It was Friday, the 23rd day of December in 1980. Several classes of sixth-grade students were enjoying the afternoon recess at Park School on the last day before dismissal for the Christmas vacation.
It was Friday, the 23rd day of December in 1980. Several classes of sixth-grade students were enjoying the afternoon recess at Park School on the last day before dismissal for the Christmas vacation. Some of the students were playing a very spirited game of “Fox and Geese,” as a very heavy snow was blanketing McPherson. Another group of students were rendering an impromptu presentation of “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen,” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” simultaneously.
Just outside the school on Elm Street, an elderly lady was trudging through the deep snow on the sidewalk entering Park School. Behind her, at a distance, was a tall, slim lad, clad in a black motorcycle jacket and black jeans. His hesitant steps, as he pushed the snow with his large dingo boots, gave indication of his hesitance to follow the elderly lady. After a brief verbal exchange, the two entered the front doors of the school.
There was a brief interval before my principal came to the playground to introduce me to my new student.
“Mr. Groves, I would like you to meet ‘Dusty,’ a new student to Park School from Los Angeles, California. Dusty will be in your class for the rest of the day, and in the second semester in the new year.”
I welcomed Dusty to Park School and introduced him to the students in my class, who had gathered around us. The students rushed over to him to welcome him, and with a hearty “all right,” they gave him a typical sixth-grade howdy-do!
But Dusty did not share the students’ enthusiasm. He backed away and shunned their welcome. After a brief, awkward silence, I invited him to join the students in their merry-making. Slowly, he turned and followed a group of boys to the “Fox and Goose” ring. A few minutes later there was a loud uproar of angry voices. I looked up to see Dusty in the center of the circle of very excited boys. Running pell-mell from the circle, they rushed over to me to inform me that Dusty had a knife and was threatening some students with it. Upon questioning what had happened, they told me someone had accidentally hit him with a snowball, after which he pulled the knife from his boot to defend himself. When I approached him, he yelled some obscenities to me, informing me he could “use” the knife if he needed to.
By this time, a large group of scared, curious students had gathered to see what was happening. My fellow teacher, who was sharing playground duty, escorted them into the school.
I turned to Dusty, who still clutched the large knife, and calmly informed him that he would not need to defend himself. I assured him that the snowball incident was an accident and that the student who threw it meant no harm. His body began to shudder and he sobbed pitifully. I asked him to give me the knife for “safekeeping.” He dropped it in the snow. His eyes were red from much crying and he was very scared. After I picked up the knife and gave it to another teacher, I proceeded to calm his fears. Suddenly, he began to relate his terror at the appearance of the large group of students. He told of his experiences at his Los Angeles school, where he had been threatened if he did not give his jacket to a large group of street bullies.
“I saved my lunch money to buy my knife so I could defend myself,” he tearfully recalled. “I didn’t have no choice.”
We gradually moved from the cold playground to the more friendly, warm school and to the counselor’s office. When Dusty finally felt more at ease and began to trust us, we went to my classroom, where the room mothers were serving hot chocolate and Christmas cookies. Several of his new classmates came over to invite Dusty to join in their party. Slowly, he accepted their invitation and, with a ravenous appetite, he consumed several cups of hot chocolate and many cookies.
It was time for the party all of the students were waiting for. Several of the students donned Santa Claus caps left over from our Christmas play, and with a hearty “ho ho!” they began to pass out gifts from the amply filled Christmas box. Dusty was suddenly overcome with sadness. He tearfully explained, “I ain’t got no gifts to share. My ma don’t want me no more and Granny ain’t got no money. What am I gonna do?”
We assured him that we didn’t expect him to have a gift to share. There would be enough for everyone.
Santa Claus came in to join the party, and much to the surprise of everyone, he had a beautiful food basket, some neat little matchbox cars, a bright red stocking cap and a pair of black leather gloves. He presented them to Dusty with an accompaniment of cheers from all in the room. Dusty, with a broad smile, accepted the gifts, but could not speak a work.
The students voted unanimously to give the little Christmas tree to Dusty and his Granny. Before they left the school room to begin their long-awaited Christmas vacation, they came to invite their new classmate to their homes for holiday fun.
Dusty and I packed his goodies into my little old red truck. After some exploration in the part of town where I thought his granny lived, we finally found her tumbledown house. The cold wind and snow swirled abut us as we walked up the decrepit front steps. Granny, in her faded sweater and dress, met us at the door.
“Why Dusty, where did you get that beautiful Christmas tree and that nice warm stocking cap?”
“With all these goodies Granny, we can have Christmas. All cuz my new teach and my class gave them to me,” Dusty explained with a big smile. “I can’t believe it.”
After many thank yous and good wishes from Dusty and his Granny, I walked back to my warm old truck. I knew beyond a doubt that my class and fellow teachers would never forget this Christmas. All because Dusty and his Granny came along to help us realize how fortunate we were. And, as Tiny Tim said in “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, God bless us, every one.