It happened in this building. It was my first day in a new school. I was an awkward, chubby sixth-grader with a slight stammer. I didn't know anyone in the class and they were all staring at me. Everyone seemed to already have a best friend and they all grouped around and looked me over before the teacher entered the room. He read off the names of the class roster and assigned seats. I noticed a girl named Kathryn was absent. The teacher left a seat open for her if she came the next day. No one seemed to notice that my name was the same as the teacher's name. He was my father, but he paid no attention to me, nor did he introduce me as a new student. He told me later that he didn't want the other kids to think he favored me. Small chance of that, since he never called on me or let me do any of the special things that other teachers had always let me do.The other children had mostly been together since first grade at this rural school in southern Indiana. I felt so alone I could have cried. I wanted my old school and my old friends.
My mother, who would later open her own beauty shop in our new home, had curled my hair. I had on my very best Sunday clothes. I have never been so nervous in my life. Every eye in the room followed my every move. We said the pledge. We were given an assignment. I opened my new tablet and began to write with my new pencil. The teacher told us to stay busy, he'd be right back. He slipped from the room. closing the door. All was quiet. Again, 30 pairs of eyes watching my every move.
Suddenly, the door opened and Kathryn came in. It was her first day too, but her parents had dropped her off 30 min. late. She was skinny and dirty, with stringy hair and a dress that was way too small for her. I found out later that she was one of eleven children of a poor, welfare family who moved around from school to school as they looked for cheaper housing or got evicted. All eyes went to this strange, new girl. She faced the class and blushed. No teacher. No one said anything. I still remember feeling her pain as she stood there alone, dirty, and afraid, not knowing what to do.
Suddenly, and without any warning from myself, I sprang to my feet, pointed to the empty seat in the middle of the room and declared loudly, "That's your seat!" She smiled a little at me and hurried to her seat, ducking her head from the stares. She had no new pencil or tablet. Within a few minutes the teacher came back and it took him a few minutes to realize Kathryn had arrived. When he did, he called her up to his desk and got the vital information he needed. Maybe he gave her a pencil and paper, I don't remember. But I do remember how this frightened child saw someone who needed help more than she did. Later, the other kids accepted me and I formed lifelong friendships as we finished school and graduated together. It wasn't long until Kathryn moved away and had to do it all over again. I often wonder where she is now.
Marlis Day is the author of The Secret of Bailey's Chase and three Margo Brown Mysteries
You may visit her at her at http://wwwmarlisday.blogspot.com