|Mrs. Henry, from the 1978 Petit Jean|
Another elementary school December, another trip to the nursing home to sing Christmas carols.
Dressing up, not in our Sunday clothes, but in nicer than our regular school clothes. Knowing that green and red are especially good colors to wear.
Piling into cars in the school parking lot or into cars that are pulled up in front of the school and illegally parked for just a few minutes. Cars that are driven by our teachers or room moms or other moms.
Driving the 5 miles over to Judsonia. Riding down highways that we all know from previous trips to the nursing home or from fishing trips or from visiting relatives who live down these country lanes.
Giggling along with 4 or 5 other friends in the car. Excited to be out of school, but a little bit nervous about visiting the old folks’ home. Many of these folks will be rolling up to us in wheelchairs; we remember that from past years.
Pulling into the parking lot and walking carefully across it so as not to get hit by other cars that are pulling in. Entering the nursing home through a glass door and practically bumping into a smiling worker who tells us how much the “residents” are looking forward to our concert.
Seeing the Christmas tree in the gathering area where all the old people come to sit. Some of them are already waiting for us, their faces lighting up as they hear us approach.
Lining up in 2 or 3 rows next to the piano where our music teacher, Mrs. Henry, sits down to play. She is amazing in these situations, speaking loudly and excitedly to the crowd, like we are performing for the Governor of Arkansas or something.
Sensing that the crowd, sitting quietly in a loose semicircle, is ready for our first big number.
Hearing the beginning chords of “Up on the Rooftop” and all of us knowing just when to come in. Belting it out at the top of our lungs because we all love Christmas, young and old alike.
Pausing for a scattering of applause at the end of each carol. It's feeble clapping from the audience, but we understand; it’s the best that they can do.
Ending the final song with one more exclamation point and then scattering into groups of 2 or 3 or 4. Walking around the lobby area and talking to the people and laughing a little bit at their jokes because some of them are actually quite funny.
Feeling the nudge of teachers and moms, gently coaxing us to move down the hallways so we can visit the folks who couldn’t make it down for the concert.
Passing from room to room and not even knocking on doors. Most of the living quarters are wide open and we stroll right in, striking up conversations with these friendly souls who remind us of our grandparents or great-grandparents.
Moving in and out of doorways, always traveling along with other kids. Noticing that the residents do the same, moving up and down passageways arm-in-arm with workers or family or friends.
Realizing it’s time to meet back up in the lobby for the trip back to school. Most of us holding candy canes now, handed to us by one of the residents or a staff member.
Piling back into cars and saying goodbye to the nursing home until the next December. Until we come back to sing and spread some joy all over again.
But knowing, somewhere deep down inside …
… that maybe we’re getting a little more out of this exchange than we’re actually giving.