Ruth and I attended a Christmas program this week. Kids, mostly little ones, on a little stage reciting their lines, singing songs and reminding me of when I attended country school and we put on a Christmas program the last Friday before Christmas break.
I remember vividly my first Christmas program. I was five years old and in first grade (our school had no kindergarten). My first grade teacher, Theresa Piechowski, was firm but patient with me. She said that everyone in the school from first to eighth graders must “say their piece.” Meaning we had to memorize a little ditty about the Holiday season, stand on the makeshift stage in the front of the school and say what we’d been instructed to say.
I informed Miss Piechowski that I wasn’t at all sure I wanted to do this. She would have none of it. I was to stand on stage and say my piece and that was that.
When she noted how worried I looked, she took me aside and in a near whisper said, “I have a secret for speaking in front of a crowd.”
I was all ears. “When you stand on that stage,” she motioned to the rickety set of planks strung across some sawhorses. “You stand up straight. Take your hands out of your pockets, and talk with a loud, clear voice.”
So what was so secret about that, I wondered. But then she continued. “Do you see the damper on the stove pipe?” She was pointing to the woodstove that stood in the back of the school room.
“I see the damper,” I said, wondering when she was going to get around to telling me her secret for speaking to a group of relatives, neighbors and schoolmates who were as likely to stick their tongues out at me as cross their eyes when I stood on the stage.
“When you stand on the stage and begin talking, look at the damper. People will think you’re looking right at them, but you hardly will see them at all. And you’ll have no problems.’
Miss Piechowski was right. Today, when I speak to a group and I do often, I stare at some spot in the back of the room and all goes well. It’s my Christmas gift to all of you who have dry mouth and empty brains when called on to speak.
THE OLD TIMER SAYS: First things first, but not necessarily in that order.
WRITING WORKSHOP: The dates for my writing workshop at The Clearing in Door
County for 2010 are August 8-14. Contact www.theclearing.org for further information.
CHRISTMAS GIFTS: Consider my books, BLUE SHADOWS FARM, IN A PICKLE, and OLD FARM. See my website for details. Available in most book shops. Can also be ordered from my website.
January 4, 11:45-12:30. Wisconsin Public Radio, Ideas Network. Telling Wisconsin Stories. (With Larry Meiller)
January 14, 6:30 p.m. Madison History Round Table. West Side Business Men’s Association. Old Farm
January 19, Noon luncheon. SAIL (Supporting Active Independent Lives) Black Hawk County Club, Madison. Telling Stories—Why and How.