There are times and seasons which remain prominent in memory as if (to paraphrase Steven King) they are special small slices, cut from the cake of time. One of these, for me, is the Christmas season of 1959.
There was the family Christmas, of course, which was always special in itself. And I was now, at every opportunity, exercising my newly acquired ability to ice skate — My Uncle Ray’s old hockey skates were serving me quite well. But those are both somewhat generic. My best memories of that time recall the after school sessions in Mr. Ireland’s homeroom.
I believe Mr. Ireland felt a responsibility to his young charges that went beyond simply administering each morning’s brief homeroom gathering. In the first semester of 8th grade, at 13 years old we were all, outside the comfortable circle of family and close friends, sort of feeling our way into life; awkward, shy with girls — The girls, I would later come to find out, were shy and insecure as well, although we boys sure didn’t know it at the time — and I truly think Mr. Ireland’s mission was to help us, in his small way, to get through all of that.
So as the Christmas season approached, and some of us, in response to Mr. Ireland’s invitation to the homeroom class, started spending a few afternoons, after classes were over, helping to create Christmas decorations; not just for our room, but for the hallways of the entire school.
These gatherings brought us, boys and girls alike, into an informal, safe setting, focused on a common goal; decorating the school for Christmas. We were, of course, already excited about the season, and the work was fun as well. But soon these gatherings — by design I think — evolved into small, informal social events. Somehow a record player appeared, and we soon started to bring our favorite 45s, as Mr. Ireland’s after school arts and crafts sessions gave way to miniature sock hops.
While not my original reason for attending — the artwork, and the opportunity to hang out with a nice group of kids was enough — the best thing about all of this was April, with whom I always seemed to be partnered for the work, and soon enough for the dancing as well.
The song to which we danced most often, because we requested it be played often enough to wear out the grooves on the record, was “Mr. Blue”, by the Fleetwood’s. So as Gary crooned, and Gretchen and Barbara harmonized, April and I would hold each other — to an appropriate 13-year-old degree, of course — and glide away the afternoon. It was my first “Our Song”, and as the saying goes, you never forget your first.