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"Jo Ann and the Bird" from American Girl

by Ellis Parker Butler
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    Jo Ann and the Bird
  • American Girl (November, 1930)   "Jo Ann and the Bird"   A story. Illustrated by Garrett Price. "Jo Ann's eyes glittered as she saw the red head of Tommy Bassick, she uttered a shrill war cry and leaped forward, and after her came the war-whooping Wilmot Indians." p 14-16, 40-42.  [HARPER]

from American Girl
Jo Ann and the Bird
by Ellis Parker Butler

In Jo Ann's opinion, Thanksgiving Day was always an awful flop as a holiday at the Wilmot School for Girls, and she said so to Wicky.

"I just hate Thanksgiving!" she complained. "I don't see why those silly old Pilgrim Fathers couldn't have had it on Friday or on Monday."

"I suppose the pumpkins got ripe on Thursday," said Wicky. "It had to he when the harvest was ready. That's what they were thankful for -- the harvest."

"Well, they could have made pies of the pumpkins and kept them a day or two in the icebox," Jo Ann said. "Thursday, of all days!"

It is a fact that Thanksgiving Day is usually the gloomiest of holidays at boarding schools and at colleges. Most of the girls live so far from their schools that they cannot possibly get home for the Thanksgiving dinner and get back to school in time for Friday chapel, so there is little to do but gloom around and get homesick and wish Thanksgiving Day would hurry and be over. It is worse than if there were no holiday.

"Oh, well!" Wicky said consolingly. "We're not as badly off as the boys at Spenceville Academy, anyway. They don't even take a bird to the Jooks."

"A lot of good that does you and me, Wicky!" scoffed Jo Ann. "They'd never pick you and me to take the bird. The goody-goody girls always get that job."

"You never can tell," said Wicky hopefully. "They might pick us, Jo Ann; we haven't so awfully many demerits this semester."

"No, we've been losing our pep," said Jo Ann. "We ought to be ashamed of ourselves."

Taking a bird to the Jooks was one of the established customs of Wilmot School, and it was quite an honor to be one of the three girls who, with one of the teachers, carried the bird to the Jooks family. The "bird" was, of course, a fine big turkey, and the Jooks was the only family in Spenceville that could be called poor and needy. Dear Miss Orvis There were eleven of the Jooks -- pa and ma and nine children -- and they lived in a four-room shack on the Wentworth Road just outside of town. Every year dear gray-haired Miss Orvis, the president of Wilmot School, announced that the girls would give the Jooks a turkey this Thanksgiving and the girls chipped in with dimes and quarters, and the bird was bought -- the biggest turkey that could possibly be found in Spenceville's market.

The "bird" had become, with the growth of Wilmot School, not only the turkey but a whole huge basket of provisions, and for several days before Thanksgiving the decoration of the basket was a lot of fun. Each year the girls tried to make the basket prettier than ever, and a photograph was taken of it. In the library all the photographs were on the wall, inscribed "The Bird, 1921;" "The Bird, 1922," and so on.

But at Monday chapel, eleven days before Thanksgiving, dear Miss Orvis named the three girls who were to carry the bird, and the names of Jo Ann and Wicky were not among them. They were not even put on the committee that was to collect the dimes and quarters, or on the committee that was to decorate the basket. More than ever Jo Ann and Wicky wished Thanksgiving Day were on Friday or Monday, so that they might have three or four days -- long enough to go home. And then, the next morning, at Tuesday chapel, dear Miss Orvis made the announcement that made Jo Ann cry "What!" right out loud in chapel.

"I have an announcement to make that will change our plans for Thanksgiving Day," the president said. "This year Wilmot School will not take a bird and a basket to the Jooks family. While I am sorry that this pleasant custom of the school must be interrupted, I am afraid it must be. There are others who seem to have equal rights."

Instantly all the girls who had been coughing and squirming became silent and still. They looked at Miss Orvis in amazement.

"Mr. Benson, the new headmaster at Spenceville Academy," continued Miss Orvis, "has asked me to let his boys make the Jooks family happy this year --"

"What!" cried Jo Ann, so loudly that everyone turned and looked at her. Even Miss Orvis stopped short in what she was saying and looked at Jo Ann.

"Did you have something you wished to say, Josephine Ann?" Miss Orvis asked, and Jo Ann's face became scarlet, but she jumped to her feet. She was breathing hard and fast. No one had ever interrupted Miss Orvis or any of the faculty in chapel before, but Jo Ann was raging.

"I think it's rotten, Miss Orvis!" she cried. "I think it's just raw! I know who it is -- it's that red-headed Tommy Bassick. He said last summer he was going to put one over on me -- on Wilmot School -- and they've got that new sappy headmaster who's just started there who --"

"Jo Ann!" said the dignified Miss Orvis warningly.

"Well, I don't care!" cried Jo Ann, redder than ever. "I think it's perfectly beastly!" and she sat down. A ripple of applause began but Miss Orvis raised her hand and it stopped.

"I think we all understand what Josephine Ann means," said dear Miss Orvis gently, "although the language she was speaking was not English as it is taught at Wilmot School. I am as sorry as anyone to have one of our well-established customs interrupted, but I have agreed that Wilmot School and Spenceville Academy shall give the Jooks the bird on alternate years. Next year will be our turn."

"Next year!" complained Jo Ann under her breath. "Next year I won't be here. And next year Spenceville will hog it again!"

"And so," Miss Orvis continued, "as we knew you would all be greatly disappointed, we have tried to think of some way of making Thanksgiving Day more interesting for all, and Miss Corvey has had an idea which I believe you will all approve."

On the platform Miss Corvey tried to look modest, but she did not succeed especially well.

"Miss Corvey," continued Miss Orvis, "has written for us a Thanksgiving Day play or pageant, in which all will take part on Thanksgiving night, in Emerson Hall. It is entitled The First Thanksgiving. Miss Corvey."

There was quite a little applause at this, and Miss Orvis sat down and Miss Corvey came to the front of the platform. She was nervous at first, the papers in her hand trembling, but she explained that the spoken parts were in blank verse, and that she hoped all the girls would do their best, because the time was so short. The scene would be the village of Plymouth on the first Thanksgiving Day, and Emerson Hall would be decorated with cornstalks and pumpkins, and everyone would be in the old colonial costumes. Some of the girls would have to take the parts of men. At this Jo Ann sat up.

"I hope I'm Miles Standish," she whispered to Wicky.

"Oh! I'd love to be Priscilla Alden!" Wicky whispered, but Miss Corvey was reading the parts as she had assigned them.

"For John Alden, who is the principal character in the pageant, I have chosen Mable Tooker," she said, looking at her list. "Janet Scott will be Priscilla Alden. Edna Considine will be Miles Standish. Gladys Janes will be William Bradford," and so she went through the list naming all the famous Pilgrims and their wives and daughters, but Jo Ann's name and Wicky's were not called. Jo Ann looked at Wicky blankly.

"I bet we were on the list," Wicky whispered, "and she left us out because you talked in chapel."

"And the rest of the girls," continued Miss Corvey, "will be the Indians."

Jo Ann nudged Wicky, meaning that that was not so bad after all, but Miss Corvey was hesitating.

"Only one of the Indians has a speaking part," Miss Corvey said, "and that is Chief Massasoit. I will ask Josephine Ann to take that part. And now, will all the principals -- those whose names I have mentioned -- please meet me in my office at five o'clock this afternoon. The time is short and we must all do all we can to make the pageant a success."

"Me big chief!" Jo Ann whispered. "Me take-um scalp!" and she pulled out one of Wicky's hairs.

"Oh, stop that, Jo Ann!" Wicky exclaimed. "That hurt!" but no one but Jo Ann heard her, for the organ was playing the prelude for the closing song, and all the girls were rising.

Promptly at five o'clock Jo Ann was in Miss Corvey's office but she was the last on Miss Corvey's list and she had to wait until all the others had received their instructions and had been handed their parts.

"You'll have no trouble learning your part, Jo Ann," Miss Corvey said. "It is only four lines:

Strange are the ways of the white men; see! they give
thanks for the harvest! Hard have they labored, and sweated, growing the corn
and the pumpkins; Theirs was the plowing and planting; theirs was the
sweat and the labor -- Yet they give thanks for the harvest; we can learn much
from the white men."

"Is that the way Indians talked?" Jo Ann asked doubtfully. "I thought they said 'Ugh! Heap big pumpkin! Me shoot-um turkey, trade-um turkey for pumpkin, make-um big pumpkin pie!'"

"Well, you see, Jo Ann," said Miss Corvey, "this is supposed to be heroic verse. It's the way pageants are written. And now, Jo Ann, I think you have considerable executive ability, so I am going to put you in entire charge of the Indians -- as a chief should be --" she smiled. "You can choose two or three of the girls to help you, and I am going to depend on you to see that the girls have proper Indian costumes. You had better have about half the girls be squaws. Can you manage that? Can I depend on you, Jo Ann?"

"Yes, Miss Corvey," said Jo Ann. "And what do the Indians do in the pageant? Do they march or dance?"

"Well," said Miss Corvey, "they do nothing -- except you, Jo Ann. You have those lines to speak, but the other Indians are just to stand in the background, or repose there, to add to the picturesque effect."

"Don't they do anything at all?" asked Jo Ann, dismayed.

"Oh, no!" said Miss Corvey. "They just add color and -- and an effect of reality and she smiled complacently.

For a moment Jo Ann was silent.

Then her face brightened. Obviously she had a good idea.

Is she going to let us have a war dance?

"Oh!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "I know! I know what would be just peachy! I can teach them a war dance!"

"A what?" cried Miss Corvey.

"A war dance, an Indian war dance!" said Jo Ann excitedly. "It would be simply superb, Miss Corvey! Everybody would love it! It would -- why, it would be the big hit of the pageant! It would put some pep in it, Miss Corvey. A real hot war dance, I mean, and -- oh! Why couldn't the Indians scalp some of the Pilgrims, and then Miles Standish and his soldiers could shoot --"

In her enthusiasm Jo Ann did not see the look of horror that came upon Miss Corvey's face.

"Because you know how stupid these pageants are, Miss Corvey," Jo Ann continued. "They're just deadly. And one about Thanksgiving Day -- well, you know what that will be, with a lot of girls standing around blabbing stuff and as stiff as sticks --"

"There will be no war dances," said Miss Corvey in a cold voice. "This is to be a pageant, not a jazz party, Josephine Ann. If you feel that you do not care to have charge of the Indians --"

"Oh! I do!" Jo Ann said quickly.

"Very well," said Miss Corvey in the same cold voice. "And please try to remember that I have hoped to make the pageant a dignified affair. Miss Minnis will be in charge of make-up and Miss Leckworthy will give you assistance with the costumes. The grouping on the stage will be supervised by Miss Calhoun. And kindly remember that I do not want the Indians to be ridiculous; they are not to be a Wild West show. They are to be the noble red men of the forest."

When Jo Ann went out she found Wicky waiting for her.

"Is she going to let us have a war dance?" Wicky asked eagerly. She searched Jo Ann's face for a quick answer.

"No," said Jo Ann disgustedly. "No war dance. It's going to be one of those stupid mushy things. We might as well be wooden Indians. And, oh, Wicky, I could get up such a swell war dance! Tomahawks and bows and arrows and everything!"

"Well, that's always the way," said Wicky with resignation. "Nobody wants anybody to have any fun in this world."

"And the worst of it is," said Jo Ann bitterly, "that when they start anything in one of these schools they keep on forever. When a thing starts it keeps on. A hundred years from now they'll be having mushy Thanksgiving pageants at Wilmot School, with girls blabbing 'This is the harvest of Plymouth, the corn and the pies made of pumpkin', and that sort of mush. Anything anybody starts gets to be a school custom and keeps right on." She stopped talking with a hopeless shrug.

"Yes," commented Wicky in dejected agreement with her.

"Like those Spenceville Academy kids grabbing our looks bird," said Jo Ann. "It will be Spenceville one year and us the other, from now on forever. Just because Miss Orvis is such a sweet old soul. I wouldn't have let that bunch of kids do it. It's that red-headed Tommy Bassick -- he put Mr. Benson up to it! He did it to spite me, the nuisance! Well, I'll --"

She stopped short.

"What is it, Jo Ann?" Wicky asked eagerly. "Did you think of something?"

"No. Yes. Never you mind now. Maybe -- Don't bother me, Wicky. I think I've thought of something. I want to think about it. We could have a war dance, you know. Thanksgiving is a holiday and we do have the day free between chapel and the pageant. We have a right to have a war dance if we want to."

"We'd have the costumes," said Wicky. "We could have a sort of council fire on the campus, and a war dance."

"And that would start another new custom that would go on forever," agreed Jo Ann. "Hundreds of years from now they'd be having war dances on the campus every Thanksgiving Day. Let's do it, Wicky! Just think! Hundreds of years from now girls at Wilmot will be saying 'Thanksgiving Day at Wilmot is not stupid; two girls named Jo Ann and Wicky started the war dances and they've been kept up ever since.' That's fame, Wicky. Listen, Wicky, can you write a war song for the Wilmot Indians?"

"Well --"

"Of course you can! You know -- it doesn't have to mean anything. Just something like 'Chi O ki yo kee yah! Chee O ko yo ki yah!' You write it. We'll have war drums -- dishpans or something. And rattles. And we'll end with a snake dance -- everybody's hands on the next one's shoulders -- all around the campus and up and down all the paths. The Wilmot Indians, Wicky! Won't it be peachy?" and she began stamping her feet and singing "Chi O ki yo kee yah! Chee O ko yo ki yah!"

The word sped from girl to girl and the war dance of the Wilmot Indians was quite as much talked about as Miss Corvey's Thanksgiving pageant during the days before Thanksgiving Day. Several of the few girls who had intended going home telegraphed their parents that they had decided to stay at school over the holiday, so interested were they. Jo Ann and the girls who were to be Indians in the pageant worked hard on their Indian costumes, and for the war dance, the girls who were to take the part of Pilgrims later on in the pageant, wrapped themselves in bright blankets and tied a ribbon and feather around their heads.

As the plans for the war dance grew -- and Jo Ann did most of the planning -- it was inevitable that the faculty should hear of it, but no objections were raised. Remembering the usual homesickness of former dull Thanksgivings, the faculty was glad enough to have the girls so interested. Dear Miss Orvis even went so far as to tell Hooks, the janitor, to see that a sheet of tin was placed on the spot at the center of the campus where the council fire was to be built.

"It will not be bad if this becomes an annual custom," Miss Orvis said to Miss Corvey. "The pageant will, most certainly, and if the council fire also becomes a custom, Thanksgiving Day need not be dreaded any longer. It was Jo Ann's idea, was it not?"

"Yes," said Miss Corvey, who was none too well pleased to have anything divide the honors with her pageant.

One thing Miss Corvey did manage to bring about. Jo Ann had meant to have the council fire and war dance in the afternoon, but Miss Corvey felt that the excitement of the affair might run into the evening and interfere with the preparations for her pageant.

"It will keep the girls' minds off the bird and the basket," Miss Minnis said.

"Oh!" exclaimed Jo Ann, and then she said "Oh!" in such a different tone that Miss Minnis looked up at her, but Jo Ann said, "It doesn't matter to me. If Miss Corvey wants it in the morning we can have it then."

The war dance, as can be seen by this, was no longer Jo Ann's private lark but quite a school affair. And so the days passed until the evening before Thanksgiving Day arrived. Jo Ann had worked hard on her costume as Chief Massasoit and had made a resplendent headdress of dyed turkey feathers, eagle feathers being too hard to get. She was sewing the last of these feathers in the headdress when Wicky came in. Wicky had a letter in her hand.

"It was in your box, Jo Ann."

Jo Ann tore the envelope across and pulled out the sheet of paper it contained. It was not a letter but a drawing -- a sort of cartoon -- and it had the initials T. B. in one corner. It was Tommy Bassick's work, sure enough, and Jo Ann's eyes flamed as she took in the picture Tommy had drawn. There was a shack marked "The Jooks", and marching to it were four or five boys with a gaily decorated basket over the edge of which hung the neck and head of a picked turkey. Back of these triumphantly strutting boys was a row of girls, all depicted with tears streaming from their eyes, and one of these was labeled "Jo Ann." One of the boys bearing the basket was labeled "T. B." for Tommy Bassick.

Is she going to let us have a war dance?

"Oh! The little rat!" Jo Ann cried. The drawing, crude as it was, was Tommy's idea of triumphing over Jo Ann. With a furious gesture she crumpled the paper in her hand and threw it on the floor, but Wicky quickly rescued it.

"What are you going to do, Jo Ann?" she asked, for she did not doubt for a moment that Jo Ann would do something. "Can you think of anything to do to him?"

"I don't have to think; I know already," Jo Ann said. "I was going to do it anyway, but now he's the one that's going to be sorry!"

"He's going to help carry the bird," she said. "He'll be sorry. Wicky, how does the Wilmot Indian war song go?"

"It goes 'Chi O ki yo kee yah! Chee O ko yo ki yah!"

"Yes. And what does it mean?"

"Well, of course, it doesn't mean anything," said Wicky.

Jo Ann's eyes glittered as she saw the red head of Tommy Bassick, she uttered a shrill war cry and leaped forward, and after her came the war-whooping Wilmot Indians.

"Yes, it does mean something, Wicky," Jo Ann said. "If you know the Wilmot Indian language it means something. It means 'Wilmot School has taken the Thanksgiving bird to the Jooks every year, and it is going to keep on taking the bird to the Jooks every year, and no red-headed nuisance by the name of Bassick is going to take that bird to the Jooks as long as there is a Wilmot Indian left alive -- and this is fair warning!'"

"It's a good deal for so few words to mean, isn't it?" Wicky asked.

"It is all in the way you sing it," said Jo Ann.

The next morning, after chapel, the girls hurried to their rooms and put on their Indian costumes and hurried back to the campus. Dear Miss Orvis had had a chair placed on the porch of Clayton Hall, and she sat there well wrapped in coats, and beside her was Miss Corvey. The council fire blazed on the sheet iron that Hooks had placed for it, and in a circle sat the girls in blankets -- the girls who were to be Pilgrims and Pilgrim mothers and daughters in the pageant. In an inner circle were Chief Massasoit's Wilmot Indians.

Jo Ann's eyes glittered as she saw the red head of Tommy Bassick, she uttered a shrill war cry and leaped forward, and after her came the war-whooping Wilmot Indians.

Jo Ann, in her long feather headdress, stood up. She raised her hands and the Wilmot Indians leaped to their feet. She brought down her hands and there began the thumping of drums and the jingling of rattles, and, bending low, the Wilmot Indians began their song and war dance.

The drums beat louder, the singing became more vigorous, the dance more violent.

"It is quite realistic," said dear Miss Orvis. "Tell me what is the chief saying to them now, Miss Corvey?"

For Jo Ann had raised her hands again. She had stopped the war dance. She stood with her head held high and her arms folded.

"Wilmot Indians," she cried, "are we for Wilmot or will we let a bunch of Spenceville Academy boys walk all over us?"

"No!' shouted Wicky, and "No! No!" shouted the other Indians.

"Braves," shouted Jo Ann, "join the war dance! Whoop it up! Tear loose! Five times around the council fire and then we'll go and get that bird and take it to the Jooks."

"They're all taking part in it now," said Miss Orvis. "Oh! There come the Spenceville boys. They should not be doing that!"

She meant that the Spenceville boys carrying the bird and the basket should not have come through Wilmot Campus. Even dear Miss Orvis thought that was rather brazen -- flaunting their turkey in the faces of the girls. But Jo Ann's eyes glittered with joy as she saw the red head of Tommy Bassick. She uttered a shrill war cry and leaped forward, and after her came all the Wilmot Indians.

"Hey, there! Look out! Look out!" Tommy Bassick shouted, but that was all he had time to shout before he was tumbled head over heels, and for a few minutes there was one big tangle of turkey, Bassick, cranberries, Headmaster Benson, Ted Spence, turnips, Joe Dayton, butter, Jo Ann, walnuts, canned corn, Wilmot Indians and basket. Gradually Spenceville retreated.

"Come on!" Jo Ann said. "Gather up that stuff and put it in the basket -- we've got to take it to the Jooks. Hand me a blanket somebody! I'm all ripped."

"Dear me!" said Miss Orvis. "They shouldn't have attacked those boys so roughly. I do hope it does not establish a new school custom."

"Well," said Wicky, as the Wilmot Indians went homeward again, "we aren't having such a stupid day after all, are we, Jo Ann?"

"No," said Jo Ann. "Did you see Tommy Bassick run when I let go of his red hair?"

"It was a good fight," said Wicky.

"Yes," said Jo Ann. "It was peachy. We've got a lot to be thankful for, Wicky. We might have gone home, instead of being here, if the Pilgrims hadn't been thankful on a Thursday."



Saturday, October 07 at 1:13:19am USA Central
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