"That isn't exactly what I meant, Barry. You do not own the word. We may all use it. And in fact, class, I wish you would all try a little more cajoling at home. This is the only class in Watertower Elementary School that does not have a room mother yet. Mr. Leroy is becoming a little impatient about it.
"Now, though, I think we ought to start our preparations for the Thanksgiving pageant. The Muriel—I mean the mural—is coming along well. But we have a song to learn, and costumes to make, and I have to select the cast."
"I already have a cast!" Ben called out, holding up his arm. Ben had fallen from his bike a month earlier and broken his wrist. All of the children, and Mrs. Pidgeon, and even the principal, Mr. Leroy, had signed their names on the cast, using different colored markers. The names were faded now, and the cast itself, which had once been white, was gray and dirty, with bits of string like dental floss dangling from it.
Keiko wrinkled her nose and said, "Your cast smells bad, Ben."
"I know," Ben said, making a face. "But next week the doctor takes it off."
"Your arm will be all skinny and wrinkled inside it when they take it off," Barry Tuckerman told him. "My cousin had a cast on his arm and his arm died inside the cast."
"Is that true, Mrs. Pidgeon?" Ben asked nervously.
"Your arm is probably dead already. Probably green," Barry added.
Ben's face began to pucker up. "My arm is dead? Green? he wailed.
"Children, children," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "No, Ben, your arm will be fine. Besides, I'm talking about a different kind of cast. We need a cast of characters for the pageant. We need Pilgrims and Native Americans. We also need a turkey, and, let me see, some succotash, and a pumpkin pie. But the food items don't have to be human beings."
"I want to be Squanto!" Gooney Bird said. "I love Squanto. He was always absolutely right smack in the middle of everything."
"Squanto's a boy!" Barry called loudly. "Only a boy can be Squanto! Right, Mrs. Pidgeon?"
"Actually," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "I've already made a list. So put your hands down, everyone."
She read the list aloud. There were twenty-two children in the classroom, and each was on the list. Eleven Pilgrims. Eleven Native Americans.
"But who is Squanto?" the children asked.
Mrs. Pidgeon looked around the class. Now every child, not just Gooney Bird and Barry, was waving an arm in the air, volunteering eagerly to be Squanto.
"I haven't decided that yet," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "But I have an idea."
She went to the board, to the list of words.
REWARD, she wrote. "You all know what a reward is," Mrs. Pidgeon said.
"Money!" shouted Ben. "A thousand dollars if you catch a criminal!"
"Well," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "it could be that. But a reward doesn't have to be about criminals. Let's look it up."
Everyone opened the dictionaries and turned the pages. Chelsea raised her hand first. "That which is given in appreciation," she read aloud to the class.
"You see, it doesn't have to be money," Mrs. Pidgeon explained. "And in this case, the reward I am going to give is the important role of Squanto in the pageant. Someone is going to get that role in appreciation. It will be that person's reward."
"Reward for what?" several children asked at the same time. "For catching a criminal?"
"No," Mrs Pidgeon said. She sighed. "For finding me a room mother."
An hour later, after lunch, the second-graders were learning one of the songs for the Thanksgiving pageant. It was a complicated song that Mrs. Pidgeon herself had written. The Pilgrims sang half and the Native Americans sang half. The song was about food.
"Succotash, succotash, lima beans and corn..." Mrs.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
Pidgeon played the notes on the piano and sang the words. "To the tune of 'Jingle Bells,'" she explained. "Ready, Native Americans? This is your part. Try it with me."
Eleven children, including Gooney Bird Greene, sang the succotash lines.
"Now, Pilgrims? Listen to your part. Just like the next two lines of 'Jingle Bells.'" Mrs. Pidgeon played and sang, "Thank you for the vegetables, On this Thanksgiving morn."
The Pilgrims sang loudly.
"Now the next verse is about the turkey. Native Americans? Ready to listen carefully?"
Gooney Bird Greene raised her hand. "Does Squanto sing with the Native Americans?" she asked.
"No, actually, while the Pilgrims and Native Americans are singing, Squanto will be carrying the food across the stage. Perhaps Squanto will do some sort of dance. I haven't worked out the details yet."
Beanie, standing with the Pilgrims, raised her hand. "I take ballet lessons!" she said. "Maybe I could be—"
But Mrs. Pidgeon shook her head. "Not ballet, Beanie," she said. "They didn't have ballet in Plymouth. All right, class, let's pay careful attention to the next part. Still the tune of 'Jingle Bells,' remember. Gobble gobble, here it comes, turkey roasted brown..." She played the melody on the piano while she sang the words. Then the eleven Native Americans sang it after her.
"Mrs. Pidgeon, may I please be excused?" Gooney Bird asked politely. "I need to be excused."
Mrs. Pidgeon paused with her hands on the piano keys. "Is this a seriously urgent need?" she asked.
"All right, then. Be quick."
Gooney Bird slipped out of the classroom while Mrs. Pidgeon sang on. "Thank you, noble Squanto, you may set the platter dooooowwnn..."
The children were still singing and passing imaginary helpings of food around when Gooney Bird returned a few minutes later.
"Announcement!" Gooney Bird said in a loud voice. "Important announcement!"
Mrs. Pidgeon stopped playing the piano. The room became quiet. All of the children knew that when Gooney Bird had an announcement to make, it was worth listening to.
"I am Squanto," Gooney Bird announced.
"But—" Mrs. Pidgeon began.
"I got us a room mother," Gooney Bird said proudly.
Mrs. Pidgeon clapped her hands. "But how?" she asked.
"Simple phone call. They let me use the telephone in the office. I told Muriel Hollo way it was an emergency."
Mrs. Pidgeon frowned slightly. "Well," she said, "it was beginning to feel like an emergency, actually."
"So now I'm Squanto, right?"
"Wait, Gooney Bird! You haven't told us who our room mother is!"
"I'll write it down," Gooney Bird Greene said. She went to the board and picked up the chalk. "Class," she said, "get out your dictionaries." She wrote a word very carefully on the board, at the end of the list.
The word she wrote was INCOGNITO.
"This is our room mother's name," she said.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
"With the identity disguised or hidden," Mrs. Pidgeon read to the class, from the dictionary. "So our room mother doesn't want us to know who she is?
"Or he?" she added, remembering Bailey Stevenson's father.
"It's a she," Gooney Bird said. "I think it's okay to tell you that. But you're right: she wants to be a secret."
"How did you cajole her?" Tricia asked. "Is it my mom? I couldn't cajole her. How did you?"
"Is it mine?" Barry asked. "I bet it's mine."
"Did you pay her?" Tyrone asked. "If you paid her, it's mine."
"My lips are sealed," Gooney Bird said.
"Maybe it's mine," Keiko said.
"Maybe mine," whispered Felicia Ann. "Oh, I hope mine."
Malcolm was rolling a piece of paper into a tube that looked like a telescope. Malcolm had a very hard time keeping his hands still. He called out loudly, "If it's my mom, and if she brings those three babies to this school, I'm ... I'm..." He scowled and sputtered and wrinkled his face and couldn't decide just what he would do.
"Sealed," Gooney Bird repeated.
"What are your babies' names?" Felicia Ann asked Malcolm. "I love babies."
"I'm not saying," Malcolm replied with a scowl. "My lips are sealed."
Mrs. Pidgeon began to laugh. "Well, class, Malcolm is not going to reveal the triplets' names. And Gooney Bird is not going to reveal the identity of our room mother, though I somehow suspect that it might be someone who has decided that she doesn't want to be chef at the White House..."
She looked at Gooney Bird, who shook her head. "Tightly sealed," she said.
"Well, I am delighted that we have one," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "and I will notify Mr. Leroy. But Gooney Bird, would you tell us—without revealing the name, of course—the absolutely true story of how you cajoled her?"
Gooney Bird nodded. "I guess I could do that," she said. She was already standing in the center of the room, and she began to take deep breaths, as she always did when beginning a story.
The Pilgrims and Native Americans all sat down on the floor. Keiko clapped her hands in delight. Malcolm stopped rolling the piece of paper into a tube. Barry crept over to his desk and sat down quietly Mrs. Pidgeon turned around on the piano bench to listen.
"'How Gooney Bird Got a Room Mother' is the title," Gooney Bird began.
"Sometimes," she explained, "a title should be a little mysterious. It should make you wonder what the story is about. I could have called this one 'An Exciting Phone Call' or maybe..."
"'Incognito'!" called Barry from his desk. "That would have been a good title!"
Gooney Bird nodded. "Yes, it would. Good for you, Barry. I might change my title later, actually. You can do that. The title you use first is called the working title. And my working title is 'How Gooney Bird Got a Room Mother.'"
She looked down at herself. "You know how usually, in stories, I try to describe what the main character looks like, and what she is wearing?"
The children nodded. They had heard Gooney Bird tell many stories before.
"Well," she said, "in this story, the main character is me, and as you can see, today I am wearing tap shoes, blue tights, red Bermuda shorts, and an embroidered peasant blouse from Bavaria."
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
"Bavaria!" murmured Felicia Ann. "I never heard of Bavaria before!"
"It's quite an interesting outfit, I think," Gooney Bird said. "But I've decided that it will not be included in the story. This story is going to be an all-dialogue story. No description."
"Class?" Mrs. Pidgeon said. She went to the board and wrote the word DIALOGUE. For a few moments the room was silent except for the pages of the dictionaries turning.
"I found it!" called Ben. He read aloud, "Words used by characters in a book."
"Or a story," Gooney Bird said. "Okay. I'm going to begin. There are only two characters in this story. One is Gooney Bird, and the other is..."
"Oh, don't tell! She doesn't want you to tell!" several children called.