I was blessed to attend Hoover School in Yakima, Washington, from 1955-1959. I loved my kind, patient teachers. And I met so many wonderful classmates with whom I became friends. Learning together forms a special bond, especially at that age. Why, right now, I could rattle off the names of at least twenty of my old classmates, 56 years after the fact.
I remember how, during the warm months, our teachers would take us outside to play marbles. Boys and girls often played together; we had all kinds of fun. I remember how huge collecting marbles was. And marble trading. At lunchtime, we’d play more marbles. That was one of the most fun things we did. We also played ball games. We played singing games. Fun was just a daily part of our schooling. — But the way we celebrated Christmas season at Hoover was really something!
During the four years I attended Hoover, the routine went something like this: The school would acquire a huge, natural tree, which would be set up in the main building’s auditorium. The tree must have been twenty feet tall (I don’t know for sure, because I was a little boy! But it seemed that tall.) The staff, or perhaps our friendly janitors, would beautifully decorate the tree, stringing it with the most colorful lighting. And then, every morning before school, for at least a week, we children were invited to come to school early and sit on the floor of the auditorium, near the huge Christmas tree, and listen to Christmas carols and holiday tunes. In those times, there were no I-Tunes or IPods, no Sirius Radio, no CD players. The music was played on one of those industrial-strength photographs every grade school seemed to have; and the records were spun by a kindly teacher or administrator located up on the auditorium stage. The songs were piped through the sound system. I remember the speakers were located in the ceiling, because the sound seemed to be coming from the heavens. I don’t know if the grownups were playing 78 RPM, 45 RPM, or LP records. But someone was there every morning, playing those records for us.
The auditorium lights were brought down low, darkening the large room and enhancing the glow of the lights on the beautiful, fragrant tree. The scent of evergreen magically hung in the air. Every morning, we students would gather near the tree to listen together to the joyful, beloved carols: Hark The Herald Angles Sing, Silent Night, Joy To The World, Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem, Let It Snow, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer…. What a magical, unforgettable time we had! I felt so safe and nurtured in that loving environment. When I hear carols today, I am often transported back to the floor of Hoover’s auditorium, where I sat with my brother and our friends, truly wrapped in a winter wonderland.
When I was in first grade, my kind and gentle teacher, Mrs. Jordon, taught our class to sing Away In A Manager. I know that, for some of the kids it was something they were forced to do. But for me, it was as if someone lit a fire under me! Getting the chance to sing with my classmates at the school assembly was life-changing. The feeling I got, even while just practicing the song in our classroom, caused me to decide to dedicate my life to music. On the big day that the Christmas Assembly was held, I remember we singers stood near that beautiful Christmas tree and sang our song to the entire student body. It was a thrilling moment for me. Each class in turn, sang their songs to the rest of the school. We all got to sing, we all got to listen. And then, each child joined a line, and received a popcorn ball from Santa Claus, who, get this: arrived by helicopter!
Since I went to Hoover for four years, I was able to enjoy this Christmas tradition while attending first, second, third and fourth grade. Then, I moved on to Nob Hill school, where I started fifth grade. I met a completely new bunch of friends and classmates. And I don’t remember what we did for Christmas at Nob Hill; but it paled in comparison to our Hoover celebration. I will always have fond memories of my time at Hoover, especially Christmastime. Joy to the world!
See that Santa Claus at the top of the page? That’s me! Yes, I was Northgate Mall’s Santa, in Seattle. And Santa Randy has a word to share: please don’t be sad that the “good old days” are gone. Christmas is in your heart. You can decide to make this Christmas your best ever! Please remember to spread the love.
Postscript: I was contacted by another person who went to Hoover in the 50’s; she reminded me that we students were invited to bring an ornament for the tree, from home.