Mrs. Quidor, my 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade teacher didn’t fiddle around with traditional Show ‘n Tell activities. No, she was an educator who gleaned ideas from the latest technology, and in the mid-1950s, that was television!
Instead of showing off Daddy’s World War II medals or Mickey Mouse ears from Disneyland, circa 1956, we performed on Little Theater. Loosely patterned after TV’s The Lawrence Welk Show, our Little Theatre provided a venue for the developing talents of Mrs. Quidor’s precocious students. (I am sure that watching a dozen 1st, 2nd, or 3rd graders plunk out “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the piano or xylophone week after week was nothing short of painful!)
The performers rotated turns each week to enable us to practice in between “on stage” appearances. Kay Donaldson usually played the piano, Paula Lystrup danced, Donna Partner sang, and Dan Sanders tinkered with tunes on that miniature xylophone.
Blessed without a singing voice, an ear for music, or coördination and flexibility needed to dance, I spent my weeks searching for a talent instead of practicing it. Oh, I tried my turn at singing – Mrs. Q. applauded my rendition of “This Old Man; He Played One” a few verses BEFORE “… he played 10; he played knick-knack on my hen… .” (My teacher’s tactful “gong” that sent wee entertainers scurrying off-stage.)
On one occasion in second grade, Mom rewrote a Raggedy Ann and Andy story, and I memorized it. When it was my turn to perform on Little Theater again, I retold the story without looking at notes, without prompting, but oozing WITH expression! Mrs. Quidor did NOT interrupt that performance! In fact, she gushed over me like she never had before.
Apart from making Fridays fun, Little Theater was also the prelude to our BIG SHEW (Ed Sullivan’s pronunciation of “show”). Mrs. Rhea, the principal, always invited our class to present either the Christmas or spring program for those special PTA Meetings.
In these instances, Mrs. Q. ASSIGNED each student a talent – usually the ones we performed best. That meant Kay played the piano, Paula danced, Donna sang, and Renae told a story. That was fine with me until the year I took dancing. When she requested that I retell “The Little Match Girl” for the Christmas program, I protested.
Me: Mrs. Quidor, I’d like to dance.
Mrs. Q.: I know, Dear, this is your FIRST year of dancing, isn’t it?
Me: Yes, but I’m REALLY getting good.
Mrs. Q.: I know you are, but we REALLY need a story-teller.
Me: I’m tired of telling stories; I want to …
Mrs. Q.: Renae, do you want to sit in the corner? Again?
Me: (Silence. Glare. Pout. PLOT.)
Mom and I worked on the “Match Girl” story, which I really did NOT like because I knew NO ONE wanted to listen to SAD stories at Christmas unless they ended happily – you know, like “Rudolph.” While I couldn’t talk my teacher into letting me change the story’s resolution – a kind neighbor finds the little girl before she freezes to death and takes her in – I did convince Mrs. Quidor to let me wear a costume, a recycled Halloween witch’s cape, long and black with colorful patches sewn on it.
The final practice was actually a performance that we presented to the entire school, so I was nervous, yet excited for more than one reason! I had cooked up my BIG SURPRISE! I don’t know if I plotted over several ensuing days or if I thought of it overnight, but when the day of our dress rehearsal arrived, I had solidified my plan.
Tearfully, I retold Hans Christian Anderson’s sad tale of the poor, little orphan who had to sell matches on Christmas Eve. As the weather worsened and potential customers disappeared, the barefoot girl lit one match after another, trying to keep warm. A special vision appeared within the sparkle of each lighted stick. And as the child gazed into the final image of a loving grandmother reaching for her, the tiny orphan flung off her tattered cape and DANCED her way heavenward, wearing a CHARTREUSE LEOTARD and TUTU!
As amazing as that performance may have been, Mrs. Quidor requested that I wear my Sunday BEST dress under the cape for the evening program. BUT, she didn’t say I COULDN’T dance MY WAY to heaven!