Before there was Presidents’ Day , February 22nd was a big deal because it was George Washington’s birthday. In elementary school classrooms there was often a picture of Washington crossing the Delaware or at least the Gilbert Stuart portrait of him. We learned he was “First in war; first in peace; first in the hearts of his countrymen”. We also learned that when a cherry tree was found chopped down on the family estate, George said, “Father, I cannot tell a lie. I chopped down the cherry tree.” Then later we learned that was a myth as was the common belief that Paul Revere made Washington’s false teeth.
The Washington’s Birthday I was in fifth grade (1949), my family went to the University Theater in Harvard Square for a double feature: “Holiday in Costa Rica” and “Nanook of the North.” Because of that first film, I always wanted to go to Costa Rica, but when I finally did in 1992, it was nothing like the Costa Rica I had built up in my mind from that long ago film. ”Nanook of the North” is now a classic film shown in sociology classes in high schools and colleges. Imagine my surprise when the teacher left it for me to show to a sociology class I subbed for at Hanover High!
Before the Uniform Holiday Act of 1971, establishing “Presidents’ Day,” celebrated on the third Monday of February, Washington’s birthday, February 22nd, was the holiday and celebrated on whatever day of the week it happened to fall. The week containing that day was winter vacation in most of Massachusetts. One special thing about this week, once I was in Junior High, is that my church celebrated it as “Youth Week,” and the youth groups –Junior High and Senior High- elected from their ranks an Assistant Youth Pastor to serve with the Youth Pastor, elected from the post-high school group.These two had the honor of leading the Sunday service, morning and evening, and even delivering the sermon and serving communion.
Most memorable, however, is the fact that the youth groups scheduled an activity for every day of that week. We had a basketball game, a swim party, a roller skating party, game night, perhaps bowling, and a dance. Being Baptists only square dancing was acceptable, and I have fond memories of the Virginia Reel. But the highlight was the Youth Banquet. There were 12 tables, each named for a month, and the youth hosting the table was to decorate with the theme of that month. For 99 cents we had a full-course turkey dinner.
As I think about the game night, I am reminded of what an innocent time it was, those 50’s. The favorite game was Concentration where as many as thirty kids, numbered one to whatever, would sit in a circle. Number one would set the rhythm-clap hands on your thighs, clap hands in front of you, snap fingers on right hand, then on left – and be the first to call own number on right snap and a random other’s number on left snap. If your number was called, you repeated it on the right snap and called another on the left. . What with changing numbers and the speed of the game, it was often hard to keep up. If you missed the callouts, you moved to the last chair and everyone else moved up a seat. The best trick was to call the number of the person who had just called you as they might have relaxed a minute. Of course everyone tried to get #1 out of the seat, so that number was called often. Many years later I would play this game with my elementary school classes, and it was a favorite then too.
So, Happy Birthday, George, and thanks for the memories!
© Dorothy C. Judd
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