the teachers’ magazine, Primary Plans, from which the actual play had been taken! Subscriptions to the magazine at the time were one dollar per year, and included ten monthly issues filled with ideas for primary school teachers. The December 1906 issue included arts and crafts, stories, blackboard calendars, and several pages of plays. And on page 24, the play, “Waiting Up for Santa Claus” was printed in full:
I found it particularly amusing that the play referenced an “Uncle Jake.” To Rose Long, Chester’s father, Jacob H. Long, was “Uncle Jake,” so it worked out perfectly!
With this, we can imagine a Christmas program in the old one-room schoolhouse. From other recollections, we know it was a community affair, with families arriving by sled if there was enough snow. My great aunt recalls the program being in the evening, with the moon shining on the snow. Indoors, there was a Christmas tree, decorated by the students with popcorn and cranberry strands and paper chains. Lots of candles lit up the tree.
All of the students performed, so there was much more to the program than one skit. After the performances, there would be a gift exchange – a cousin remembers Santa distributing the presents – and treats from the teacher. Although I haven’t seen it mentioned, I would guess cookies and other treats brought by the families rounded out the evening, and perhaps some carol-singing. These were fondly remembered programs, and are fun to imagine in this high-tech era.
The above photograph was taken of the 1914-1915 Jewell Hill students, my best guess of the class that performed this play, as Chester’s older sister, Verna, is the teacher here. She is in the back row, second from the left. In the fall of 1914, she would have just turned 21. Chester, almost 12, is on the other side of the picture, second from the right, and Rose is to the right of him, almost 10. Chester’s younger sister, Allene, 7, is second from the left in the front row, with the checkered dress. Beyond that, I have not identified any more of the class. If you can help, please contact me. The picture below of the two cousins was taken around that same time. Rose’s younger sister, Elva, is on the left, and Rose is in the middle.
Finally, I’d like to share some old Christmas postcards that were saved from my grandfather’s childhood, so long ago. The picture at the top of the post is from one of them.
Happy Holidays, everyone!