Note: This is an expanded excerpt from her memoir recently published at Amazon Books entitled: Cowichan Kid.
(Somenos School, North Cowichan, circa 1953)
In the fifties, the school concerts were the highlight of our school experience, especially at Christmas. We had one teacher, an energetic, talented lady, Mrs. L., who taught Grade 3. She did most of the work for concerts two or three times a year. But, at Christmas, she really outdid herself. And there is one notorious concert whose result is burned into my memory forever.
I was a short, chubby little kid and always facile with the English language, even at a young age. As a matter of fact, here is a poem I wrote, possibly for that very concert and of which I am duly proud (seeing as how I was only about six or seven when I wrote it):
Every year, Christmas night,
Santa Claus begins his flight
Over rooftops over Spires
Over trees and telephone wires.
In his sleigh a pack of toys for all good little girls and boys —
He fills the stockings right up tight
And then departs through the night.
I was once in a play at [Somenos School] where I played the part of a doctor. I was so proud of myself, wearing a white lab coat. I had an actual stethoscope around my neck, both borrowed from a local doctor. Unfortunately, I can’t remember a single line from that play. However, I do remember my lines from the ‘53 concert. I was in Grade 2 — short, chubby, and enthusiastic, as most youngsters are.
All my mother was told was to dress me in brown and braid my long hair on top of my head. So, she put me in a long-sleeved brown shirt with matching shortie skirt. She and I together wrestled me into tight brown cotton ‘legging stockings.’ Boy did those suckers itch! I remember twitching and pulling on them uncomfortably most of the night.
At the appointed time I appeared at the school with my whole family in tow and a host of other guests in attendance. My mother was an invalid, so another kind parent had made my costume. All I knew was that it consisted of a lot of brown crepe paper and some light lengths of wire. On arrival, I was instructed to go into a backroom of the school to be ‘costumed’. I don’t remember there being a dress rehearsal; maybe they were afraid the costume was so fragile that I might wreck it.
So, on the appointed night, I trotted into the back, ready to be fitted into my mystery costume. To my utter astonishment it was a round affair kind of squashed at the top and looked like a giant pumpkin. I was instructed to put up my arms as this huge, chocolate brown, cage-like affair was put over my head. It was held on my shoulders with either cloth or leather straps. At the very last, a large sprig of holly was pinned into the top of my hair.
I don’t remember being very nervous; I was too little to be nervous. But imagine my astonishment when I waddled out on stage. Someone picked me up and plopped me bodily down into the centre of a large table. I was admonished to ‘Sit with your legs crossed, Sweetie, and don’t move!’
As the curtain opened, I was revealed to all the faces in the audience. Many of the parents wore grins and tried to politely smirk behind their hands. Some of the children were not so polite. Titters and guffaws echoed throughout the audience. However, undaunted, the budding actor in me came to the fore. My mother later averred that I shouted out my line with excellent diction and such gusto that I could have been heard in Nanaimo!
The line was: ‘Hurrah for the plum pudding upon the table!’
Joy Sheldon is a local author. Her memoir, ‘Cowichan Kid’, can be obtained at amazonbooks.ca and most local bookstores including Salamander Books, Ladysmith, and Volume One Bookstore, Duncan.