Miss Rosalie was the new schoolteacher from the city, and she had big city ideas like story-time and science experiments that produced fantastic clouds of smoke. She set waves in her hair, and she smelled of lilacs. The girls admired Miss Rosalie, and the boys were in love with her, which they all duly denied by scrapping in the schoolyard.
In September, Miss Rosalie announced we’d have a pageant, a fall festival, celebrating our harvest blessings. It had never been done; our only pageant celebrated the birth of the Baby Lord Jesus, which was enough, always dressing like shepherds and singing “Silent Night” with all that heavenly hullabaloo going on.
“We’ll invite the whole town to supper.” Miss Rosalie wrote Harvest Supper on the blackboard. “We’ll display wheat and corn. And how shall we dress up?”
Billy Martin raised his hand. “As rutabagas, Miss Rosalie?”
Rutabagas, my foot. I’d rather be an angel.
“Yes, and carrots and pumpkins. I’ll arrange a few steps.”
Dancing was forbidden, even for vegetables.
Lillian Pratt’s ringlets shook excitedly. “Reverend Potter could bless our animals. I saw it when we visited Toronto.”
“Oh, Lillian, that’s a wonderful idea,” sparkled Miss Rosalie. “All the spring babies. The blessing of birth.”
We all helped, gluing together leafy garlands and deciding where to put hay bundles and baskets of apples.
When the trees turned golden and puddles were fringed with frost, it was time for the Fall Festival, which would be at the church, to bless the animals properly, and because the church had room for prancing pumpkins. By four o’clock, the townspeople were enjoying soup made by the older girls from fresh vegetables, along with a chicken or two thrown in for flavour.
We sang “The Maple Leaf Forever” while red and orange leaves spiraled down, tossed about us by big boys on ladders on each side of the stage.
Miss Rosalie played the piano while everyone sang “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” She wore an orange skirt and had a red scarf around her neck.
The B’s watched her disapprovingly, as usual.
“The B’s” were Miss Bernadine and Miss Belle, elderly spinsters who kept house for their farmer brother. They constantly complained, droning on about everything.
They must have caught wind of Miss Rosalie’s perfume, because their noses were twitching. Miss Bernadine and Miss Belle didn’t believe in wearing scent or bright colours.
Carrots and pumpkins waltzed while Sally Peters recited William Blake’s “To Autumn.” The B’s fairly choked when Sally said, “Sing now the lusty song of fruit...”
The best was yet to come.
It was time to bless the animals.
There were chickens and bunnies in baskets, squirming piglets, and some lambs. Sue Rogers led in a skittish colt. Behind her, Peter Tate hauled on a calf.
The Reverend Potter started the proceedings, stammering sheepishly over the first few critters, but finally getting into the right spirit by simply thanking God for Fluffy, Pokey, and Duchess.
Everything was dandy until the sound of enraged bawling came from outside. The doors stood open on account of the animals, and because of all the bodies heating up the church. A cow charged in, clattering up the aisle, scattering potatoes and onions, and busting jars of chokecherry syrup and saskatoon jam. She snatched a mouthful of hay, and barged through the harvest moon hanging behind the altar, trampling on the ripped silver-painted paper.
The calf welcomed her by bunting her leaking udder. Eager sucking sounds merged with high-pitched squealing, barking, and honking. The B’s gathered their handbags.
It wasn’t over.
“Where in tarnation is my milk cow?”
Mr. Tate stood in the doorway.
Eyes widened and mouths gaped, because Mr. Tate hadn’t darkened the church doorway for thirty years.
He strode up the aisle as if bent on immediate repentance. He grabbed his cow and led her out, stepping over smashed pumpkins and scattered wheat. We collected our own animals, fearing the sudden silence.
Miss Rosalie wiped a blob of jam from her cheek. “Children, let’s offer Mr. Tate a bowl of our lovely soup. We’ll sing another verse of ‘The Maple Leaf Forever.’”
She stepped outside and returned with a calm, but still red-faced, Mr. Tate.
Mr. Tate attended church after that, figuring a church that let in cows was good enough for him.
What’s more, the B’s stopped being reproachful toward Miss Rosalie, since Miss Rosalie’s Fall Festival had reaped a far better harvest than corn or calves.
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