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Darrell Huckaby - Mill village kids share the gift of imagination

You've heard this story before, if you've been reading my column since its inception - on Christmas Day, as a matter of fact - exactly 10 years ago. But its worth hearing again - especially on the day after Christmas.

It was probably 1960 - but it could have been a year later - and on the first day back from Christmas vacation - there were no "winter holidays" on the Porterdale school calendar in 1960 or 1961; of that I am certain - when my classmates and I got to school we learned that our regular teacher (it would have been Miss Ruby Jordan if the year were 1960 and Miss Elizabeth Willis if the year were '61) was going to be a couple of weeks late getting back to school. I am not sure if our teacher had a personal ailment of her own or was tending to her mother.

At any rate, our substitute was a brand new graduate of the University of Georgia. I couldn't tell you her name if my life depended on it, but I can still see her in my mind's eye. She was pretty and petite - wore her hair in a short blonde swirl - and wore wool plaid skirts and silky blouses and every day wore a sweater to school, draped over her shoulders and held in place with a gold chain.

Don't ask me why I remember that, but I do.

I am sure that the young school marm was a sweet girl who had aspirations of changing the world one little linthead child at a time. Or maybe she was just teaching for a short time, until her fiancée graduated from law school. Who knows? She has never crossed my path again, that I know of.

What I do know is that the University of Georgia college of education might have taught her everything there was to know about Piaget and Skinner and teaching arithmetic and phonics, but they didn't teach her squat about being around mill village children.

The first thing we did that morning - after learning to read her name off the blackboard, of course - was drag our chairs into a circle. She joined us, of course - I seem to remember that she had blues eyes, too, and that they were wide with excitement as she told us that our first task of the new year would be to go around the circle telling everyone what we had gotten for Christmas.

Now if you are just out of college and are about to start a substitute teaching job in a local elementary school somewhere, let me be the first to tell you - that's a bad idea, for lots of reasons.

For one thing, we had all gotten the exact same thing from our "Uncle Bibb," on the last day of school, at the community Christmas tree. What we had gotten was a brightly colored box - a little larger than a shoe box - with a few nuts; English walnuts, pecans and what I have since learned were Brazil nuts, a couple of boxes of raisins, a giant peppermint stick, some hard candy and some fruit - a couple of apples and an orange or two. It was the highlight of our Christmas - which brings me to the next point.

That Bibb Christmas box was the beginning and end of Christmas for a lot of the children gathered around that circle. None of us got very much, understand - maybe one or two toys, none of which were very elaborate or expensive - but some of those kids had gotten nothing for Christmas.

The hourly wage was a dollar back then, and if you think times are hard now, try getting by on a dollar an hour.

I am pretty sure I was the first child in the class to realize what was about to happen. I know I was the first to act on it. I raised my hand and volunteered to go first. She had me stand up and share.

I said something along the lines of, "Santa Claus brought me a BB gun and red coaster wagon and an electric train set and a new bicycle and a chemistry set and ..."

Well, you get the idea. I named just about everything I had seen in the Sears-Roebuck calendar that year. At first my classmates looked at me like I was crazy, because most of them had been to my house since Christmas to play with whatever small toy I had found under our tree. Then a few of them caught on.

One of the girls in my class volunteered to go next. It could have been Sylvia Hardegree or Vickie Savage or Kay Smith - or maybe Deborah Hawkins. I honestly don't remember. But she told all about her new doll and doll carriage and whatever it was that 7-year-old girls had seen in the catalogue that year.

And then we were off and running as each child's list got longer and longer and the brand new UGA graduate looked on in bewilderment, wondering, I am sure, why parents who had spent so much on toys at Christmas didn't spring for a new outfit or two.

Whatever you got for Christmas - or didn't - I hope yours was merry and that you were able to share the love of the Christ child with friends and loved ones.

Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.