Can you hear the bell?

We just watched “The Polar Express.” I had not seen it before. The kids saw it a couple of years ago with Tony’s sister and her husband. For some reason, I just thought it could never hold up to the book. I could see they had added some things. . .I was NOT a “believer.”

Well, I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s a spoiler. . .if you’ve not seen the movie, then skip the rest of this paragraph and pick up on the next one. The most wonderful part of the whole thing for me was when Santa came up behind the boy and he could see him in the reflection from the bell. The kids didn’t remember much from the first time, because Thad was on one side of me and Victoria was on the other, and they were PERFECTLY still. I was holding my breath along with them.

The first year that I taught school, I lived in Abilene with Sarah. I taught a 4th grade class, and loved them dearly though they exhausted me and were present at the outset of the long march of time across my forehead.

Scotty was the boy that caused me to be marked down on one of my very first observations because he was not sitting still during my lesson. I had an outside observer, so she didn’t know that for Scotty to be anywhere in the general vicinity of his desk, much less with his rear end actually seated inside the confines of said desk was nothing short of a miracle. I was normally happy for him just to have a knee on the seat.

Then there was his closest friend, Nehemiah. . .the most beautiful little boy you’ve ever seen. Skin the color of bronze, black curls, golden eyes–and full of spit and vinegar. DJ giggled all the time. Lucinda wasn’t there very much, because she was frequently ill–probably because she didn’t get enough healthy food or have enough warm clothes. Yvonne was the prettiest little thing and starved for affection. She had lice a lot, and she also had two incredibly deep dimples that popped out at the most unexpected times. I can still see her black eyes looking up at me.

Sara (without an “h”) wrote me a note and told me I was “as pretty as a bouncing ball.” She and Kim were very competitive with each other. Kim continued to write to me for several years, but I lost contact with her. She was my star pupil and the one who spear-headed the apology note that said, “We will be good in the hallway when you ask us not to talk so much. And this time we mean it.” It was signed by the entire class–even Nehemiah and Scotty.

Harley was another kid that just could not seem be anywhere he was ever supposed to be when he was supposed to be there. I spent way too much time fussing at him. He’s the one that buried his head in his arms on his desk and sobbed the last day of school because I was moving to Houston to marry Tony. I wish I had hugged him more.

Santos was about as tall as me and didn’t ever have much to say. Stephanie was friends with Shasta and wrote an essay that said, “Shasta is my good best friend even though she dresses like a boy.” Seth made two different types of whales AND a whaling ship WITH a working harpoon out of nothing but Legos. He and Shasta each broke an arm falling from the same set of monkey bars during extra recess within one week of each other. After that the rule was that no one in Miss Watts’ class could even LOOK at the monkey bars. One broke their right arm and one their left, so I called them Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Spencer was about my undoing. . .the one I loved but was not sad to see the back of. I will not go back and count how many I mentioned, because I’m sure I left some out. . .oh. . .there was another Sarah–one with an “h” and her last name rhymed with “Buick”, and two boys that I got late in the year. . .one a blond–I can see his face. His mom lost a baby that year–Cody I think. The other a little boy with black hair and a bowl hair cut. He didn’t have much to say either–maybe Diego?

I have so many regrets about that year. . .I was young and green and besotted with someone six and half hours away, so I probably didn’t do a whole lot for those kids. But I loved them. We made it through 4th grade and Texas history and a year I will never forget together. My friend Becky was as new and green as me and was across the sidewalk teaching 1st grade. It was the blind, deaf, and dumb trying to lead each other out there. It’s a wonder someone didn’t get hurt. . .beside Shasta and Seth of course.

I can’t remember why (remind me here, Sarah), but the day I read them the Polar Express, I had Sarah come to help me. She can “speak” American sign language fluently, and I had her sign the words while I read the book.

My class was spellbound. Even Scotty and Spencer and Harley sat completely still. They watched her hands and were transfixed. . .there was not a sound but my voice. . .and it was as though time stood still for a moment and things were as they should be. I am incredibly emotional, and it took all I had not to cry, but I didn’t. I read the book and Sarah signed the words, and since I had it almost memorized, I was able to watch the kids as they watched her. The moment was perfect.

Those kids are now 24 and 25 years old. Some of them are parents themselves. I wonder if they remember that day, that story, the beauty of that moment when we sat in the oldest portable in Abilene, Texas and listened to a story that spoke of someone their own age–someone who had just reached that age when children learn the “truth” about Santa Claus. Probably none of them believed in Santa any more by then. They were 9 and 10. But they weren’t so far removed from believing that they didn’t know the wonder of Christmas–the magic of Santa.

That was exactly 15 years ago, but I hope they are teaching their children to hear the bell–at least for a little while–and I hope they heard it, however faintly, in our classroom that day.


7 thoughts on “Can you hear the bell?

  1. I am sure those 24-25 year olds remember that day when their teachers read and signed the Polar Express story for them. How could they not?!

    Z is hanging on with all his might.

    This morning I’d not had a chance to fill the boys’ Day 2 advent calendar box before he got up to check. When he saw it was still empty (at the same moment I noticed him checking) I said, gently, it’s still very very early. Go back to bed for a little while, and the elves will probably come soon.

    He went back to bed and the elf hurried out to the car and got their surprises (Z’s was a square of FIMO clay he had really wanted at Hobby Lobby the day before, but I’d said NO, then the elf snuck it onto the check-out counter without him noticing – easy to do since he and W like to play “Jedi-Force” with the automatic doors while I’m checking out) and put them into the boxes.

    When later he was playing with the dough he said, after noticeable consideration, “Mom, I know Santa made this clay because it has little elf fingerprints on it,” and then he showed me where the square had little nicks in it.


  2. I get the kids a little something for Valentines day each year–candy–a toy–a balloon and put it all in a bag outside their bedroom door. Once Thad asked Tony if Santa came on Valentines day too. Tony said, “No. I’ts the Valentines Angel.” To which Victoria replied, “Well then it must be Mommy.” šŸ™‚ šŸ™‚ šŸ™‚

    Victoria is still hanging on as tightly as Zane.

  3. That’s beautiful. šŸ™‚ I’d never heard of the book until we moved to CA, and by then I was too old to appreciate it. I need to get a copy for the kids, along with the Paper Bag Princess and All Tutus Should Be Pink. My list is growing. . .

  4. I think you had me come sign that to them b/c a) I had the time off from school and b) we both knew it would be 12 whole minutes that Scotty and Spencer and Harley would be still. That is worth gold the week before Christmas!

    I do love the movie — we even own it and keep it put away with our Christmas books and decorations — but I do find parts of it to be very dark and scary. But, as a whole, magical. Just as it should be.

  5. I’m with Sarah about the dark and scary. . .especially the ghost guy–he’s not in the original, so I don’t really get him. Of course Chris van Allsburg has lots of unexplainable stuff in his books. . .like a train that runs on snow and goes to the north pole, so go figure. . .

Tell me what ya think.

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