“Everyone inside. There’s much more work to do in here,” he commanded.
The handful of students shuffled inside and instinctively sat down at the nearest desks.
Mr. Richards strode up and down in front of his desk. He wore overalls and a dark blue cap, but he still commanded attention from each student. “The desks need to be moved out of here first. Jonah, Theo, Robbie, and I will take them to the shed.”
“Yes, sir,” Jonah said, saluting smartly.
Mr. Richards ignored this and turned to the two girls who shared a desk nearby. “Savannah and Annslie, you’re my cleaning crew. Lewis and Nat are here to help you with whatever you need.”
The younger boys groaned at the big boys who had landed a much more interesting job.
Annslie’s hand shot up.
“Yes, Annslie?” Mr. Richards asked. An amused smile played on his face.
“When do we get to decorate more?”
“Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Daigle will be bringing decorations later tonight. I’m sure they’d be grateful for your help.”
Annslie turned to Savannah with excitement. “This is going to be the most exciting evening ever.”
Savannah smiled and squeezed her hands together under the desk.
Mr. Richards clapped his hands together. “Class dismissed.”
The students rushed out of their seats and set to work. For a while, things grew as dynamic as a dance itself, with the cleaning girls and their unwilling helpers staying away from the desk movers.
“I don’t think they like this job very much,” Annslie said in an undertone, throwing a glance at Nat half-heartedly scrubbing the floor.
Savannah looked at the boys and followed their gazes to the big boys carrying desks out the front double doors. Scrubbing floors could look very boring in comparison. Time to show her classmate a little kindness. “Lewis,” she said, sitting up on her heels. “I don’t like ladders very much, but the inside of the windows needs to be cleaned. Would you mind doing them for me?”
His ears perked up and his blond hair stood a little straighter. “Definitely.”
“I’ll show you where to find the cleaning solution and some rags,” Savannah said, dropping her rag and pulling herself to her feet.
Nat watched them go, giving a dejected sigh.
“Think we can finish this section of floor before she gets back?” Annslie asked with a twinkle in her blue eyes.
Nat’s freckled face grinned. “Let’s race.”
Meanwhile, Savannah rummaged through the cleaning closet, looking for a clean bucket. Lewis found a ladder and lugged it out to the nearest window.
“Where in the world is that bucket?” Savannah groaned. “I hate closets like this. Never opened except once a year. Never cleaned out except once a century.” Her voice grew more muffled as she waded to the back of it.
“It’s okay, Savannah. I can wait a little.” Lewis said, gathering a few rags.
She let out a sigh. “Sorry, I was letting impatience get the better of me. Will you see if Annslie and Nat need any help while I keep looking? It might take a little while.”
“Sure thing,” he grinned.
Savannah felt calmer as she moved systematically through the piles and stacks and bins. “Sorry, Lord. Please help me to be patient, even if the job is unpleasant,” she prayed. She banged her shin into a metal cart. “Ouch. Ah ha! There’s a bucket.”
Dragging it out of the cave-like closet and into the schoolhouse, she brushed the cobwebs out of her light brown hair and sent Lewis to fill the bucket. She was just about to look for Nat and Annslie when a voice above her head stopped her.
“Little Miss Muffet, did a spider frighten you away?” Jonah pulled a spiderweb out of her hair. “Doesn’t look like you got away fast enough,” he teased.
She bit her tongue and thought through what to say. A soft answer would be best. “Thank you for getting that one, Jonah. I don’t have a mirror with me today, so I wouldn’t have caught it.”
He looked surprised at her reply. “You’re welcome, I guess.”
Mr. Richards signaled that the big boys’ task was done with another clap of his hands. “Now for the tables. We’ll need two on each wall.”
Savannah slapped her hand to her forehead. The floors! She had completely forgotten she was helping Annslie. She ran across the room to the floor scrubbers.
“Aw, man. She’s back,” Nat frowned.
Annslie just laughed at him. “We had a goal to finish half the floor before you got back.”
“You almost got there, though. You two are pretty fast at this.” Savannah plunged her rag into the murky bucket. “Sorry I abandoned you, though.”
Annslie shook her head. “We knew you’d come back. You always do the jobs you’re assigned to.”
“I just hope we get done in time,” Nat said then grinned. “I’m getting a little sore.”
“Maybe the time would pass faster if we sang,” Savannah suggested. “It’d bring a little joy into this schoolhouse.” She looked around the room.
The desks were gone, replaced by bare floorboards and the four long tables waiting for refreshments. Robbie and Lewis were nearly done washing windows. Jonah jabbed at the rafters with his duster, knocking cobwebs down.
“What songs do you like?” Annslie asked Nat.
“I’ve always liked ‘Hark, the Herald Angels Sing’. The ‘glorias’ are especially fun.”
“Glorias” echoed around the room as they continued to scrub. Mr. Richards walked by with a few boards and lent his rich voice to the singing. Jonah whistled along off-key. After half a dozen choruses, the floor crew stood up, stretched, and high-fived each other.
“All done?” Mr. Richards asked, coming over to approve their work.
“All done,” Nat grinned.
“Great job. Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Daigle will be arriving soon, but until then, take a break,” their teacher said.
Savannah glanced at the schoolhouse clock. The dance was starting in less than an hour. Now was the perfect time to run home and change into her formal clothes. Annslie thought the same and left quickly.
The boys put away their ladders and dusters and flew out the front doors. Only Mr. Richards and Theo were left, assembling a makeshift stage for the fiddler to stand on. Savannah felt a little guilty leaving them when there was still work to do.
A sharp cry of pain echoed through the schoolhouse. She turned on her heels. “What’s wrong?”
Mr. Richards was holding his handkerchief against a cut on Theo’s hand. “Savannah, first-aid kit, please.”
“Right.” She dove into the closet once again and easily found the red box.
Theo clenched his teeth as Mr. Richards poured antiseptic onto the cut. Savannah put gauze on his hand and gently wrapped a bandage around it. She wondered if he would be a better soldier than Jonah pretended to be.
“Thank you, Savannah,” Theo said. “Sorry about that, Mr. Richards.”
“Accidents happen. It’s all right. Thank you for bringing the kit, Savannah,” the schoolteacher said.
“You’re welcome.” Her eyes traveled to the clock again. Only half an hour left. Mrs. Howard and Mrs. Daigle would need her help. She’d better hurry.
Savannah ran across the snowy schoolyard, stopping at the street to look both ways before dashing across to the little row of houses. Annslie stepped off the porch of one.
“Savannah, you’d better hurry. We don’t have much time,” she called.
“I hear you. I’ll be back soon.” Savannah went inside.
Mama waved to her from the kitchen, and she stopped to give Baby Tommy a kiss on his curls. Hurrying up the stairs, she closed her bedroom door behind her and slipped into the special blue dress laid out on her bed. The full skirt swooshed around her as she walked. She ran a cloth over her dusty shoes and brushed one more cobweb out of her hair.
A sound outside brought her over to the window. The ladies were carrying decorations from an old station wagon into the schoolhouse. No time to curl her hair. Settling for a twist at the base of her neck and a small blue bow to match her dress, Savannah ran back across the street moments later.
“Just in time.” Annslie high-fived her.
“Thank you so much for volunteering to help, girls.” Mrs. Daigle laid a gentle hand on each girl’s shoulder. “The Ladies’ Guild couldn’t put on this charity event without you.”
Savannah smiled. “We’re glad to help. What can we do?”
There were tablecloths to be spread on the refreshment tables. Decorative candles placed in holders. Holly wreaths hung on the inside of the doors. Boys on ladders hung Christmas lights and garlands from the rafters.
“Gladys, whatever do we do about the chalkboards?” Mrs. Howard groaned. “Mr. Richards tells me they are permanent.”
Mrs. Daigle put a finger to her plump chin. “We’ll write ‘Merry Christmas’ on one and ‘welcome’ on the other. That should be good enough.”
Theo was adding the final touches to a chalk Christmas tree when the first neighbors arrived.
“Probably time to get off the refreshment table,” Annslie said in an undertone.
“Right.” He got down and put the tablecloth back in place.
Robbie scuttled by with a ladder to stow in the cleaning closet.
“Have you seen Savannah anywhere?” Annslie called after him.
“Nope. Last I knew, she was sweeping the steps again, but you know her. Here, there, and everywhere.” Robbie grinned and shook his head.
Savannah finally found a chance to rest when the schoolhouse was humming with people. She couldn’t dash back and forth anymore even if she tried. The room was packed with people—fathers, mothers, and children, big and small.
She filled a cup with hot apple cider and took a sip. A few of the older girls wandered up to the table.
“Hello, Savvy. Nice dress. Is it new?” one of them asked, taking a dainty bite of a cookie.
Savannah smiled, even though she disliked the nickname. “Yes, this is my first time wearing it. I love the full skirt.”
“It does look pretty darling,” another girl agreed. “Too bad you didn’t curl your hair, though. That twist looks plain with it.”
Their comments stung. She had tried to look her best, but there just wasn’t time. She looked the older girls up and down. Perfect hair, stunning dresses, and nails painted. There was dirt under her thumbnail. She didn’t bother looking at the others.
They turned back to the desserts, and she slipped away to the porch. She didn’t belong in the sparkly, joyful schoolhouse.
“Savannah, what are you doing out here?” Mama asked, coming to the door.
She sighed and focused on cleaning out her nails with a small twig. “Feeling sorry for myself, I guess.” She inclined her head toward the older girls. “Look at them. Perfectly dressed. They look like ladies right out of a storybook. And here I am. I have a new dress, but apparently I ruined how it looks by not curling my hair.”
Mama smiled and shook her head. She sank down on the bench next to her daughter. “You and I both know that you ran out of time because you were helping at the schoolhouse so much.”
“I know. It’s just that now I feel like an eyesore.” Savannah turned to her mom. “Do I really look that bad?”
Mama laughed. “Of course not. You look very nice.”
“Now, I’ve been talking to your friends, and according to Annslie, you’re ‘the most helpful creature that ever walked the face of this earth’. They all have something to say about how you showed them love or helped them find joy. Jonah remembers teasing you and how you controlled your tongue.” Mama put an arm around her shoulders. “The fruits of the Spirit you are displaying to others are beautiful in God’s eyes. Now go in there, forget what the girls said, and have peace knowing that your actions are pleasing to God.”
Savannah smiled, happy tears glistening in her eyes. “Okay. Thank you, Mama.” She stood up and smoothed her dress then took a step forward into the music-filled schoolhouse.
“Savannah, can you dance this one with me?” Lewis asked.
She took the younger boy’s arm and grinned. “I’d be delighted to, sir.”
All nine of the fruits of the Spirit are portrayed in this story. Can you find them?