Do you remember first grade? I do, like it was yesterday. I had spent kindergarten in a small, one-room school, but now was headed for the big leagues.
As a total tomboy who lived in hand-me-down jeans from one of my brothers, I hated having to wear a dress — but in those days girls had to wear dresses to school. The fact that my mother made the dress was not a factor in my resistance as I knew there was no choice, but my father had gotten me a pair of cowboy boots. I lived in those boots unless I was running around barefoot. My mother tried to talk me out of the boots, but I wasn’t about to give in. Wearing a dress was enough already. I had no problem pulling on the boots, but always needed help getting them off.
My brothers and I walked to school, which meant going through empty lots, up a trashy alley and several more blocks to reach the school. (Nobody’s mom drove kids to school, and school buses had not yet been invented.) Somehow, on that walk, a small rock had fallen into one of my boots and was extremely painful, but tomboys don’t whine about being in pain. I didn’t know any of the other kids in first grade, but I fell in love with the beautiful, kind face of Miss Berry, the teacher. She showed us how to hang up our coats in the cloakroom, and I did not want to let anyone know how painful that rock was in my boot. I was such a stubborn little kid I made myself walk normally to my desk.
And then suddenly, when it was time for recess, I knew there was no way to run around with the other kids. Miss Berry was standing nearby on the playground. It took such courage to go to her and ask for help. “Lean on me, Beverly,” she said, as she emptied out that rock and put the boot back on my foot. She quietly asked if I had a regular pair of shoes because boots were not on the dress code for girls. Because of that teacher’s kindness, and much to my mother’s surprise, I wore my ugly old oxfords to school from then on.
The following day brightener did not show up until recently, but now at this holy time of the year, the subject of gratitude seems especially appropriate.
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A schoolteacher asked her class of first graders to draw a picture of something they were thankful for. She thought of how little these children from poor neighborhoods actually had to be thankful for. But she knew that most of them would draw pictures of turkeys or tables with food.
The teacher was taken aback with the picture Douglas handed in — a simple, childishly drawn hand. But whose hand? The class was captivated by the abstract image. “I think it must be the hand of God that brings us food,” said one child. “A farmer,” said another child, “because he grows the turkeys.”
Finally, when the others were at work, the teacher bent over Douglas’ desk and asked whose hand it was. “It’s your hand, Teacher,” he mumbled. She recalled that frequently at recess she had taken Douglas, a scrubby, forlorn child by the hand. She often did that with the children, but it meant so much to Douglas. Perhaps this was everyone’s thanksgiving, not for the material things given to us, but for the chance, in whatever small way, to give to others.
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Final thoughts: Today you could be talking to someone who is trying their best not to fall apart. So whatever you do, do it with kindness in your heart.
For some oddball reason, I’m still thinking of those hand-me-down overalls from my beloved brother Dan, who is no longer with us. The only way to hold up those pants was with an old rope. What an image!
Here’s wishing you a Happy Easter.