*An original work presented as a Christmas gift to my wife years ago.*
Amid the laughter and anticipation of the approaching holiday party, one boy was quieter than the others and a little uneasy when his classmates talked about exchanging small gifts later in the day. He started his day like many others, tired and un-refreshed from the brief night’s sleep. Like so many nights before, he read late into the night until all the sounds of the house grew quiet and the drumming sound of passing trafﬁc had ceased to be noticeable. He knew when he heard the distant whistle of the midnight freight train that he would be tired again in the morning. He couldn’t put the book down now, – he was at a really good part. He ﬁnally turned his light off when he heard his father’s car in the driveway. The bars closed at 2 am.
Morning came like any other and with the cacophony of his brother’s and sister’s preparations for school and the inevitable ﬁghting about who wore whose clothes, he awoke. The most immediate problem with getting up late was the need to jockey for bathroom time. Sisters had to be battled. If he timed things right, he could sneak in during the height of the clothes war and escape unnoticed. Today he was successful.
He retrieved his favorite jeans from the pile on the ﬂoor and made a cursory attempt to ﬁnd clean socks before stealing some from his father’s dresser. They were a little big, but you hardly noticed with high top sneakers. Mom was on the front line taking ﬁre from all sides in the clothes war for her failure to enforce the sovereign rights that each sister claimed for their blouses, skirts and sweaters. Surrounded in a cloud of smoke, with the ever-present cigarette between the tobacco stained ﬁngertips, her voice was now heard above the others. There was no attempt at negotiation, only accusation, recrimination and a strong verbal recounting of all past transgressions. Tears ﬂowed, voices were raised and doors slammed. There was no hope in asking his mom for a gift for a classmate. She had other problems to deal with, so he ﬂed to the school bus.
He liked school. Reading came easy to him, because it took him to places and times that were exciting and ﬁlled him with ideas. Writing was OK too, but he struggled with the discipline required to organize his thoughts — there were so many. Science though was his real love. He absorbed anything about dinosaurs, planets, animals and plant life. He was known to conduct chemistry experiments in the bathroom sink at home and could ﬁx a toaster or lamp with ease if he could ﬁnd the tools. But what he like most about school this year was his teacher.
She was calm and smelled almost like baby powder; only better. She smiled a lot and was easy to laugh. She didn’t seem to notice his uncombed hair or his rumpled clothes. She called on him often for answers in class, particularly about science and she seemed genuinely concerned when he had to be frequently sent to the principal’s office for ﬁghting on the playground.
This morning when all the students were clamoring with excitement about the afternoon party, she motioned for him to come to her desk. She pointed to a bag on the floor next to her and whispered to him to take it to his seat and put his name on it – to give as a gift during this afternoon’s party. He returned her smile with a sheepish grin, but could only nod his head in thanks. It was enough for both of them.
The day passed and the party came to a close with the ﬁnal bell. When his bus number was called, he paused in the doorway and nodded his thanks again and rushed to the bus. It was quiet at home as if all of the day’s energy had already been spent. Dad was still at work, Mom was starting dinner, and the sound of the television in the living room informed him that a truce had been struck between his sisters until another day. The book was where he left it — on the floor beside his bed. The placement of the bookmark mark told him that he had passed halfway. He thought he could ﬁnish a chapter before dinner.
by Kevin Deeny
**While a work of fiction inspired in Levittown, I have no doubt that similar moments of thoughtfulness and kindness occur in classrooms everywhere.**