"And what about Squanto's dance, Gooney Bird? Have you been working on it?"
Gooney Bird frowned. "Yes. It's hard, though. I keep wanting to do the hula."
"My grandma can do the hula," Keiko said. "She lives in Hawaii."
"That's lovely, Keiko. If she comes to visit, maybe she can give us lessons," Mrs. Pidgeon said.
"My grandma can do the funky chicken!" Chelsea said. She stood, with her white Pilgrim hat falling forward, in order to demonstrate.
"Gross!" Nicholas and Ben said together, watching Chelsea wiggle her behind.
Mrs. Pidgeon played a loud chord on the piano in order to get the class's attention. Then she began to play some low notes in a repetitive way. "Pretend this is a drumbeat, Gooney Bird. Squanto should simply move across the stage, keeping time to the sound of drums. Maybe some rhythmic foot-hopping too?"
"I guess so," Gooney Bird said. "I'll work on it at home. And it'll be easier when I have my costume on. I'll feel more like a real Squanto in my costume. I'll feel authentic, then."
Mrs. Pidgeon picked up the chalk and added AUTHENTIC to the word list.
"True and original, known to be trustworthy," Beanie read from her dictionary.
"That's Squanto, all right," said Gooney Bird.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
"I've got the room mother song finished," Mrs. Pidgeon announced. She sat down at the piano. "We'll need to learn it quickly because, as you know, the Thanksgiving pageant is next week.
"Gather round," she said. "And now that we've finished the hats and headbands, why don't we wear them while we sing? This will be a sort of a dress rehearsal.
"Pilgrims over here." She pointed to the left. "And Native Americans here." She pointed to the right. The second-graders, wearing their headgear, arranged themselves around the piano.
"I can't see!" Nicholas called. His Pilgrim hat had slid down over his eyes. Beanie, her own white bonnet falling across her forehead, leaned over and lifted his hat up. "Stand very still," she told him, "so it doesn't fall down again."
"How about me?" Gooney Bird asked. "Where should Squanto stand? Probably in the middle, right? Because he's the star, right smack in the middle of everything?"
"In the middle is fine," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "What is that on your head, Gooney Bird?"
"I thought you were making a headband. I saw you making a headband."
"I decided Squanto should have a better hat than the other Native Americans, because he's been to England, remember?"
"Well, yes, he did travel there. But that's a top hat, Gooney Bird. Something an ambassador might wear. I don't think—"
"I think Squanto brought it back from England. He probably went shopping and bought a lot of new clothes there. People always buy new clothes when they travel."
"That's true. My mom went to Hawaii to visit my grandma, and she bought a muumuu," Keiko said.
"My dad went to Albuquerque on business and he brought back a silver and turquoise belt buckle," Tricia said.
"My mom and dad went…" Chelsea began.
Mrs. Pidgeon sighed. She played a chord on the piano, to quiet the children. Then she played a simple melody.
She played it again, and sang, "Roooommmm Motherrrr—"
She looked around. "Recognize that? It's the melody from 'Moon River.'"
All of the second-graders shook their heads. "I know a song about the man in the moon," Beanie said.
"I know one about the cow that jumped over the moon," Ben said.
"I know one about shine on harvest moon," Nicholas said.
"I know a moon song," Tyrone announced. "Listen! Oh Mister Moon, Moon, bright and shiny moon, please shine down on meeeee!"
"No, no." Mrs. Pidgeon played the melody again. "Roooommmm Motherrrr," she sang. "Try it with me."
"Roooommmm Motherrrr," all of the children sang. Keiko's headband fell forward across her eyes. She pushed it back up but her bangs got caught.
"I can't see," Felicia Ann whispered. Her Pilgrim bonnet had lurched down over her forehead.
"Oh dear," Mrs. Pidgeon said, turning around on the piano bench. "We're having hat problems of all sorts. Let's not worry about that now, though. We need to learn this song. The next line is…" She hesitated. "Well, if we were singing the original song, it would be wider than a mile—but of course we don't want the room mother to think we are commenting on how wide she is, do we?" Mrs. Pidgeon winked at Gooney Bird.
Gooney Bird shrugged. "I don't think she'd mind," she said.
"I've changed it," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "So we'll sing kinder than a smile instead. Give it a try after me, class."
The Pilgrims and Native Americans all sang loudly. "Kinder than a smile—"
"Good! Barry? Can you push your headband up?"
"Ben? Pilgrim hat? Up?"
Ben tried. He wrinkled his face in order to hold his hat brim up.
"Next line: Your clothing is in style—"
"Why would we say that, Mrs. Pidgeon?" Gooney Bird asked.
"Well, because it rhymes with smile. And although of course I don't know our room mother, although she's incognito, I suspect she is quite stylish, right? Because she comes from a stylish family?"
Mrs. Pidgeon looked meaningfully at Gooney Bird, who today was wearing a long flowered gypsy skirt, a leather vest, hiking boots with red laces, and, of course, the top hat that she had explained Squanto would have brought back from his stay in England.
Gooney Bird sighed. "Okay," she said. "Whatever."
"Hooray—" Mrs. Pidgeon sang next. "In the original song,"
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
she explained, "it says someday at that point. But someday doesn't work for us, really."
"No," said Malcolm loudly, "because we'll want those cupcakes right away after the pageant!"
"Let's try that first verse again from the beginning. Nicholas? Can you see, with your Pilgrim hat down like that?"
"No," said Nicholas from under his hat brim. "But it's okay. I can sing."
"Roooommmm Motherrrr," the second-graders sang enthusiastically, in unison.
Wearing her top hat jauntily and singing as loudly as possible, Gooney Bird began testing some dance steps in the center of the room. "I think Squanto probably learned the tango in England," she explained.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
On Tuesday morning of Thanksgiving week, the day before the pageant, Mrs. Pidgeon wrote another new word on the board, below AUTHENTIC. She wrote FIASCO. She sighed, and stared at the word.
"Dictionaries, class," she instructed, though she hadn't needed to. The second-graders had already reached for their dictionaries and begun turning to the F section.
Barry Tuckerman waved his hand in the air. "I found it!" he called out. When Mrs. Pidgeon nodded to Barry, he stood and read aloud, "A total failure."
Mrs. Pidgeon sighed. "Correct, Barry. Good dictionary work. The word fiasco means a total failure, especially a humiliating one. Say it after me, class."
"Fiasco. Fiasco. Fiasco," the second-graders said aloud.
The gerbils, usually quiet in their cage in the corner, unexpectedly began to fight. They chittered noisily and chased each other in a circle. A paper thumbtacked to the bulletin board suddenly came loose and fluttered to the floor. The radiator hissed. Outside, it was raining in a steady drizzle.
"What's wrong, Mrs. Pidgeon?" asked Beanie. "You look sad. Did we do something wrong?"
"No, no. You children have all worked so hard. I'm very proud of you," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "But I'm worried about the Thanksgiving pageant," she confessed. "I'm afraid it will be a fiasco."
"No, it won't! Look! I got my cast off!" Ben reminded her, holding up his arm. "And my arm works!"
"We sent the invitations," said Felicia Ann. "And, remember, we put turkey stamps on them?"
"The Muriel's done," Barry pointed out. "It turned out great! We only have to hang it up in the multipurpose room."
"The room mother says the cupcakes are all ready for tomorrow afternoon," Gooney Bird said. "And lemonade."
"Yes, you've all done wonderfully. And all of your mothers are coming? I know yours is, of course, Gooney Bird," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "Everyone else? And some dads? And little brothers and sisters?"
All of the children nodded. "And my auntie," Keiko said.
"And my triplets," Malcolm said, making a face. "I hoped they would get chicken pox, but they didn't."
"Please, please tell me their names," Felicia Ann begged.
"No," Malcolm said with a scowl. "They don't have names."
"Malcolm, Malcolm," Mrs. Pidgeon said, putting her arm gently across his shoulders. "They probably have beautiful names and I hope someday you will tell them to us.
"You children have all worked very hard. It's just that—" She hesitated.
"What?" asked Beanie. "We know all the words to the songs."
"Well, I'm concerned about the songs," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "I'm not really a songwriter, and they seem, well, a little slapdash to me."
She wrote the word on the board.
"Oh, dear," said Ben when he found it in the dictionary. "That's bad."
"I know," Mrs. Pidgeon said, and she wrote the definition on the board: "Careless, hasty, unskillful."
"Our costumes are all made," Tricia added.
"I'm very concerned about the costumes," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "I'm not really a costume designer, and they seem—"
"Slapdash?" asked Tyrone.
"Maybe a little," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "and ill-fitting."
"We know our lines," Nicholas said. "Mine is 'Thank you, good friend Squanto!' I know it by heart."
"I'm concerned about the lines," Mrs. Pidgeon said.
"But you wrote the lines, Mrs. Pidgeon!" Tricia pointed out.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
"I know. And I'm not really a writer. The lines are slapdash."
All of the children looked at Mrs. Pidgeon. She looked very sad. Felicia Ann, the most bashful person in the class, went to her and gave her a hug. "You're a very good teacher, Mrs. Pidgeon," she said. "You don't have to be a writer, or a songwriter, or a costume designer, or even a Muriel maker. Because you're a teacher. You taught me to read!"
"Me too!" called Tyrone. "I couldn't read worth nuthin' when I came to this class! Now lookit! I can read a whole dictionary!"
"Me too!" called Ben. "I only could read baby books before, but now I can read whole long words!"
"We all can!" the other children shouted.
Mrs. Pidgeon began to cheer up. She smiled at the children. "Thank you," she said. "I'm sorry that I was depressed for a minute. It's just that the story of the first Thanksgiving is such a truly wonderful story, about becoming friends, and helping one another, and being thankful. I wish I could have presented it better, instead of writing a dumb song about succotash."READ MORE >>