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Band Concert in the Park

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I carried Ruth’s and my folding chairs across Dogwood Park to a flat grassy area in front of the performance pavilion.To keep my Grand interested, we needed to sit close to the action at the Community Band Concert.  I greeted my friends, Mary Dell and Robert, who were seated at a picnic table just a few feet behind our chairs.  I introduced Ruth to them and to their dog Button, a hospital therapy dog.  Button is an Australian Silken Terrier, is less than a foot tall and weighs only a few pounds.  She stood on the picnic table.  Ruth tentatively raised her hand to touch Button, and Mary Dell explained that Button likes to have her chest scratched.

Button sniffed Ruth’s hand and turned away.   My Grand and I settled into our chairs while the band members warmed up their instruments.  A cacophony of sound – Ruth put her hands over her ears and looked back at Button.  Mary Dell’s smile encouraged her to stand by Button.  With one finger, Ruth scratched Button’s chest and gently rubbed her back.

The concert began.  The band played  “The Star Spangled Banner” and Ruth and I stood, as did all the 250 people in the audience.  Then my Grand crawled into my lap and I tapped my toes to the rhythm of  “Good Ole Summertime.”

“Watch those trombones.  See how the musicians playing them made them long and then short?  That’s how a trombone makes different notes, like on our piano,” I told Ruth.  We teachers think we have to make every outing a learning experience.  Ruth quickly ate the cheese and cracker snack I’d brought, and she looked back over my shoulder at Button.

Mary Dell nodded her head and motioned with her fingers that it was okay for Ruth to see Button again.  Robert put a dog treat in Ruth’s hand and showed her how to hold her hand flat.  She laughed when Button’s tongue licked her hand and then her face.  Ruth went from that first tentative touch and scratching Button’s chest to giving her treats and laughing when Button licked her.

The music played on.  So much inspiring, upbeat, summertime music performed by the sixty musicians on stage.  Robert Jager masterfully directed each song.  I tapped my foot, applauded, and enjoyed and appreciated every note.  Especially the percussion instruments when the circus came to town.  And I sat alone.  My Grand sat on the picnic table bench between Mary Dell and Robert, and Button stood right in front of her.

The hour-long concert ended.  Ruth told her new friends good-bye, held my hand, and we walked toward our car.  “That music was weird,” Ruth said.

“Weird?” I said.  “It’s different from what we usually listen to.  Maybe not weird, but different.  I like band music.”

“Me, too.”

“So do you want to come to another concert?”

“When?  Will Button be there?”  Ruth asked.  Monday night, June 23, 7:30 p.m.  I don’t know if Button will be there.  The free concert will take us Around the World on a Musical Tour.  I’m sure we’ll have fun – enjoy music that’s not what we hear every day and greet old and new friends.  All outside, under the stars, in the park.

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It’s So Much

It’s Not Much

When a teacher dares to open her heart, a student crawls in, twisting the teacher’s heart.

            Annie didn’t own Crocs with Kibitz – those trendy plastic shoes with fancy button-like decorations—that most of my 4th grade students wore.  Her shoes were Wal-Mart white tennis shoes that the school counselor purchased.  Her jeans were fashionable and well worn or not so fashionable and almost new.  She had chosen two pairs from the box of donated clothes at school.

Everyday, Annie smelled like cigarettes.  Her hair wasn’t brushed.  She ate government-paid-free breakfast and lunch and didn’t understand why she couldn’t take home the leftover food that her classmates left on their cafeteria trays.

On the last school day before Christmas vacation, twenty-two excited students crowded around my desk.   They were excited and eager for me open their gifts.

“Open mine first!”

“Mama paid a lot for that fancy candle.  She said you’d better like it.”

“Mine has the biggest red bow.”

“It’s candy.  And I helped make it.

Annie sidled close beside me at my desk and put most of the discarded Christmas paper and bows in the trashcan.  But she clutched a crumpled piece of shiny red foil paper and a big gold bow tightly in her hands.

While I continued to open gifts, Annie asked to use the Scotch tape on my desk.  She took the paper, bow, and tape to a corner in our classroom.  Then she ran back to her desk and stuck something from inside it under her shirt.  The other students didn’t notice Annie.  In fact, they rarely noticed Annie.

I put on every gift of jewelry.  I marveled over a Christmas sweatshirt that was decorated with a sequined snowman, a hand crocheted Santa Claus, and a glittery angel.

I stashed gifts of food—honey, banana bread, chocolate candy—into a basket.  These were my family’s favorite teacher presents.

As the party ended, the children ate cupcakes decorated with chocolate frosting and green sprinkles.  They drank red fruit punch.  The girls clustered in groups of twos and threes.  The boys sat in one big group on the floor.

Annie wandered toward me as I set a cup of punch on my desk.  “Mrs. Ray,” she said. “I’ve got something for you.”  She held a gift tightly in her hands.

“Do you want me to open it now?”  I asked as I sat down.

She laid her gift, wrapped in wrinkled red foil paper and the gold bow bigger than the box, on my lap.  “Yes, but nobody else gets to see.”

As I torn away the many strips of tape, Annie stood so close that her body leaned against mine.  “It’s not much,” she said.

Inside a well-worn gold paper Avon box was a button.  A plastic gold coat button with tiny glistening rhinestones.

“Read the note,” Annie said.

To:  Mrs. Ray

                        I’m sorry, but the present isn’t that much it’s all I had.  I hope you enjoy it.

                        Merry Christmas

            Annie was wrong.  It was much.

It’s so much that every Christmas I wear that gold button, held by a safety pin through the button’s loop on the back, on my coat lapel.

It’s so much that it reminds me that giving a Christmas gift isn’t about the gift.

It’s so much that it reminds me why we celebrate Christmas.

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