"Mrs. Pidgeon?" Gooney Bird Greene said. "I have an idea."
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
It was the day before Thanksgiving vacation—the day of the pageant. The school janitor, Lester Furillo, had used masking tape to attach the mural to the wall of the multipurpose room, and he had set up folding chairs for the audience. At the back of the large room, a table covered with a yellow paper tablecloth held two large platters of cupcakes and two pitchers of lemonade.
"These cupcakes are spectacular!" Mrs. Pidgeon had said when she opened the boxes that held them. "Look at this! Little turkeys and Pilgrim hats on the frosting! How did she ever do that, Gooney Bird?"
"She didn't do it," Gooney Bird replied. "You saw who brought them. You saw the name on the van. I think it's on the boxes too."
"Creative Catering," Beanie read from the lid of one box.
"I thought the room mother was supposed to make the cupcakes herself," Tricia said.
Gooney Bird shook her head. "I just told her to provide cupcakes. Remember the dialogue from when I told the story about getting the room mother? She asked what the room mother had to do, and I said provide cupcakes. You all know what provide means. We don't even need to get out our dictionaries."
"Well," Mrs. Pidgeon said as she arranged the cupcakes on a platter, "she certainly did a good job of providing, didn't she? But I wish she had brought them herself. I'd like to thank her."
"She's coming to the pageant," Gooney Bird assured her.
And now, in the afternoon, the guests were arriving. The second-graders were all in the small adjoining room, peeking out, watching the chairs in the multipurpose room fill up.
"There's my mom!" Tyrone said in an excited voice. "Lookit! She's got such a cool dress on!
"Mom!" he called. "I'm back here!" Tyrone's mother looked over with a grin and waved.
"Shhh!" the other children said. "Nobody's supposed to see us yet!"
"This is the dressing room!" Ben explained. "We're back stage! We have to be quiet. Hey!" he added. "Look! There's my mom!"
"My daddy came!" Keiko said, peeking out. "He must have closed the store for the afternoon! Look—there he is with my mom. And see? That's my auntie! Hello, Oba-chan!" she called, and a woman laughed and fluttered her fingers in a wave.
Mrs. Pidgeon had been at the door of the multipurpose room, greeting the guests. Now she came back to where the children were waiting. "I hear some giggling back here!" she said with a smile.
"Are you all ready?" she asked. "We'll start in a few minutes. Not quite everyone is here yet. The room mother hasn't arrived."
"She said she might be a little late," Gooney Bird explained. "She said we could start without her. Oh, look!" Gooney Bird pointed. "There's my mom! See? She's the one in jeans, with a smiley face sweatshirt."
She wiggled her fingers in a wave, and her mother waved back and took a seat.
There was a sudden commotion at the door of the multipurpose room, and several people got up from their seats to help. Malcolm looked, and groaned. "It's my mom," he said, "with the triplets." He covered his eyes. "I'm not going to look," he said.
Mrs. Pidgeon put her arm around Malcolm. She and the other children watched while the janitor and several others helped to maneuver the huge triple stroller through the doorway.
"Are they asleep?" Malcolm asked, still hiding his eyes. "Please, please, could they be asleep?"
"Yes, they seem to be sleeping, Malcolm. It's okay. You can look. Don't worry," Mrs. Pidgeon told him. "We won't even mind if they wake up. We like babies."
"I love babies," whispered Felicia Ann. "I hope those triplets wake up so I can hold them."
"They always smell bad," Malcolm whispered back. He stuck out his tongue and crossed his eyes.
Mrs. Pidgeon went to the piano at the front of the multipurpose room and played a few chords to make people stop talking. It was what she did in the classroom, and it always worked there. It worked here too, with the grownups. They all became silent.
Mr. Leroy walked to the front of the room. The multipurpose room didn't have a stage. But he stood in front of the audience, wearing a necktie today with a plump turkey on it, and he spoke in a loud, clear voice, just the way Mrs. Pidgeon had told the children that they should.
The second-graders listened from behind the cracked-open door to their dressing room.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen," Mr. Leroy said. "I'm delighted to see so many parents here today, and some grandparents, I see, and even a few little brothers and sisters."
"And an auntie," whispered Keiko.
"Are your triplets brothers or sisters?" Felicia Ann asked Malcolm.
"Shhh," Malcolm said. "I'm not saying."
"And perhaps our new room mother as well?" Mr. Leroy said in a cheerful voice, looking around the audience. "Would the second-grade room mother like to stand?
"Maybe she's a little shy," he went on when no one stood. "But she certainly did provide wonderful refreshments, which we will enjoy after the performance.
"Speaking of the performance, I would like to mention that this is the fifth and final Thanksgiving pageant today. I watched the kindergarten children this morning—they did quite a lively dance during which they gobbled like turkeys and flapped imaginary wings. It was a little noisier than we had expected, but we got it under control after a bit, and I think we learned quite a bit about how dangerous wing-flapping can be, actually. For those of you who heard about it and are worried, incidentally, little Chloe McAllister is going to be fine. Nothing more than a fat lip."
Mr. Leroy straightened his tie. "After that," he went on, "the fourth grade performed quite an impressive play about Captain Miles Standish, who arrived on the Mayflower, and the great Indian Massasoit who became his friend.
"Unfortunately, Jason Carruthers and Jeffrey Hall, who were to play the roles of Miles Standish and Massasoit, are both absent today because there seems to be a stomach virus making the rounds. The other fourth graders, though, did a great job of explaining what the play would have been like if the leading characters had been available.
"Next, the first grade had worked very hard on learning all the words of the traditional Thanksgiving song 'We Gather Together,' and they sang it with remarkable enthusiasm for the audience. Unfortunately their teacher had not taken into account how difficult the lines 'He chastens and hastens his will to make known, The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing ...' would be for people whose front teeth had recently fallen out, and I believe that was fourteen of the eighteen first-graders. But their gusto made up for their pronunciation.
"Then, finally, just an hour ago, we had the third grade's very colorful reenactment of the first Thanksgiving dinner. The third grade is so fortunate that one father provided large cardboard cartons, one for each performer to wear, with their heads of course emerging from the tops of the cartons, and each decorated as a type of food—squash, corn, potatoes, and the like. The third graders got most of the way through a recitation and demonstration of the various courses of that dinner. I think, actually, that it might have been the food descriptions that brought on an onslaught of the stomach virus mid-performance, so that we had some unfortunate events, during which we had to extricate several children quickly from their cartons, and we ended up with a very slippery floor—"
"Both of the DeMarco twins threw up," Barry Tuckerman announced to the other children. "Identical throw-ups. I heard the janitor telling Muriel Holloway."
"Oh, no!" wailed Keiko.
"Shhh," Gooney Bird said.
"—but our hardworking custodian, Lester Furillo, has taken care of that," Mr. Leroy went on, "and with the help of some air-freshener I think we're in good shape for our final performance of the day from Mrs. Pidegon's second grade.
"Thank you again for coming. I see someone else is just arriving. Is that another stroller?" He peered toward the back. "My goodness! So many vehicles today! Lester Furillo will help you in. There are still some seats in the back. Please make yourself comfortable." Mr. Leroy gestured toward the chairs in the back as more people entered. Then he turned to the piano and said, "Mrs. Pidgeon? It's all yours!"
Mrs. Pidgeon smiled. She played a verse of "We Gather Together" to call the crowd to attention and create a Thanksgiving mood. Then she nodded to Gooney Bird, who was in the doorway waiting for her cue to enter.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
While Mrs. Pidgeon played a rhythmic, drumming sort of music on the piano, Gooney Bird Greene danced from the door to the front of the multipurpose room. Her dance was a combination of shuffles, taps, and twirls, with an occasional pause for a hop. She was wearing fuzzy bedroom slippers, her long velvet skirt, a flowered Hawaiian shirt, and a top hat, onto which she had attached a blue feather.
The audience applauded at her entrance.
She ended her dance and bowed dramatically, steadying her hat with one hand.
"I am Squanto," Gooney Bird Greene announced.
"And these"—she gestured to the other children and they entered the room, marching, wearing their costumes of cardboard hats and headbands and belt buckles—"are Pilgrims and Native Americans.
"They are Squanto's friends," she added.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
The Pilgrims and Native Americans stood in a semicircle behind Gooney Bird. They all adjusted their headgear and then stood with their hands at their sides, wiggling their eyebrows to hold up their hats and headbands, which were already slipping forward on their foreheads.
"Now, in honor of Thanksgiving, I am going to tell you a story," Gooney Bird said.
Mrs. Pidgeon played a "ta-DA" chord on the piano. The audience clapped and laughed. All of them knew already, because they had been told by their children, what a good storyteller Gooney Bird Greene was. Even Barbara Greene, Gooney Bird's mom, clapped and laughed.
From behind his headband, which had settled across his nose, Malcolm muttered, "I hope they don't clap too loud and wake up those triplets."
Gooney Bird took a few deep breaths, adjusted her posture, and began.
I am not the actual Squanto. The real Squanto was a Patuxet Indian who was born in a village near where the Pilgrims would land, but when he was born they hadn't landed yet.
He learned to speak English from some early settlers. He helped them in many ways. He was a very helpful guy.
When some of them went back to England, they invited him to go along. His mother didn't want him to.
I can understand that. My mom wouldn't want me to go off to another country. She would say I was too young. We would probably have a big argument about it.
"Oops," Gooney Bird said. "That was an authorial intrusion. I didn't mean to do that. It's boring."
But he went anyway. This was way back in the 1600s. Squanto is dead now. I am not the real Squanto. I am an imitation.