A Gift I'll Never ForgetLINDA HUMMEL
He entered my life twenty years ago, leaning against the doorjamb of Room 202, where I taught fifth grade. He wore sneakers three sizes too large and checkered pants ripped at the knees.
as I’ll call him, though that was not his real name, made this undistinguished
entrance in the school of a quaint lakeside village known for its old money, white
colonial homes, and brass mailboxes.
He told me his last school had been in
a neighboring county. “We were pickin’ fruit,” he said matter-of-factly.
I suspected this friendly, scruffy, smiling boy from a migrant family had no idea
he had been thrown into a den of fifth-grade lions who had never before seen torn
pants. If he noticed snickering, he didn’t let on. There was no chip on his shoulder.
Twenty-five children eyed Daniel suspiciously until the kickball game that
afternoon. Then he led off the first inning with a home run. With it came a bit
of respect from the wardrobe critics of Room 202.
Next was Charles’s
turn. Charles was the least athletic, most overweight child in the history of
fifth grade. After his second strike, amid the rolled eyes and groans of the class,
Daniel edged up and spoke quietly to Charles’s dejected back. “Forget them, kid.
You can do it.”
Charles warmed, smiled, stood taller and promptly struck
out anyway. But at that precise moment, defying the social order of this jungle
he had entered, Daniel had gently begun to change things — and us.
By autumn’s end, we had all gravitated toward him. He taught us all kinds of lessons.
How to call a wild turkey. How to tell whether fruit is ripe before that first
bite. How to treat others, even Charles. Especially Charles. He never did use
our names, calling me “Miss” and the students “kid.”
The day before Christmas
vacation, the students always brought gifts for the teacher. It was a ritual —
opening each department-store box, surveying the expensive perfume or scarf or
leather wallet, and thanking the child.
That afternoon, Daniel walked
to my desk and bent close to my ear. “Our packing boxes came out last night,”
he said without emotion. “We’re leavin’ tomorrow.”
As I grasped the news,
my eyes filled with tears. He countered the awkward silence by telling me about
the move. Then, as I regained my composure, he pulled a gray rock from his pocket.
Deliberately and with great style, he pushed it gently across my desk.
I sensed that this was something remarkable, but all my practice with perfume
and silk had left me pitifully unprepared to respond. “It’s for you,” he said,
fixing his eyes on mine. “I polished it up special.”
I’ve never forgotten
Years have passed since then. Each Christmas my daughter
asks me to tell this story. It always begins after she has picked up the small
polished rock that sits on my desk and nestles herself in my lap. The first words
of the story never vary. “The last time I ever saw Daniel, he gave me this rock
as a gift and told me about his boxes. That was a long time ago, even before you
“He’s a grown-up now,” I finish. Together we wonder where
he is and what he has become.
“Someone good I bet,” my daughter says.
Then she adds, “Do the end of the story.”
I know what she wants to hear
— the lesson of love and caring learned by a teacher from a boy with nothing —
and everything — to give. A boy who lived out of boxes. I touch the rock, remembering.
“Hi, kid,” I say softly. “This is Miss. I hope you no longer need the packing
boxes. And Merry Christmas, wherever you are.”
Hummel "A Gift I'll Never Forget." from Stories
for a Teacher's Heart (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2002).
story originally appeared in Family Circle magazine and is used by permission
of the author.
Hummel has a BA in Education and two Master's Degrees, in Education and English.
Her teaching experience is in elementary school and college English. Before becoming
an Education Counselor at the Calvert School in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1997,
she worked as a freelance writer. Linda has three children, two of whom are in
Copyright © 2002 Linda Hummel