"That isn't exactly what I meant, Barry. You do not own the word. We may all use it. And in fact, class, I wish you would all try a little more cajoling at home. This is the only class in Watertower Elementary School that does not have a room mother yet. Mr. Leroy is becoming a little impatient about it.
"Now, though, I think we ought to start our preparations for the Thanksgiving pageant. The Muriel—I mean the mural—is coming along well. But we have a song to learn, and costumes to make, and I have to select the cast."
"I already have a cast!" Ben called out, holding up his arm. Ben had fallen from his bike a month earlier and broken his wrist. All of the children, and Mrs. Pidgeon, and even the principal, Mr. Leroy, had signed their names on the cast, using different colored markers. The names were faded now, and the cast itself, which had once been white, was gray and dirty, with bits of string like dental floss dangling from it.
Keiko wrinkled her nose and said, "Your cast smells bad, Ben."
"I know," Ben said, making a face. "But next week the doctor takes it off."
"Your arm will be all skinny and wrinkled inside it when they take it off," Barry Tuckerman told him. "My cousin had a cast on his arm and his arm died inside the cast."
"Is that true, Mrs. Pidgeon?" Ben asked nervously.
"Your arm is probably dead already. Probably green," Barry added.
Ben's face began to pucker up. "My arm is dead? Green? he wailed.
"Children, children," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "No, Ben, your arm will be fine. Besides, I'm talking about a different kind of cast. We need a cast of characters for the pageant. We need Pilgrims and Native Americans. We also need a turkey, and, let me see, some succotash, and a pumpkin pie. But the food items don't have to be human beings."
"I want to be Squanto!" Gooney Bird said. "I love Squanto. He was always absolutely right smack in the middle of everything."
"Squanto's a boy!" Barry called loudly. "Only a boy can be Squanto! Right, Mrs. Pidgeon?"
"Actually," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "I've already made a list. So put your hands down, everyone."
She read the list aloud. There were twenty-two children in the classroom, and each was on the list. Eleven Pilgrims. Eleven Native Americans.
"But who is Squanto?" the children asked.
Mrs. Pidgeon looked around the class. Now every child, not just Gooney Bird and Barry, was waving an arm in the air, volunteering eagerly to be Squanto.
"I haven't decided that yet," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "But I have an idea."
She went to the board, to the list of words.
REWARD, she wrote. "You all know what a reward is," Mrs. Pidgeon said.
"Money!" shouted Ben. "A thousand dollars if you catch a criminal!"
"Well," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "it could be that. But a reward doesn't have to be about criminals. Let's look it up."
Everyone opened the dictionaries and turned the pages. Chelsea raised her hand first. "That which is given in appreciation," she read aloud to the class.
"You see, it doesn't have to be money," Mrs. Pidgeon explained. "And in this case, the reward I am going to give is the important role of Squanto in the pageant. Someone is going to get that role in appreciation. It will be that person's reward."
"Reward for what?" several children asked at the same time. "For catching a criminal?"
"No," Mrs Pidgeon said. She sighed. "For finding me a room mother."
An hour later, after lunch, the second-graders were learning one of the songs for the Thanksgiving pageant. It was a complicated song that Mrs. Pidgeon herself had written. The Pilgrims sang half and the Native Americans sang half. The song was about food.
"Succotash, succotash, lima beans and corn..." Mrs.
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
Pidgeon played the notes on the piano and sang the words. "To the tune of 'Jingle Bells,'" she explained. "Ready, Native Americans? This is your part. Try it with me."
Eleven children, including Gooney Bird Greene, sang the succotash lines.
"Now, Pilgrims? Listen to your part. Just like the next two lines of 'Jingle Bells.'" Mrs. Pidgeon played and sang, "Thank you for the vegetables, On this Thanksgiving morn."
The Pilgrims sang loudly.
"Now the next verse is about the turkey. Native Americans? Ready to listen carefully?"
Gooney Bird Greene raised her hand. "Does Squanto sing with the Native Americans?" she asked.
"No, actually, while the Pilgrims and Native Americans are singing, Squanto will be carrying the food across the stage. Perhaps Squanto will do some sort of dance. I haven't worked out the details yet."
Beanie, standing with the Pilgrims, raised her hand. "I take ballet lessons!" she said. "Maybe I could be—"
But Mrs. Pidgeon shook her head. "Not ballet, Beanie," she said. "They didn't have ballet in Plymouth. All right, class, let's pay careful attention to the next part. Still the tune of 'Jingle Bells,' remember. Gobble gobble, here it comes, turkey roasted brown..." She played the melody on the piano while she sang the words. Then the eleven Native Americans sang it after her.
"Mrs. Pidgeon, may I please be excused?" Gooney Bird asked politely. "I need to be excused."
Mrs. Pidgeon paused with her hands on the piano keys. "Is this a seriously urgent need?" she asked.
"All right, then. Be quick."
Gooney Bird slipped out of the classroom while Mrs. Pidgeon sang on. "Thank you, noble Squanto, you may set the platter dooooowwnn..."
The children were still singing and passing imaginary helpings of food around when Gooney Bird returned a few minutes later.