Tuesday, Dec. 2, 1986
I motioned wildly to Dave and Kim Stanley with both hands while kicking the chair in front of me to get Heather Nash’s attention. Heather and I weren’t great pals or anything, but I needed her for the plan I was putting together. Besides, she’d skipped sixth grade and was still out of place in our class. Didn’t have a crowd, even three months into the year. She seemed overwhelmed by my interest and agreed right away to join us.
“This is crap,” Dave said quietly as we gathered at my and Heather’s desks. “She’s out sick forever and then wants us to do the work.”
“Oh, suck it up,” Kim said. “You’re such a baby.”
“Am not,” Dave said. “At least I don’t freak out about ketchup touching mustard.”
Dave and Kim were my best friends and for a brief period just before Thanksgiving vacation, a couple. But after 20 hours of dating that involved holding hands on the bus one afternoon and sharing a hot dog at lunch the next day, the commitment was too much for both of them. Especially after discovering a previously unknown condiment chasm. Now they were dealing with the aftermath of their differences. And they were getting on my nerves.
“Both of you shut up,” I said. “I think we can make life easier for Ms. Van Fleet, get a different song added for people like Dave, maybe even make the concert cool for a change. So listen.”
Ten minutes later, Ms. Van Fleet called us back together.
“How did we do?” she asked.
Todd Barry, Jim Mason, Mark Hall, and Pete Tibbetts giggled together like a bunch of idiots, their faces beet red. The teacher walked over to them.
“Give me your sheets, please.”
The laughing stopped, and the boys sheepishly lowered their eyes and slowly handed in their papers, the error of their ways dawning on them. Ms. Van Fleet looked them over, and her face turned a darker shade of red than the boys’.
“You four can visit me after school today,” she said quietly before turning her attention to the three remaining groups.
We later found out that the goons decided it would be hilarious to just write “fart” next to every song. They weren’t wrong. We all laughed on the bus to school the next morning, but it also wasn’t the smartest thing to do. They spent the next five recesses inside, helping clean the cafeteria.“You four can visit me after school today,” she said quietly before turning her attention to the three remaining groups.
“Valerie? What about your group?”
Valerie Rochester rolled her eyes, forever put upon to participate in activities that were beneath her. The rest of her group – Kim Hale, Shelley Pray, and Tammy Alden – struck their best indifferent poses.
“We ended up talking about what we want for Christmas,” Valerie said. “It’s, like, hard to focus this time of year, y’know?”
“We can work on that skill during recess then,” Ms. Van Fleet said, turning to my group and the group of five. “Do I even want to ask if any of you did what you were supposed to?”
My hand shot up.
“We did it!”
“Suck up,” Valerie muttered somewhere behind me.
“Fine,” Ms. Van Fleet said. “What do you have?”
My earlier confidence faded, facing the prospect of actually winning a now very cranky teacher over.
“Well, we thought about how to make this easy, with not much time and all that. So here’s what we came up with.”
I looked at my groupmates, and they nodded for me to keep going.
“Kindergarten does ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.’ Then first grade does ‘Jingle Bells,’ and then second has ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas.’ Third always does ‘I Have a Little Dreidel,’ but maybe this year they do it with fourth grade, and some kids can play with dreidels on the stage while the song is going. That’s one less song to take care of. And fifth can do ‘Winter Wonderland.’”
I paused, looking up from my paper to see how I was doing. She was nodding and jotting down notes. Good sign.
“The next part is different, though. Because we don’t have a lot of time for practice and it would make things easier for you. Instead of six, seven, and eight each doing a song, we all do ‘The 12 Days of Christmas.’”
“I like that,” she said. “What about the all-sing?”
I took a deep breath.
“Ok. This is really really different, but just listen. What if we do a new song for the all-sing? Kindergarten sings ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer,’ so it would be cool if we all sang ‘Run Rudolph Run’ at the end of the show.”
“Why is that cool?” Ms. Van Fleet asked dismissively.
“It’s … because it’s not just a Christmas song. It’s a rock ’n’ roll song. And my dad said it’s written by the same guy who wrote ‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer.’”
She shook her head.
“No. I don’t have time to learn some ‘rock and roll’ song. It’s too much. And it would sound terrible on my autoharp.”
“But what if you didn’t have to learn it?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, eyebrows raised.
“We could get Nashville to play for us. Him and his band.”
“Nashville? Who on Earth is Nashville?”
“He’s … he’s my dad,” Heather said, looking up through her bangs at Ms. Van Fleet. “The janitor here? Mr. Nash? He has a honky tonk band, and they play Chuck Berry songs. Chuck Berry sings ‘Run Rudolph Run.’”
Valerie and her cohort snickered.
“Quiet, ladies!” Ms. Van Fleet said. “Your father? Why in the world do you call him Nashville?”
“His … um … his name is Phil. Phil Nash. Kids here call him Nash Phil. Nashville. They’ve done it for years. Because he’s in a band?”
At best, our teacher was skeptical. But she was also intrigued. I could tell because she was walking around the front of the room, hat in hand, fiddling with the turkey feather coming out of it.
“I know Mr. Nash, and I’ve never heard him called that. But either way … you think he’d join us? Him and his band?”
Heather shrugged. I didn’t like that.
“We can ask him now,” I said. “Me and Heather.”
“Am I going to regret this?” Ms. Van Fleet asked.
“No,” I said, brimming with confidence. “No you won’t.”
“You have one chance,” she said. “Be back in 10 minutes. Go.”
To be continued …
THE COMFORT ROCK CHRONICLES IS AN ONGOING SERIES OF SHORT STORIES ABOUT A FICTITIOUS VERMON TOWN, AN AMALGAM OF ALL NORTHWEST VERMONT HAS TO OFFER. COMFORT ROCK HAS BEEN GROWING IN MY HEAD FOR WELL OVER 20 YEARS. I REALLY LIKE THE FOLKS WHO CALL COMFORT ROCK HOME, AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO.