With turkeys getting stuffed and gussied up and pumpkin pies a-baking for The Really Big Dinner on Thursday, it’s easy to remember our blessings and lots of turkey sandwiches in the following days. But here’s a true story to put things in perspective.
It’s about teachers who see dozens of pupils every day and make a huge difference in the lives of some. Or about the importance of having institutions of higher learning and improving lives in rural areas. Or it’s a success story about kids who grow up in poverty but eventually move on to more rewarding professional lives. Or what abject poverty really looks like, close up.
This story begins during the years of the Great Depression, but I’m back now about 30 years ago in one of our rural communities, hearing an elderly, sort of dour retiree sharing his story with me about why he happened to move decades earlier to an urban area before returning home to his beautiful Valley for retirement.
This gentleman is telling me about his teenage years when he assuredly had not had any big turkey for dinner to slice up and put in sandwiches to carry in a lunchbox to school later. But as a kid, he is persisting in attending school, although many his age have dropped out already.
I recall my own years as a small child, when we are carrying our lunches to our own school and eating them in our little bunches of friends. Nothing fancy. No cafeteria. No free lunch. Often just a peanut butter sandwich and an apple, but we have enough. And then we are playing on the simple pieces of playground equipment like swings and teeter totters and playing tag until the bell rings.
It will not be very perspicacious for a concerned teacher in this teenaged fellow’s school to have noticed that he never eats lunch or that he never even carries a lunch to school. So, concerned about his welfare, one day the teacher asks him as gently as she can, why he brings no lunch.
Blurting out his response, he snaps, “I eat beans and tortillas for breakfast and I eat beans and tortillas for supper. Do you want me to bring beans and tortillas for lunch, too?”
I still recall the bitterness in his face and in his voice as he repeats to me the words that he spoke years and years earlier to his teacher.
Fortunately, the teacher does not add to his humiliation afterward by sneaking snacks on the sly to him for lunch, but she does tell him that he is such an excellent student that, if he continues to get his straight “A” grades until he graduates, she is going to personally recommend that he will get a scholarship to Adams State Normal School.
And that’s what happens. And after graduating at Adams State, he leaves the Valley to further his education, even attending a grad school, and he becomes a teacher and a school principal in Denver. And then he retires in the beautiful Valley, where he was telling me this true story when I first met him.