Dec 092002
Authors: Sarah Laribee

There are few things around this season so heartwarming as an inflatable Santa Claus. Across the street from a friend’s house, there is a huge inflatable Santa Claus that waves to you happily as you drive by at night. He’s like that Big Boy guy, without the cool hair flip. And in the mornings, a little homage to the Christmas macabre, the Santa is splayed out on the ground, totally deflated. Dead Santa. But a Christmas tradition, so that makes it nice, although bizarre.

Only slightly more bizarre around the holidays is standing outside a nursing home with a bunch of junior high students, with an elderly woman yelling about how she hopes they don’t put Alzheimer’s patients in this particular home, because “they tend to scream out for no apparent reason.”

There is a great dichotomy about junior high students at a nursing home. You know the principle that says that if there is so much energy in something, and that energy is expended, then there will be less energy for that object to expend? Junior high students work on exactly the opposite principle. The more energy they throw out, the more they have. It’s like they’re all manic extroverts.

So trepidation naturally arises at the idea of taking a bunch of seventh grade drama students from Lesher Junior High to a nursing home for an afternoon of entertainment. It doesn’t seem out of the question that one of them would grab an oxygen tube and inhale for the sport of it. They are twelve, after all.

But as ripe as the possibilities are for disaster, the possibilities for magic and wonderfulness are equally as probable.

The seventh grade class I went with has been working on vignette scenes from plays tirelessly since Halloween. A few groups doing selections from “The Diary of Anne Frank,” a trio of girls doing the witches scene from “Macbeth,” and an “Alice in Wonderland” scene in drag. You know, classic stuff.

Their teacher has also worked tirelessly, and has recruited the help of several of us as chaperones. Of course I was the girl most likely to grab the oxygen tank a few years back, so it’s a marvel that I’m now in charge of anything at all.

The five-minute bus ride from Lesher is deafening. I don’t know how thirty voices reach sonic boom level, but renditions of “Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall” tend to do that. It’s a five-minute bus ride. How many bottles were they expecting to get through?

But the minute they step into the facility, thy become adults. They’re like forty year olds in Sketchers. I have never seen such well-behaved, warm-hearted kids. One guy walks up to a woman in a wheelchair after the performance and says, “Here’s a program.”

The woman answers, “I can’t see.”

“I’ll read it to you,” he responds.

Another girl is standing by a woman who looses her balance and begins to fall. The girl reaches out to catch the woman, who responds, “Thank God, you saved my life!” This makes an impression on the girl and her classmates. The rumor of life-saving heroics spreads through the crowd until we’ve all heard he story five or six times in the span of ten minutes.

But it’s more than the excitement of near death experiences that makes an impact on these seventh graders. By the time we leave the facility, several of them have signed up as volunteers. And in their debriefing journal exercise, several make comments about how amazing their experience was.

And when it comes down to it, their experience is amazing. Because there are few things as life changing as getting out of your element, if even for forty minutes, to share something, anything with someone else. Even if you are in drag. And even if you are in seventh grade.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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