I remember Donald because he used to run across the playground with his arms rotating like the blades of a windmill, because he once tried to flush his leg down the toilet, because he regularly chased little girls around Miss Cherry’s first grade classroom. I remember Donald because of something that happened in 1965.
Every time Miss Cherry left the classroom she would leave with strict instructions for us to behave while she was gone, and she would ask Leonard to write down the names of those who didn’t. Leonard was an owlish boy with horn-rimmed glasses and fat, pink hearing aids behind each ear. He was the teacher’s pet, but he was also Donald’s reluctant accomplice; Leonard feared him more than he feared her.
As soon as Miss Cherry was safely out the door, Donald would leap to his feet and point to Leonard: “Go!” he would yell, and Leonard would dutifully push his chair over to the door where he served as a lookout, standing on the chair and squinting out the square glass window, strategically positioned at adult eye-level. When Leonard was in place Donald would pick out his victim, point to a timid girl in pigtails and shout, “I’m a gonna get you!” She would scream and run around the room, obligingly, while Donald windmilled along behind her, huffing and puffing. Eventually Leonard would call from the window, “Here she comes!” and Donald would skid to a stop in front of the class, catch his breath, and say, “Now y’all be quiet, chaldren!” and then sit down quickly.
When Miss Cherry walked in seconds later things would be quiet—too quiet. She would glare suspiciously at Donald and he would grin back, red-faced, innocent until proven guilty.
But on the Monday after Thanksgiving Miss Cherry put up a huge cardboard Santa on the door of her classroom, and the next time she left the room Leonard pushed his chair over, climbed up on it, and found to his surprise that the view from the window was completely blocked. Donald was on his second lap around the room when Leonard got his attention, pointed to the window, and held out his hands, palms up. What could Donald do? With a look of utter bewilderment on his face he wandered back to his chair and sat down, waiting glumly for Miss Cherry’s return.
She came into her silent classroom a full five minutes later, unable to resist one brief, triumphant smile flashed in Donald’s direction.
She was wiser than we knew.
I remember that incident each year at the beginning of Advent because this is that season of the year in which the church emphasizes constant readiness for the coming of Christ. I am reminded, again and again in these days, that behind all the cardboard Santas of the secular Christmas season stands the One with his hand on the doorknob, ready to make an entrance. So I watch.
And I wait.