A Christmas Present

It was the day that parents are invited to the High School to discuss their sons’ or daughters’ performance. As usual it was the parents of the Honors class that came in the greatest numbers. Some Regents track parents showed up as well. The parents of the students in trouble rarely showed themselves, at least where I was working. It’s not hard to find the correlation, but sometimes. . .

She came with determination. Her daughter finger waved me tentatively smiling at the door and disappeared. Mom was to carry the ball from there. She strode into the room, big momma, taking control of the situation. She sat down. “So, how’s she doing?” All business.

“Well, you know the honors class and she’s keeping up with the work. Intelligent kid you have there, but I don’t need to tell you.”

“Tell me.”

“Well her grades are fine, but I did want to ask you about the whispering. She whispers when she answers questions or presents in class. I wondered if you could tell me why that is. I’m having a hard time hearing what she has to say.”

“Oh yes, she always does that. It gets better later. But I want to be clear. I need you to tell me if she isn’t doing the work. Just tell me, and I will take care of it!.”

Somewhere in the hearing of those lines I understood. And my sense of discretion got lost in the urgency. A pause. I looked her in the eyes. “Mrs. __, she’s too big to hit!”

There were no more words exchanged. Jaw clenched, obviously furious, she stomped out of the room. Eventually I learned she had marched to the Principal’s office to demand her daughter be removed from my class at once. But as there were no other honors classes, no change was made, or at least none I was aware of.

It was my last year of teaching on Long Island. My father had died, mom was getting used to her new life, and I headed upstate to teach in colleges and the University. Ten years passed. I heard from a few of my students now and again. Saw a few too. But had heard no more about the incident.

Then one Christmas Day ten years later, the phone rang.

“Hi, Mr. Moss. I’m home now, visiting. Sitting next to me is my mother. I just received my doctorate from ____ (a top American University) and I . . . I just wanted you to know that that day, you know the day, that day changed my life.”

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