Story by Stephanie Ray Brown
After my 21 second graders completed reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, my students settled back in their seats.
But Duane remained standing. Duane was an exceptionally bright and lovable student. However his home life was far from perfect. His mother was a single parent who had so many problems, such as drinking, that she had difficulty being a good parent.
Duane and his three younger sisters were often taken out of the home until social services thought that it was safe for them to return. Thinking that maybe he had had a bad night, I walked over to him to see what was the matter.
As he looked up at me with his dark brown eyes, I could see his hurt and disappointment.
“Mrs. Brown, aren’t you going to open my present?”, he asked. “I put it on your desk.”
As I looked at my desk, all I could see was an avalanche of papers, stickers, and books. Seeing my puzzled look, Duane went to the front of the room and retrieved his gift from my desk. As he handed it to me, I noticed the wrapping paper was a napkin from the lunchroom. Carefully removing the napkin, my gift appeared to be a matchbox.
Although I had only been a teacher for three months, I had learned the important lesson of asking a child to explain a picture or, in this case, a gift, instead of disappointing him with a wrong guess. So I asked Duane to tell me about his gift.
First of all, Duane instructed that I had to use my imagination before opening my gift. He then began to tell me that this wasn’t really a matchbox but a jewelry box. Inside, if I would use my imagination, I would find two precious gems. As I opened my jewelry box, I was surprised by the sight and the smell of two beer caps. Duane informed me that instead of beer caps they were really two precious silver earrings. He had noticed that I never wore earrings and wanted me to have some pretty ones.
As my eyes began to tear, I was touched by his creativity and the thoughtfulness of Duane’s precious gift. Since birth, one of my ears was slightly deformed. Fearing that wearing earrings might draw attention to the ear, I never wore them. But how could I not wear these precious earrings given by this special child?
As I placed the earrings on my ears with masking tape, my class clapped, and Duane stood proudly beside me.
Every year after that, the matchbox remained on my desk. It reminded me of Duane’s act of kindness and of the lessons he taught me. Although his situation at home was not the best, Duane continued to see the good in life. The beer caps were an ugly reminder of some problems at home, but Duane had made them into something beautiful – two precious gems.
Although my ear was deformed, Duane still wanted me to have pretty earrings. Although Duane did not have much money, he still wanted to give. Whenever I see Duane’s gift on my desk, it encourages me. If I am having trouble reaching a student, I try to be like Duane and give that student a piece of my heart.
Out of the good heart of a second-grade boy, one teacher will always have a gift to treasure. School years come and go, but the memory of my matchbox gift never will fail to warm my heart, or be extinguished from my mind.