T’was three weeks before Christmas, when all through the Ath, a thousand sat toiling over English and Math—browser tabs open to things they daren’t mention, in hopes their professors would grant them extensions.
Their spent heads were hung, dangling down from their necks, in thought of their lives, which they assumed utter wrecks. When on the Great Lawn, there arose such a clatter, they sprung from their desks to see who the hell interrupted quiet hours.
Away to the windows, they shot in a flash, tripped over each other in quite a mad dash. When, what to their wondering eyes should appear, but a secondhand Chevy and no reindeer. They all pushed and they shoved to see this great cause, and there on the lawn stood old Varner Claus.
“Now Heubeck! now, Merrick! now, Stimson and Bacon! On, Gamble! On, Conner, on Hooper! Awaken!” He called out to the past! he called out to the dead! He poured Goucher history all into their heads.
And then, in a sparkle, they heard in their minds, a million billion Goucher facts of all kinds. They knew in an instant of President Guth, of old Goucher Hall and of John Goucher’s youth.
“Oh, what a joke! Such a foul gift,” they all cried. And this hurt old Varner Claus a little inside.
So he went up to the roof and gave the following address:
“Attention, all. Hello. Yes. I’m not rhyming anymore. You’d be astonished how quickly it became such a chore. Er, anyway, I know you don’t like the gift I’ve given you all. That is, Goucher history forever in your brains. So, I’ll just tell you a story.”
“Oh jeez,” someone said.
“Philadelphia,” old Varner Claus continued, “Around 1850. John Van Meter is a young boy. His father has passed away, and his mother is left a widow at twenty-seven-years-old. With no husband, she and her two sons have little means. Out of necessity, she becomes a seamstress and a boarder. Every dime earned is saved for food, rent, and clothes and nothing more.
“Christmas time proves especially hard. ‘There must have been Christmases when her loving heart was wrung,’ said John Van Meter later in his life.
“But not always. Once, her heart was full. One Christmas, she managed to make a little extra. It wasn’t much, but it was something. The gift Van Meter received that Christmas was one he would cherish to the end of his life, a gift he ‘would not part with for its bulk in gold.’
It was a tiny china ornament, the trunk of a tree, at the foot of which sat a pond, on which swam a swan.
Of it, he once wrote:
‘After supper on Christmas Eve, my mother took a basket which I well remember and we went down Eighth Street…we went into a store. My brother was along and probably my aunt. There was a wonderful array of toys spread on shelves and counter and Tommy and myself were directed to select what we would like to have…the result of the selections was the swans for me and for Tommy, a very shaggy goat, also of china.
‘And now when on Christmas eve I see mothers humbly dressed bearing baskets and leading children by the hand, stopping and gazing into toy- filled windows with eager and wistful eyes I understand them — the mothers and the children— and comprehend the struggle in the mother’s heart between the Christmas spirit and the warnings of a slender purse. I also understand how little it takes to fill a child’s heart with joy.’”