Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Reading (01/25/07)
TITLE: The Battle at Not Okay Corral
By Marilee Alvey
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It was “The Polar Express,” the story of a young boy who is losing his belief in Santa but who gets to go on a magical train journey to the North Pole to see the “real” Santa. Hardly revolutionary. However, in this case, it wasn’t what was said in the pages, but how it was read.
Sharon Franchard is a slightly rounded, very sentimental first grade teacher. She is the mother of three sons, then ages ten, twelve and fourteen. Up until December fifteenth of that year she was happily married. Sharon had gone to the bookstore that day. While there, she fell in love with “The Polar Express.” (Van Allsburg) She was first attracted to its beautiful illustrations, but, as she stood there, reading silently, she began to weep. Sharon’s tears rose faster than property taxes.
Arriving home that evening, she placed a call.
“Mom, you won’t believe the incredible book I found today.”
“Did you clean out the basement?”
“No, I found this book at the bookstore, and, mom, I’m not kidding you, I bawled like a baby when I read it.”
“What’s it about?”
“Well, it’s about this young boy who doesn’t believe in Santa, but he gets to go on a train trip to the North Pole, and meet Santa.”
“Oh, honey, that sounds wonderful.”
“And there’s this bell that only those who believe can hear ring….AND IT COMES WITH THE BOOK!”
“Oh, my!” her mother replied tearfully, swan diving into Sharon’s fountain of sentimentality. “I’d love to read it.” Sharon and her mother could pass out tears faster than the Gideons can pass out Bibles.
“Tonight I’m going to read it to the boys. I know they’re almost too old, but I just want to get this one last story into them before they grow up and miss this magical tale. Oops! I just heard the garage door open. Don is home. Gotta run, mom. Talk to you later.”
Her husband walked wearily into the kitchen, pausing momentarily to give her a peck on the cheek.
“Hi, hon. Boy, am I glad to be home! Four days on the road is four days too many. What’s on tap for tonight?”
“Well, I was about to read a story to the boys called “The Polar Express.” It’s beautiful and I think it could become a family tradition.”
“Hey, can I read it? You’ve been home all week but I’ve missed out on being with them.”
“Okay.” Sharon reluctantly handed the book to him.
“Come on, guys! Dad’s home and I’m gonna read a story to you.”
“Hi, dad! What are you talkin’ about?” the oldest asked as all three sauntered into the room.
“Your mom’s got a book she wants you to hear. A Christmas book. Now, sit down.”
After a bit of jostling for position, they sat, solely out of curiosity.
The fiasco that followed has been relived every Christmas season since. Don began reading, then quickly shifted into a variety of voices for comic effect. There was Donald Duck, Father Guido Sarducci, Porky Pig, Darth Vader…. He even captured the sound of the train whistle by rudely blowing onto the back of his hand. Oh, he was on a roll that night… The boys held their sides, rolled around and laughed so hard that the dog ran for cover.
Over in the corner, Sharon eyed Don like she was sizing him up for a coffin. Stomping out of the room, she withdrew to “her” bedroom, the jingle bell clutched tightly in her fist. It didn’t ring.
Every December, one of the Franchard men will foolishly open the battle wounds by mentioning "The Battle at Not Okay Corral." They think it’s over. It’s not. Women rush to Sharon’s defense. They get it: the last vestige of childhood had been bulldozed. Men just scratch their heads and mutter, “I don’t get it.”
However, the magical story has begun to lose some of its sparkle, for the family has now made the conscious decision to emphasize Jesus instead of Santa. The story of Jesus’ birth has now become the Franchard family tradition and, every Christmas, they gather together as SHARON reads the real Christmas story.
The Polar Express, by Van Allsburg, Chris. Houghton Mifflin Company, editors. Boston, 1985.
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