Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Christmas story from the grocery store

The woman in front of me in a bargain-store grocery line looked tired. A bit on the heavy side, she was dressed in saggy pants and a well-worn sweatshirt. Her hair was unkempt, her posture slumped. 

I made a quick judgement. Poor white trash.

I should know, at my advanced age, that you can NEVER judge a person by appearance. I learned that when teaching high school in my twenties. Not infrequently, the most thoughtful, creative, sensitive, interesting and bright students were also the weirdest looking.

I overheard the poor white trash lady telling the checker that she was exhausted and  soooo glad that she didn't have to go to work the next day (Saturday) and that she had two weeks off.

"Oh," I piped in."You're a teacher?"

Brilliant deduction, eh? I continued my strong line of questioning.  I was once a reporter, you know.

"What grade do you teach?" I inquired.

Another preconceived notion wormed into my brain; a woman with her appearance probably didn't have a college degree and taught in an unlicensed daycare or preschool. This was not a conscious thought, but there it was anyway.

But no.  She taught two high school classes and three junior high. (I didn't ask what subjects she taught. But by now I'm thinking physics or math.)

She said she works in a Title 1 school, which means a school where the majority of students are officially impoverished, qualifying for reduced or free lunch. Homelessness, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, meth use, hunger, lack of health and dental care, yards festering with rusted cars and crumbling appliances, skinny dogs and feral cats are not uncommon. And neither are feral kids.

Sadly, this type of poverty not unusual in rural Southern Oregon. Teachers who choose to work in impoverished communities are to be honored.

Now she has my full attention.

"I teach five classes a day, and yesterday I had a Christmas party for every class,' she said.

No wonder she was tired. But it gets more interesting.

Not only did she have five holiday parties, but each one was a tea party! I didn't get all the details, but she mentioned the porcelain tea cups and little sandwiches and such. And the fact that she had lots of volunteers helping out.

Imagine! I could hardly. Five hours of porcelain tea cups in the hands of adolescents.

In my twenties, I taught four years of high school English in Minnesota, and one year in a Southern Oregon middle school, the worst year of my life! Including 2002, the year I almost died of septic shock.

I told her I'd been a teacher and strongly preferred high school to junior high.

"Not me," said declared. "I like them both, but the younger kids are my favorites."

"That's great! "I enthused. "The junior high kids really need people who love them."

After a pause, she looked me the eye and said, "They do need that, and that's what I give them. I love them."

Her groceries were checked, and so were my misconceptions.

I thanked her for the vital work she's doing, and for loving young people who can be difficult to love.

She was headed toward the exit and flashed a bright smile as she rounded the corner toward the parking lot.

As she left the store with her overflowing cart, I thought she was the most beautiful person I'd met in ages.  A dedicated teacher with an overflowing heart.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to her, and to all teachers.

 And to you, people who read my blog. You can't imagine how much I appreciate you.

May 2018 be filled with insights, adventures, love, acts of kindness, and impromptu and enlightening conversations with strangers, no matter what they look like.

Let your little light shine.


  1. Thanks for this, Mary. It's true, everyone has a story, and you can't know what that story is until you connect. I taught at a Title I school for 25 years, and all you write is true. If it wasn't for the kids, my tenure would have been much shorter. Peace.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Kathy, and for all that you did for kids throughout your career.

  2. Beautiful Mary, thanks for sharing your life and stories, I always look forward to a new post.

    1. Thanks, Rose. Have a wonderful holiday season and happy healthy 2018! Thanks for your work with Women's Crisis Support Team!

  3. Thanks Mary, this is a heart warming story and reminds me not only of judgement, but the best lesson of compassion. Thank you. Happy holidays to you and your family. Chris Pondelick

    1. Thank you , Chris. Best to you and your family now and throughout 2018.

  4. Thank you. Made my day brighter. My son and daughter-in-law teach in a poverty ridden school. They are wonderful.

    1. Thanks, Dusty. I believe Lenny also taught in a title 1 school, or close to it. And the work he and you did with the after school program was amazing and helped a lot of kids. Thank you both!

  5. Thanks Mary what a lovely story. I've know some of those teachers and they are extraordinary.

  6. Thank you dear Mary, this story made me cry, for it is the heart of Jesus to love so profoundly, purely and so extravagantly! Wow, precious moments for sure.

  7. Thank goodness for all who are dedicated to our unfortunate youth. Heartbreaking to say the least. You never know what is beneath the exterior. Good lesson for all. Happy New year Mary! Joyce