There we all sat.  It’s the last day of school before Christmas break, and the entire student body of the Parkville elementary school are sitting in the basement gym, getting ready for the annual Christmas treat.


That treat?  A screening of A CHRISTMAS CAROL with Alistair Sim.  Black and white, English accents, but it has ghosts and figgy pudding and chains and more spooky stuff.


There was one group of each grade level.  They were arranged by size in the gym….kindergarten in front, sixth grade in the back, with all the appropriate grades in between and in order.  The film had been ordered and a huge movie projector was sitting on a large cart directly in the center of the gym.  A large screen – I don’t remember if it was on a stand or a permanent part of the gym’s equipment, was prepared


I cannot overstate the size of the projector… I mean, wow, a REAL movie that had been in the theatre!  Two hours of cinematic phenomenon, and just right for the season.  We had seen movies as long as maybe 30 minutes, but now we had an entire 120 minutes to view, which required huge reels to hold the film required.  The movie came on two reels: wow!  Just for scale, let’s put it this way: stand up your basic kindergartener and one of those reels would fill the space between the floor and that little moppet’s armpit.


So TWO of those!  That’s a lot of movie!


All the classes are in place, and because the occasion is so rare and so austere, there are no conversations going.  You might think it is so quiet that everyone is about to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.  But no, just very well-behaved Parkville kids doing what they do best – with the possible exception of the few kids who have weak bladders – they sit closest to the door for those emergencies that only they and their classroom teachers acknowledge and understand.


Mr. P, the fourth grade teacher, steps up to the projector. Mr. H, the principal, stands in front and says a few words about being good audience members, and turns the floor over to the school board member Mr. B, who wishes us all a Merry Christmas.  Mr. H nods to Mr. P, who turns on the projector (motor first, lamp next) and who in turn nods to Mrs. F the school nurse, who turns off the gym lights.


The screen illuminates with the whiteness we all know comes with the beginning of a movie.  A few glops of dust flip and flop, the numbers count down from ten through 3, one per second.  Then two seconds of darkness, and the movie starts.


We sit enthralled through the credits at the opening.  We have no idea who these English fops are that are in the movie, and some of us don’t even know how to even read those names.  Finally we are brought into Victorian England and the scary sight of Scrrooge at his desk.  The door knob talks and some of  the kids gasp.  Marley appears to Scrooge, who scares some of the bathroom goers into an early visit.  The ghost of Christmas past enters and takes Scrooge to his childhood, and we all wonder the same thing:  “Why would anyone name a kid Ebenezer?”  We meet the young Scrooge and the Fezziwigs.


And suddenly, the screen goes bright white with the conclusion of the first reel.  Mr. P. jumps to the projector, Mrs. F turns on half of the lights, and we all are told by Mr. H to stand and stretch a bit while Mr. P prepares the second reel.  There is some light chatter about the movie, but suddenly it is time for the second reel.


And the process is repeated.


The second reel starts right where we left off, which of course makes perfect sense.  The ghost of Christmas present has us all smiling at his jolly self in his quasi-santa outfit and his magic cornucopia horn that controls all the scenes in this portion of the movie.  (The science geeks among the students are wondering how they can make their own cornucopia horn.)  We meet the Cratchit family and we see that maybe, just maybe, there are really poor people in England.  Scrooge returns to his bed and behold … oh, frightened students, behold!


Here comes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come .. and spectral, bony fingered black-clad creature whose hood covers his head and face entirely – and he does nothing at all but (shudder) point and things instead of saying a single word.  Ultimately, we see the end of Scrooge as he scrabbles at his own gravestone, and we choke up a little at seeing Tiny Tim’s crutch leaning in the corner next to the fireplace.


Scrooge suddenly finds himself clawing at his own sheets in his bed, realizes that he has been spared any ruin by the ghosts, and turns his life around, bringing joy and happiness – and even a Christmas Turkey – to the Cratchit family, where he is glad to see Tiny Tim in as good a mood as we’ve seen him in the movie… so good, in fact, that the last words come from the young lad’s mouth:


“God Bless Us, Everyone!”


As the credits roll, the students all clap, having  enjoyed a memorable afternoon in school.  All file out of the gym and back to their rooms, where they put on their jackets and tell each other “See You Next Year” even though its only two weeks away in January, but still think it’s the biggest joke of the month.