“On Christmas morning, my little sister, Sarah — who I think I forgot to tell you about — and I opened our presents,” Mayor Tom Rowland read from “The Polar Express.”
“When it looked like everything had been unwrapped, Sarah found one last small box under the tree. It had my name on it.”
What was in the small box?
Did the mayor ever find his silver bell?
Would they get a chance to climb aboard the Polar Express?
Questions like these have raced through the minds of the students since the tradition began 12 years ago.
Blythe-Bower Elementary School kindergarten teachers Sondra Park and Lori Sentell wanted a special tradition the children would remember and enjoy.
Both expressed their appreciation to the mayor for always making time for the event.
Rowland expressed his genuine enjoyment of the annual reading.
“I love to do it. It is very festive. Right now, they are having hot chocolate and cookies,” Rowland said. “They look forward to this, and I look forward to being here. It is a very appreciative audience.”
Small faces stared with rapt attention as the mayor continued to read. Illustrations from the book were projected across a large screen. Blythe-Bower Elementary’s entire kindergarten class snuggled deeper into their pajamas as they waited for the final words.
“There was a note, ‘Found this on the seat of my sleigh. Fix that hole in your pocket. Signed, Mr. C,’” Rowland read before pausing to look out at the children.
“Do you know who Mr. C was?” he asked the kindergarteners. “What do you think the C stood for?”
Immediately a buzz overtook the quiet of the room.
“It’s the conductor,” one child announced with glee.
Murmurs followed the outburst before a new thought caught on.
“It’s a doctor,” another child joined.
“A doctor,” agreed several voices.
Rowland encouraged the children to really think about who Mr. C could have been.
“Mrs. Claus,” announced a small girl before another voice announced, “It’s Santa Claus!”
The mayor paused to consider their answers.
“Do you think,” he asked, “it could mean Mr. Claus?”
A round of agreements filled the air and the story continued.
“I shook the bell. It made the most beautiful sound my sister and I had ever heard,” Rowland read. “But my mother said, ‘Oh, that’s too bad.’
“‘Yes,’ my father said, ‘it’s broken.’ When I had shaken the bell, my parents had not heard a sound.”
Rowland continued, “At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old, that bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”
He assured the students the bell still rang for him.
“It doesn’t ring for you,” he told the small crowd. “But it still rings for me.”
Rowland gave one last reminder for children to be sure to say “Merry Christmas” in lieu of the politically correct “Happy Holidays.”
After leaving the kindergarten classes, he further expounded his statement.
“So many of the stores will say ‘Happy Holidays.’ Folks at the corporate office tell them not to say “Merry Christmas,” and I don’t know why. I am just a fanatic to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” because it is a holy day.”
Although the mayor insisted he was the only one who could hear the bell, there were at least two students willing to dispute the matter.
Kindergartener October Cox said she saw Santa Claus last year.
“Santa is real,” she said. “I saw him on Christmas Eve. I saw him putting candy in our stockings.”
When asked for a description, she said he had a red and white hat, a red suit, black boots, a beard down to his chest and a big stomach.
Cox said her plan was to sneak down and see Santa Claus again this year.
Fellow kindergarten student Christopher Owenby said he has never seen Santa, but he has a suspicion he might be his Papaw.
When asked if his Papaw was jolly enough to be Santa, Christopher confirmed he was.
The children ended their reading time with hot chocolate and cookies provided by Bi-Lo.
Park and Sentell said the students would have the opportunity to watch the movie off and on in between fun and games.