"...Mrs. X," Gooney Bird said. "I'm calling her Mrs. X. And I'm starting my story with a sound effect. Listen."
"Hello?" Mrs. X said, when she answered the telephone.
"Hello," said Gooney Bird Greene. "I am calling from Watertower Elementary School."
"Yes? My goodness, is something wrong at the school?" asked Mrs. X.
"I think it was my mom," Keiko said. "She always worries. She worries about chicken pox, and unsanitary restrooms, and earthquakes."
"My mom worries too," said Tricia. "Mine worries about kidnappers and unfriendly dogs."
"Mine worries about undercooked hamburger," said Ben.
"Mine too. And swimming too soon after lunch. And wasps," said Chelsea.
"Not mine," Malcolm said glumly. "My mom only worries about those triplets. And diaper rash."
"Please tell their names, Malcolm. I love babies," Felicia Ann said in her soft voice.
"No. They're incognito."
"Class!" Gooney Bird said impatiently. "You are interrupting the story! Dialogue is supposed to flow along smoothly!"
"Sorry," everyone replied.
"But you did remind me of something: how much all moms worry about their children. So I'm going to interrupt the dialogue and insert something about that."
"What's that called, when you do that?" asked Beanie.
Gooney Bird thought, and then shrugged. "I don't know," she said. She looked at the teacher. "Mrs. Pidgeon?"
Mrs. Pidgeon thought. Then she said, "That would be called an authorial intrusion, I think. When the author intrudes to say something that really isn't part of the story. But I'm not even going to write that on the board. It isn't important."
"Well, here I go, starting up again!" Gooney Bird said. She took a deep breath and continued.
All mothers worry about their children. Not only human mothers, but animals. Once I had a cat who was always looking for her kittens and got very upset if they strayed too far away. Now picture if that cat was a
and her children went to school every day and she didn't know what was going on at school, and suddenly someone called and said...
Gooney Bird stopped and looked around. Malcolm had started rolling his paper again, and Felicia Ann, seated on the floor, had put her head down on her knees. Chelsea yawned.
"Sorry," Gooney Bird said. "That is why authors shouldn't intrude. It's boring. Back to the dialogue."
"No, Mrs. X," said Gooney Bird. "There is nothing to worry about. I am calling with a request."
"And what might that be? Not a solicitation for money, I hope!" Mrs. X's voice sounded suspicious.
"I bet it's my mom!" said Beanie. "She hates when the phone rings and it's someone—"
Gooney Bird glared at Beanie.
"Sorry," Beanie said.
"No, I'm calling to tell you that you have been selected for a great honor."
The last time I got a call like that, they told me I had won a trip to Las Vegas," Mrs. X said, "but then it turned out that I was supposed to pay taxes and handling charges and buy a membership in something, I think a health club..."
"It's my mother," Barry announced loudly. "I'm sure it's my mother."
"No, it's mine," said Tyrone. "She almost bought a time-share in Mexico and it was a big scam."
"It's my mother," Nicholas and Tricia said together.
Gooney Bird glared at all of them. When the room fell silent, she continued.
Gooney Bird explained very patiently. "No," she said, "this is truly a great honor, not a scam at all. You have been chosen as room mother for Mrs. Pidgeon's second-grade class."
Mrs. X was silent for a moment. She was dumbfounded. She was overcome.
"Are you still there?" Gooney Bird asked.
"Yes," said Mrs. X.
"So may I tell everyone you said that?"
"Said what?" asked Mrs. X.
"'Yes.' You said, 'Yes.'"
"I only meant, 'Yes, I am still here.'"
"Please, please say yes," Gooney Bird said, "because then I get to be Squanto."
Mrs. X still didn't speak.
"And the principal will stop bugging Mrs. Pidgeon," Gooney Bird added.
"The principal is doing that?" asked Mrs. X in an outraged voice.
"Indeed he is," Gooney Bird replied.
Mrs. X didn't speak.
"The only thing you have to do is provide cupcakes. And you can come to the Thanksgiving pageant if you want, and sit in a seat of honor, and also—"
Gooney Bird looked at Mrs. Pidgeon. "I hope you don't mind, I said the next thing without asking your permission."
"What was that?" Mrs. Pidgeon asked. "I hope you didn't say she'd be paid. You know we don't pay anything."
"I'll continue," Gooney Bird said.
"And also, Mrs. Pidgeon, who wrote quite a fine song about succotash, will compose a second song, and its title will be 'Room Mother.'"
Mrs. Pidgeon began to laugh. "All right," she said. "I can do that."
Gooney Bird looked relieved. She continued.
"And," Gooney Bird told Mrs. X, "we will all sing the song to you at the end of the Thanksgiving pageant."
There was silence on the other end of the telephone. Then—
Gooney Bird looked at the class. "Guess the next word," she said.
"SUDDENLY!" they all shouted out. They'd learned from Gooney Bird how important the word suddenly could be.
"You got it." Gooney Bird continued.
Suddenly Mrs. X started to laugh. And she said, "Yes. I'll do it."
"Thank you, thank you!" Gooney Bird told her.
"On one condition," Mrs. X added.
"What is that?"
"Until Thanksgiving, I am incognito."
"My lips are sealed," said Gooney Bird.
The class clapped. Gooney Bird bowed. Mrs. Pidgeon smiled.
"Gooney Bird," she said, "you are Squanto, for sure."
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
"Why do we have to have cardboard costumes?" Beanie complained. "At ballet class, we have stretchy satin, and for the recital I have shimmery wings attached. They're gold."
"Hold still," Mrs. Pidgeon told her. "I have to cut this very carefully. I don't want to miss and cut your hair."
Beanie stood very, very still. She looked nervous. "Don't you dare," she said. "I'm growing my hair to my waist."
"Ha!" shouted Malcolm. "Beanie's hair goes to the waste! To the wastebasket!"
"There," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "You can move now, Bean." She lifted the white cardboard that she had been cutting. "The reason we have cardboard costumes is because we already have cardboard, so it doesn't cost anything. And it makes good Pilgrim hats and Native American headbands.
"Malcolm." She glared at him. "Stop tormenting Beanie. Is your belt buckle almost finished?"
Gooney Bird and the Room Mother
Malcolm nodded and went back to his work. All of the Pilgrim boys were making large cardboard belt buckles. "I saw a guy with a skull on his belt buckle," he announced. "He was a Hell's Angel."
"Cool!" said Ben. "A real skull?"
Keiko looked up from the beads she was gluing onto her Native American headband. "Don't talk about skulls," she said nervously. "It makes me feel sick."
"My mom has skull earrings," Tyrone announced. "She wore them on Halloween. They dangled. Two little skulls."
Keiko stopped gluing beads and put her hands over her ears.
"These belt buckles will be very plain," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "The Pilgrims didn't decorate their clothing. The Native Americans did, though. Look what a good job Keiko is doing." Gently she reached down and removed Keiko's hands from her ears so that Keiko could continue attaching beads before her glue dried.
"Me too! Look at mine!" Tricia held up her headband.
"And mine! Mine's the best!" Nicholas called.
Mrs. Pidgeon walked around the room admiring the work of each second-grader. "I'm proud of all of you," she said, smiling. "Pilgrim girls, even though you don't have decorations, your white bonnets are quite lovely. Chelsea," she said, adjusting Chelsea's cardboard hat, "I think you might want to trim yours back a bit so that it doesn't cover your eyes that way
"And Native Americans? When you finish your beading, you may each add one feather from the feather pile." She reached for Tyrone's hand, which had quickly grabbed the entire collection of feathers. "Just one, Tyrone. Remember we talked about sharing just yesterday?"
Scowling, Tyrone selected a long yellow feather and put the rest back.
"I wish I could be a Native American," Chelsea said, frowning. "I hate my Pilgrim hat. It's too plain."
Beanie, wearing her white cardboard bonnet, patted Chelsea's arm. "But we were very brave," she reminded her. "We crossed the ocean, remember? And not in a cruise ship, either."
Ben, looking up from under the brim of his tall black Pilgrim hat, added, "Feathers are for babies. Pilgrims were tough and mean. They battled pirates."
"Actually," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "I don't think the Pilgrims encountered pirates at sea. But they certainly were brave. You're right about that, Ben. Can you lift your hat up a little, so your eyes show?"
Ben tilted his head back so that he could see. All of the Pilgrims had their heads tilted back. Somehow the Pilgrim hats were all a little too large.
"Good work, everyone!" Mrs. Pidgeon continued, looking around at the class. "And you've all memorized the words to the food song?"
All of the Native Americans and Pilgrims nodded.
"We'll practice it again when we get the headgear all done."
"Have you written the room mother song, Mrs. Pidgeon?" Gooney Bird asked. She was coloring Squanto's headband carefully.
"I'm working on it. There's a little problem with rhyming," Mrs. Pidgeon said. "If only she'd let us use her name—"
"Absolutely not," Gooney Bird said. "Incognito."
"Well, if you'd explain to her what a problem it creates. For example," Mrs. Pidgeon said, "if the song went, Hail to thee, Room Mother Greene, then the next line could easily be Best room mother we've ever seen—"
Gooney Bird Greene stopped coloring. She glared at Mrs. Pidgeon.
"I just used that as an example," Mrs. Pidgeon explained hastily. "I didn't intend to give anything away. I could have used a different example. Room Mother Brown, for instance. Best room mother in town—"
Gooney Bird put her hands on her hips. "I talked to her last night, and she said that if anyone says her name, if anyone reveals her identity, she will not bring cupcakes and she will not even come to the pageant, no matter how many songs you write."
"Well then, she will remain incognito." Mrs. Pidgeon laughed. "And I'll create the best song I can, under the circumstances."