Thursday, December 26, 2002

PTA 1980

On a weekday autumn night in 1980 a 37-year-old mother, her 5-year-old son having just entered the first grade, went to her first and last PTA meeting.

On the agenda for that evening, the Association for the elementary school was to decide how to spend a $1,000 surplus that it had somehow accumulated. In truth, the meeting would not so much “decide” as it would ratify a proposal on the table to buy $1 Christmas ornaments for each of the 900-plus students enrolled in grades K-6. Only the lone aforementioned mother stood up with an alternate suggestion: wouldn’t it be nice, she proposed, if we could use this surplus for something educational, such as a computer. This na├»ve proposal met not merely opposition, but open hostility, and the proposer was literally booed back to her seat, while the main proponent of the ornament plan proclaimed her a Scrooge, while saying that for some of the poor rural district’s students, the ornament might be the only present they received that Christmas. It is not known whether any other parents or teachers secretly approved of the dissident proposal, but if they did they kept their heterodoxy to themselves.

For the 23rd consecutive year, the Wright family 2002 Christmas decorations include a flat, perhaps 6-inch tall, gold-colored ornament depicting two pajama’ed young children hanging stockings on a mantle. The annual placement of this ornament has long been accompanied by a chuckle, with mock teary outbursts of, “This might be the only present some poor kids might get this year,” and with laughing speculation that such poor kids might have actually been happier with no presents as all. This ritual was repeated for nearly 20 years, but in the last few years the placing of the ornament has gone by without much comment (though new visitors are still guaranteed to hear the whole tale); still, however, the now 27-year-old recipient of this $1 gift still insists on having the ornament on the tree, and insists on placing it himself. And at some point the recipient came to realize that, were he able to save just one of the family’s traditional decorations, he would have little trouble choosing the long-derided bauble with which he will forever associate his mother’s fruitless defiance—a cheap gold-plated ornament with the prominent inscription: “P.T.A. – 1980.”

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