Need a gift for teacher? How about a chicken-bone necklace?

reporter interviewing state trooper

On the job in Indiana, interviewing a state trooper. Photo by Mary Patchett

My first reporting job was on the education beat in a small Indiana town, and near Christmastime I thought of how my mom used to puzzle over what to give my teachers as gifts. No gift cards then, and cold cash was frowned upon. On the list were gloves, scarves, candy, dusting powder and lotions  (most grade-school teachers were still women).

I wondered what the teachers’ reactions were, and the result was this story (and I wonder how this story would read if it were redone today!). Here it is, slightly abridged. Hope you enjoy:

Most teachers know, when they open a Christmas gift from a student, it’ll probably be something conventional, like gloves or after-shave.

But once in a while, a teacher gets a doozy of a present that brings back fond — or hilarious— memories for years and years.

Kindergarten teacher Susan R. can attest to that.

“Well, I got two batteries once,” she said. “They were new, and the child had wrapped them herself. That was nice.

“And once I got a piece of divinity candy. The little girl who gave it to me said it was special, because it had a surprise in it, and it did — a dirty copper penny.”

Another year, Mrs. R. was presented with a bright, shiny apple — with a large bite taken out of it.

Those are gifts you don’t soon forget. Still, the presents Mrs. R. says she remembers best are those the children make themselves.

“It’s a lot more fun for them, and I think they take more pride in a gift they make, even though it may not be the most glamorous thing.”

Unglamorous certainly describes one of her favorites.

“One little boy took a glass, like a jelly or cheese-spread glass, and covered it with balloons. He didn’t blow them up or anything, just scotch-taped them all over the glass. It’s a pencil holder, and I still have it.

“It’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s probably one of my favorites.”

Teachers agree a gift doesn’t have to be expensive or elaborate to be memorable.

“It bothers us when they spend money,” said social studies teacher Ellen S. “We so appreciate little handmade things.”

The gift that strikes a special chord in her memory is from a child who can no longer visit.

“I have a little ceramic bell a youngster made about 10 years ago. She was killed in a car wreck when she was in high school. Every time I see that bell, I think of her.”

Other gifts bring happier memories. “One year I got a beautiful afghan from a child who’d had a lot of trouble in class,” recalled fourth-grade teacher Michal H.

“Because I had taken a lot of time with the child, his grandmother made something special for me. It’s kind of appropriate to have something you’ll remember the child by.”

Another gift was memorable for a different reason.

“I got a really heavy bracelet made of nickels once. It made my arm sweat whenever I wore it, and of course I had to wear it a few times to make the child happy. Still, the children all mean so well.”

Sixth-grade teacher Dennis K. tops the nickel bracelet with a remarkable necklace he once received.

“The student had made the necklace out of chicken bones,” he recalled. “All the kids had gathered around the desk to see the present. I remember saying, “This is a nice one. What is it?’

“You know how it is. You have to show up with the present on at least once. I wore it once, but that was it.”

Another item worn only once, but always remembered, was given to sixth-grade teacher Connie T. from an admiring student.

“I had one boy who really liked me. He collected money from the other students for a class present, but he was going to select it.

“Well, he bought me a rhinestone tiara and crowned me ‘Queen of the School.’ I couldn’t believe it. It’s the last thing in the world you’d ever expect from anyone, especially in that kind of job.

“I wore it all day, and it kept slipping off. I really looked ludicrous, because I was also wearing a T-shirt two other students had given me, which said ‘Terrible T.’ on the back, and ‘Detroit Lions’ on the front.”

Still, it’s a present she never forgot, though the tiara is long gone.

“Nothing tops that gift,” she said. “Usually you get the cologne and that kind of thing. A tiara is something that doesn’t come along too often.”

(c) copyright Laura Groch 2015

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