ENID, Okla. — This column was first published in the News & Eagle Dec. 24, 1991. I hope you enjoy it, whether you are reading it again or for the first time. I hope your Christmas is a memorable one.
This is a true story. The names have been changed by request.
A lady I know, we’ll call her Mrs. Jackson, was a young seventh-grade math teacher in a Midwestern state when she first met John.
John was a new student who had moved to town after the school year had already started. He was what some call a “floater,” a child whose family moves constantly from town to town, changing addresses only after wearing out their welcome with each city’s social service agencies.
John was short and terribly obese. He resembled a seventh-grade Oliver Hardy — his condition likely the result of a poor, starch-laden diet.
His clothes were ill-fitting and looked as if they were hand-me-downs or came from a thrift store or the Salvation Army.
John’s only pair of pants were men’s khakis, with the too-long legs rolled up and the too-big waistband perennially tucked up under his armpits.
His hair always looked like somebody had put a bowl over his head and chopped off what hung out from underneath.
John was rarely clean. His clothes, his skin and his fingernails were not intimately acquainted with soap and water.
School and John were not the best of friends. He was the type of child who craved attention, and whether the attention he received was negative or positive seemed to make no difference.
As a result, John was constantly in trouble for cutting up in class. He spent nearly as much time sitting out in the hall or in the principal’s office as he spent in the classroom
When he was in the classroom he didn’t listen, didn’t do his work. As a result, Mrs. Jackson was constantly on his case, and the two always were at odds.
The fall slipped into winter. Eventually it was the day before Christmas break.
The atmosphere in the school that day was festive, with the students, as well as their harried teachers, eager to begin their holiday vacations.
At the end of the class of which John was a member, the bell rang and the students hurried out.
As John left the room he threw something on Mrs. Jackson’s desk. “Here,” was all he said before he ran out into the crowded hallway.
When the room was empty of students, Mrs. Jackson picked up the object John had left behind.
It was a Christmas gift, wrapped in old, wrinkled paper that looked as if it had been retrieved from a trash heap.
No tape was used. The package was instead bound only with old string, the type normally used to tie up packages or to fly kites.
Mrs. Jackson carefully unwrapped the package and found inside a red scarf.
At one time it had been brand new and beautiful. But that time was long past.
Now it was old, faded and tattered. There were holes in it, a chunk was gone from the hem and it bore spots of what could only have been tar.
But coming from one who had absolutely nothing, that scarf meant everything to Mrs. Jackson. It could not have meant more had it been made of silk and laced with gold.
“It was probably the best Christmas present I ever got,” she said, to this day still unable to relate the story without getting teary-eyed.
John and his family moved away not long after Christmas, and Mrs. Jackson never heard from him again.
But she has never forgotten him and his selfless spirit of giving.
May that spirit live in us all in this holiest of seasons and in every season of the coming year.
Merry Christmas John, wherever you are. And the same to you all.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at email@example.com.