Thursday, December 12, 2013

Merry Christmas from the Govert, South Dakota, P.T.A.!

"Merry Christmas!" "Hiya, neighbor! Merry Christmas!" "Good evening and Merry Christmas!" "Hey! Merry Christmas!" "Merry Christmas to you, too!"

Voices from every direction called out cheery greetings as Goverites gathered at the schoolhouse for the Govert, South Dakota, P.T.A. Christmas Program. Every man, every woman, and every child, glowing shiny clean and rosy from excitement, was carefully dressed for the holiday celebration. They were ready for the best, the biggest, the most enthusiastic community gathering of the entire year.

Inside the schoolhouse, the children's desks had been pushed to the fringe of the room and rows of wooden benches were lined up facing the blackboard in front. In the swelling anticipation, an evergreen tree decorated with tinsel and colored balls, standing awkwardly to the side of the blackboard, seemed bigger, brighter, and more confident than perhaps it really was. Nine-year-old Marie Kulisich thought this tree, brought in from the Slim Buttes, was the most beautiful Christmas tree she had ever seen.

Darkness closed in on the schoolhouse and, although the weather grew only colder and colder as the evening progressed into night, the coal stove burned hot. Gasoline lanterns, carried in by the Govert neighbors, radiated light and a little heat, brightening the schoolroom. With all the neighbors crowded into the single room of the 19' by 27' schoolhouse, the air became warm, almost steamy.

The desk of the Govert country school teacher, Alma Eleanor (Cox) Schuck, the widow of Walter Benjamin Schuck these last 14 years and more, was pushed to the side of where the stage now sat in front of the benches, on the side opposite from the decorated evergreen tree. Every inch of Mrs. Schuck's desk was obscured by plates holding cakes and cookies, and more plates holding sandwiches piled so high as to threaten to tumble. And coffee. The P.T.A. always served coffee, strong and hot.

With no admission fee, the P.T.A. Christmas Program was the perfect holiday activity for rural Harding County families during the Great Depression. What should Goverites find in the Govert schoolhouse that night in December but a glamorous Christmas tree, hours of laughter and heartfelt entertainment, companionable fellowship with neighbors, and sugary treats for everyone. Who could ask for more happiness than the oh-so-pleasant here-and-now, in that interlude before leaving this bright place to find their way home in the dark and cold of the earliest morning hours?

Like all the years preceding, the P.T.A. Christmas Program for 1939 was an acclaimed hit among Goverites and all the farming and ranching families within reach of the Govert schoolhouse. The performers that year were Mercedes Hafner (2d grade), Marie Kulisich (4th grade), Leroy Scofield (2d grade), Roland Springer (1st grade) and Edwin Springer (2d grade), and Alice Mae West (4th grade) and Evaline West (6th grade). Twelve-year-old Billy Lale was the oldest student at Govert School that year; he was in the 7th grade. Billy joined in the songs and acted in the plays with the other students.

Eager for holiday excitement, the grade school students, their parents, brothers and sisters, and all of their neighbors, including the old bachelors in the township, began the program singing ... quite loudly ... "Joy to the World". The children ended their program much, much later, tired and happy, singing "The Tree That Blooms at Christmas." Between these two songs were plays, readings, recitations, a dialog, and more holiday musical favorites.


Joy to the World ...... Song by All

Silent Night ...... Song by Govert School

Just a Hint ...... Reading by Alice Mae West

Our Baby ...... Recitation by Edwin Springer

One Drawback ...... Recitation by Roland Springer

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear ...... Song by Govert School

Tangled Telephone ...... Play by Govert School

Poor Dolly ...... Recitation by Mercedes Hafner

Christmas at Grandma’s ...... Recitation by Leroy Scofield

Put a Candle in the Window ...... Song by Govert School

Christmas Angels ...... Reading by Evaline West

Nurse! Nurse! ...... Dialog by Alice Mae West and Marie Kulisich

A Wise Christmas Gift ...... Recitation by Edwin Springer

Dear Little Stranger ...... Song by Govert School

Christmas Strategy ...... Play by Govert School

Hark the Herald Angels Sing ...... Song by All

The Tree That Blooms at Christmas ...... Song by Govert School

By the time the Govert schoolchildren sang the Christmas lullaby, Dear Little Stranger, little brothers and sisters were snuggling in their parents' laps, with mommy's or daddy's protective arms around them. The adults were smiling nostalgically, remembering their happiest Christmas times. Waves of light and sound echoed between the stage and the densely seated benches. These are the voices of children you would have heard: Dear Little Stranger.

And these are the words:
Low in a manger, dear little Stranger,
Jesus, the wonderful Savior, was born.
There was none to receive Him, none to believe Him,
None but the angels were watching that morn.

Dear little Stranger, slept in a manger,
No downy pillow under His head;
But with the poor He slumbered secure,
The dear little Babe in His bed.

Angels descending, over Him bending,
Chanted a tender and silent refrain;
Then a wonderful story told of His glory,
Unto the shepherds on Bethlehem’s plain.

Dear little Stranger, born in a manger,
Maker and Monarch, and Savior of all;
I will love Thee forever! Grieve Thee? No, never!
Thou didst for me make Thy bed in a stall.

By the time the children reached their finale, "The Tree That Blooms at Christmas", Mercedes, Marie, Leroy, Roland, Edwin, Alice Mae, Evaline, and Billy wistfully sang their wishes for a Christmas tree with presents stacked underneath.

We, with hearts so light and happy
Gather 'round the Christmas tree;
There are gifts that love has given,
Gifts for you, and gifts for me.

See the tapers, lighted, burning,
Sending forth a cheery glow;
See the tree, a-sparkle, turning,
All its dainty gifts to show.

Tops and balls, and drums and every
Gift to mention, swinging there.
What care we, though snowflakes whitely,
Flutter through the frosty air.

For the tree that blooms at Christmas,
With its fruit so strange to see,
Bears amid the shining branches.
Some sweet, dainty gift for me.

As they sang, the children were glad for this holiday celebration at the schoolhouse ... and wondered whether their own tree would bloom this Christmas.

Listening to the wind blowing through the prairie grass. Kate

[Based on an article in the Govert Advance, December 28, 1939; with gratitude to Marie Kulisich for assisting with details; Dear Little Stranger, Charles H. Gabriel, 1900; The Tree That Blooms at Christmas, Author Unknown, sung to "Let the Lower Lights Be Burning", Philip P. Bliss, 1871]


  1. Sweetheart,

    You are doing a wonderful job of keeping us in the holiday spirit! Thanks for another enjoyable and well-written Christmas-themed blog posting.

    As always, your blog entry this week is so full of vivid and detailed information that we as readers feel drawn into the action as if we were actually there at the PTA’s Christmas party and participating in the festivities. That’s neat! The links you embed in your postings are also great fun. I enjoyed listening to the songs and envisioning the kids performing them at the evening’s celebration. It’s also nice to again see some familiar names. As I’ve said before, it seems that many of Govert’s residents, especially the younger ones, are becoming close and well-known friends.

    Thanks again for the hard work you are putting into your blog site, and for the outstanding articles you are posting. Each week you are telling us more and more, in a very articulate and enjoyable way, about life in Govert and about its residents. It’s a wonderful learning experience for us!

  2. Just a quick comment after rereading this particular blog entry. The thing that intrugues me most is the short play "Tangled Telephone". My historian-detective mind makes me conjure all possible subjects about it and in my mind's eye I see a lday at a switchboard, putting the wrong jacks in the wrong holes, tangling up her wires and connecting people who should not be connected. Thus creating new relationships who would never have come to be otherwise. And/or connecting someone accidentally to the US president or maybe a little kid to, whom he things, is Santa Claus... :-)

    Thanks Kate!

    1. You are on the mark, Hans, absolutely nothing lost in translation! That is the image we all share of an early multiple line telephone system, which must have been the intent of the short play.

      The phone system in Govert had only one line, so it was one big party line. People were known to listen in (they "rubbered") even when the number of rings signaled another party. This could have made a funny skit, too ... perhaps not so funny for the person who became the subject of gossip :-).



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