All I could think about all day was the stage. It was there, filling up the whole front of the room, with big planks of wood going right across, and stairs going up one side and down the other. We all took turns walking on it at recess. The boys bounced on it when Teacher wasn’t looking, but when I went across, it didn’t move at all. There was a wire hanging from the ceiling, with a long curtain pinned to it, and it could be pulled right across to hide us. The curtain smelled dusty, but the stage smelled like the sap that came out of the trees on our farm.
The stage was a surprise. On that morning, when we shook the snow out of our coats and hung them up, and stamped our boots until the snow was off, we came out of the cloakroom and there it was. It was the first stage we ever saw. Teacher rang the bell, and we sat in our desks. That was when she told us; we were going to have a Christmas concert. She said we were going to sing Christmas carols together on the stage, and we would have to go on and come off in a single file. Some of the kids could do a dance if they wanted to, and some could sing a song with just two or three of them. All of the girls put their hands up really high so Teacher would say their names, and when she didn’t, they reached higher and waved, going, “ugh, ugh, ugh”. The boys didn’t say anything. Except Billy. He asked to be the curtain puller, and Teacher said, “Yes”. Some of the other boys were poking each other and some were on the floor rolling marbles under their desks. I didn’t say anything. But I was thinking. I was deciding what song I was going to do.
When Doris took us to the back of the room for reading, it didn’t bother me that she was bossy. I didn’t care when she said, “Sit up straight and pay attention”, when she saw me looking at the stage instead of the book. I knew the story anyway, and I didn’t want to listen to Doris today, even if she was one of the big girls. But she gently bonked me on top of the head with a ruler, so I paid attention after that. Teacher talked about the concert all day. She said we could sing a song about Christmas trees, and our mothers could make costumes out of green crepe paper. She asked if anyone knew a dance, and my sister June said she could do the highland fling. Katie and Irene and Lois said they could sing a song they heard on the radio. Teacher told us about a play we could do about Jesus in the manger. I didn’t say anything about my song, because I was waiting to tell my mother.
When I got home, I told her, and she said, “Really?” Like she didn’t want me to do it. But then she said I could, if June would do it with me. And April could let you use her doll, she said. “Only if I can hold her.” April said, because no one else was allowed to touch her doll. My Dad even said he would help me learn the song. And that was how we decided to sing, “Miss Polly Had a Dolly” for the Christmas concert.
When the concert started, the Christmas tree song was first. It was the whole school singing it, so it was loud and very nice. All of the big girls joined arms and rocked back and forth, even though Teacher said, when they were practising, not to do that. You could tell it was a happy song. Our paper costumes made a swishing sound and only fell apart a little. Katie and Irene and Lois sang next. Lois sang an extra verse by herself and wouldn’t get off the stage. Teacher made a hissing sound, and reached out from behind the curtain and pulled her off. Then it was time for the manger scene. I didn’t see much of it because I was doing my song to myself, and thinking about the words. But I did pay attention when my sister went up the stairs to do the Highland Fling, because I knew we were next. She was the prettiest girl in the school, and everyone was very quiet when she danced. She danced so hard, her hat flew off, and I could hear my mother laugh and say, “Oh no!”, in the audience.
Then June was finished, and Billy pulled the curtain closed. I went up the stairs and behind the curtain with one of the big girls and my little sister April, because April was carrying the doll. Then Billy opened the curtain. I turned around and I could see the whole audience. I could see my father and my mother holding my baby brother. I could see April going back to sit down. I could see everyone else, even the family down the road.
I knew all of the words. I could hear them in my head,
“Miss Polly had a dolly that was sick, sick, sick
She called for the doctor to be quick, quick, quick.
The doctor came with his bag and his hat.
He knocked on the door with a rat, tat, tat.”
I didn’t sing the song, so June started. She picked up the bag and the hat. She knocked in the air and said “rat, tat, tat”.
She even said my words, “quick, quick, quick,”
There was no noise in the audience. Nobody moved. Only my Dad. He got up and went outside. I saw him go.
“He looked at the dolly and he shook his head
Miss Polly, he said, put her straight to bed!
He wrote on a paper for a pill, pill, pill
I’ll be back in the morning with my bill, bill, bill.”
I still wasn’t singing, so June sang the rest of the song. When she got to “Miss Polly, put her straight to bed”, she reached over and took the doll from me, and put her in the cradle next to us. Then she pretended to write on a piece of paper, and sang, “for a pill, pill, pill.”
She took my hand gently then, and led me off the stage. I went straight to my mother, and sat on the bench next to her. She hugged me close and whispered that I was her good girl. Then she said I should give April her doll.
“Oh, that’s okay,” April said, and she softly patted my hand, “You can keep her all the way home.”