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A Gift I’ll Never Forget

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Angel trees.  Operation Christmas Child.  Food baskets.  Bicycles for Kids.  Rescue Mission.  It’s that time of year when we know about more opportunities to give than we have dollars in our pocket.  And oftentimes, we help people we never meet.

Mikey, I knew well.  His big brother, Steve, had been a student in my class.  Steve was Mikey’s caretaker, not only at school, but also at home if both brothers’ stories were true.

Steve was absent at least one day every two weeks.  Before the 8:00 morning bell rang, Mikey, a kindergartener, came to my 4th grade class door and stood quietly until I saw him.  I knew what he’d say before he said it.  “Grandma said to tell you that Steve is sick.”  The first few times I’d asked questions and determined that Steve’s sickness was a result of lack of sleep because he’d taken care of his sick father during the night or that Grandma needed Steve’s help at home.  “I’m suppose to take his work home after school,” Mikey said.  At 3:05, he’d wait beside my desk while I gathered Steve’s books and make-up work, and he always hugged my neck after I gave him a treat from my candy stash.

Steve and Mikey wore clean clothes.  Usually too big or too small.  Our school kept a closet stocked with children’s clothes for emergencies or anyone who needed something to wear.  Several times, the boys chose a pair of jeans and a shirt.

The next school year Mikey often detoured from his first grade classroom to my room after the 3:00 school bell rang.  He gave me a hug, and I gave him a candy treat.  Just before Christmas vacation break, I learned from his teacher while we were shopping together that Mikey wore two lightweight jackets on cold days.  Together she and I picked out the best looking, most in-style little boy’s blue coat in the store.  “Don’t tell Mikey where this came from,” I told his teacher as I handed my credit card to the clerk.

Two days later I sat at my school desk grading spelling papers while my students were in Music class.  Mikey marched into my classroom wearing his new coat, hood over his head.  “Look!” he said.  His grin showed every tooth and he stood six inches taller that he would’ve measured.  He held his arms high as if to catch a falling beach ball.

“Oh, Mikey.  What a good-looking coat!”  I said.  He walked close to me.

“Smell.  It’s new.  Nobody’s never wore it before.”  He turned his back to me.  I blabbered something, blinking tears away.  He looked me in the eye.  “Teacher said it’s just for me and blue is my favorite color.”

Of course, it was.  His teacher knew his favorite color and that a brand new coat would make a six-year-old boy walk taller and prouder.  Mikey probably did all his schoolwork better and quicker that day.  Because he wore a coat that no one else had even worn.

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