The red chalk in Mrs. McKenzie’s aged-spotted hand squealed, as she wrote, “Dear Santa: All I want for Christmas is...” on the green board at front of the third grade classroom. Placing the chalk in its cradle and brushing the chalk dust from her hands, she turned to face 20 eager children. Her instructions were simple: “Class, you may begin your letters to Santa. Be sure to use you best penmanship so Santa’s old eyes can read what you have to say.”
The tall, thin Mrs. McKenzie towered above her students, as she meandered between the isles that separated the four neatly arranged rows of desks and provided assistance with spelling and grammar. From the back of the classroom, her eyes fell upon the smallest child in her class, John Jacob Andrews, neatly folding his letter, and shoving it to the edge of his desk. She watched as he picked up the two pencils lying on his desk and began drumming the desk.
Mrs. McKenzie slipped quietly through the aisles and examined John Jacob’s letter. Her right hand leaped to cover her heart, and tears stood at the edges of her eyes, as she read the words his little hand had scrawled: “Dear Santa: All I want Christmas is my daddy home, so I can play the drums with him again. Love, John Jacob.” The request stabbed at her soul, as the thoughts racing through her head reminded her that John Jacob’s father was serving his second tour of duty in Iraq....
Without warning, the classroom door burst open. Deafening silence tiptoed in, as all eyes jumped to the empty doorway and waited. To the cheering delight of the children, the school’s animated music teacher, Mr. Brown, decked in elfin attire, leaped into the room and danced his way to the front of the class.
As the bells on his feet jingled, he paced back and forth, rubbing his chin and muttering, “Announcement to make...countdown to Christmas...three weeks...got to get ready…” Mr. Brown then stood erect and bowed to Mrs. McKenzie and the giggling children who erupted in applause. Lifting his arms for quiet, he announced, “It’s time to get ready for St. Michael’s annual Christmas Eve program. I have chosen this class to dress as shepherds and to sing “The Little Drummer Boy” as the finale song, while John Jacob plays the drum.”
Mrs. McKenzie collected the Santa letters from her students, as they formed a line at the door and waited for the dismissal bell. Fumbling with his backpack and struggling to shove his arm into the sleeve of his warm jacket, John Jacob took his place at the end of the line and handed his letter to Mrs. McKenzie. As the bell rang, she slipped his letter into her pocket.
Following three weeks of intense practice, Christmas Eve night finally arrived. As heavenly music filled the packed-to-capacity auditorium of St. Michael’s School, the little singing shepherds prepared to make their way to the stage. John Jacob tugged at Mrs. McKenzie’s sleeve and asked, “I’m playing my drums for baby Jesus tonight, but--is it OK if I play for my daddy too?”
Mrs. McKenzie adjusted the drum strap on his small shoulders and assured him, “Of course it is, sweetie.” Catching the nod from Mr. Brown, she gave him a gentle push toward the stage, “Now, go!”
As the auditorium grew dark, silence laid its soft blanket over the audience, and a star poured brilliant light over the Nativity Scene on stage. The “pa rum pum pum pum” of John Jacob’s drum led the singing shepherds toward the baby Jesus and echoed through the silence. As he reached the bed of hay, John Jacob’s rich soprano voice spread its melody all over the room... “Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum… A new born King to see...”
From the back of the auditorium, a second drum began to beat to the cadence of John Jacob’s “pa rum pum pum pum”, and a strong tenor voice joined the song, “I played my drum for Him...pa rum pum pum pum...”
As the audience stood and cheered, the tall marine in uniform walked out of the darkness and stepped onto the stage to finish the song with his son... “Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum...me and my drum...”
Note: “The Little Drummer Boy” words and music composed Katherine K. Davis, Henry Ornorati, and Henry Simeone in 1958.
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