Ghosts of Classrooms Past

I loved this time of year, when I was in elementary school. From the first week of December on, there was a buzz in the air. It started with St. Nick and every kid coming to school all hopped up on stockings full of candy, then dealing extras to one another in exchange for candies they didn’t get.

Living in Wisconsin, this was usually the start of the snow season, too. We were guaranteed at least one or two good snowfalls in early December. This meant that the parking lots had to get plowed, which resulted in an early gift from the Department of Public Works snow plows – ginormous snow piles that seemed to rival Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I’m willing to bet this has been banned nowadays. But back in my time (yes, I’m going old timey on ya’ll now) the recess supervisors would actually let us slide down these massive mounds of snow. Not only that, but they’d provide saucers and sleds to do so! Of course, no snowy recess would be complete for a fourth grader without playing King of the Mountain. Shoving, elbowing … the pits at a Rage Against The Machine concert had nothing on us.

That took us to the last day of school before the Christmas break. And for me, this day was greater than even the last day of school. Why? Because it encompassed everything I loved as a child.

All of the decorations would be up, that we made earlier. Like miles of chains we had created out of combining strips of red, white, and green paper into rings. Construction paper snowflakes, crafted from meticulously chosen snips from our child-friendly rounded scissors. Then there were the Santa Clauses made out of even more construction paper and cotton ball beards.

With those finished, we’d make gingerbread houses out of graham crackers and different colored frosting. Usually, the gingerbread men would be long-since eaten before we completed building the houses and were able to move them in. The snacks were great. There’s a reason I was husky.

Once all of that was done, it was the main event. Even as a 31-year-old I get so giddy thinking about it, I can barely type.

We would watch the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and Grinch specials. Oh, but it’s so much better than it sounds. Why? Because this was in the mid-80s. Before DVDs and before you could cheaply buy a VHS copy. So our teachers would tape them off TV onto a VHS tape and bring it in. These were not pristine copies of these movies. And usually they’d try to cut the commercials out manually by hitting pause.

But sometimes, they were slow in doing so, and we’d get the latest California Raisins commercial … and we’d go absolutely crazy! I mean, we were watching commercials … in class! Plus, the California Raisins! Every commercial that somehow squeaked into our classroom viewing suddenly became the greatest commercials ever.

People wonder how I can listen to Christmas music already the day after Halloween. And why I love seeing Christmas decorations up at the same time. Folks, it has nothing to do with the consumerism. I love it because it makes me feel like I’m eight years old again. It warms me and brings a smile to my face well before I’m even aware that I’m doing so.

I can hear the “Island of Misfit Toys” song and remember watching Rudolph in our classroom with all of our desks piled together into numerous four-desk islands of Super Desks … while eating homemade sugar cookies and drinking a bonus chocolate milk from the cafeteria.

And I can smell the combination of soggy cardboard and chocolate, to this day!

As an adult, I continue to form my own new Christmas memories with stories from various workplace holiday parties over the years. And while they all make me laugh, and I will cherish those … nothing can come close to the carefree jubilance you get as a child around the holidays, with a classroom full of your friends. But a sparked memory of that time can still be the next best thing.

Because four seconds of a California Raisins commercial’s still better than no California Raisins commercial.


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