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Today's column is one of my favoite Thanksgiving stories. I hope you enjoy it.
Every year when I set the table for my Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners I think of him.
It was obvious he didn't want to be in my kitchen. He had been kicked out of every public and private school and home schooling was a last resort for his parents. I'm sure his folks were jumping for joy, and would have gladly paid double the price when they saw my announcement: 6-Week Cooking Class for Home Schoolers, because it would give them a three hour break during the day.
Ryan was tough looking, the kind of kid that would make you cross over to the other side of the street if you were out for a leisurely stroll. Ragged hair that always looked like it needed to be washed, baggy clothes and big oversized, steel-toed, curb-stomping boots. In his mind, I'm sure he was lookin' cool.
Eight, fifth grade students enrolled in my class, including Ryan. On our first day, when we did introductions, I asked each kid to tell me what they hoped to learn. Tough kid's response, "My parents made me come here, sounds stupid to me."
Okay, I could work with that. Maybe?
But Ryan would never give me an inch--it would have been giving in to the establishment to actually enjoy himself, even when he was eating a cream puff. "Well, what do you think? Do you like them?" I was hoping the fluffy white filling might force one crummy smile from him, but no...he was one tough cookie. Nevertheless, I genuinely liked the kid. I respected his pigheadedness. It reminded me of myself when I was his age.
Each student had kitchen assignments, but I didn't press Ryan to do much of anything, except I did enforce a "No Smoking" rule during the three hour class period. But I'd still catch him smoking outside when we'd take a break. I spoke to his parents about it, but they just shrugged their shoulders: "What can you do?"
Ryan wasn't disrupting the class and the other kids accepted his behavior for what it was--so I figured no real harm done. Tough boy would try to follow a recipe every now and then, but he moved so slowly--to emphasize his disgust in being there--that by the time he'd get some cookie batter mixed up we were out of time.
The finale of the six week cooking class was to prepare a holiday buffet for the kids' parents. Thanksgiving was only a couple of weeks away, so we decided to do a half-Thanksgiving, half-Christmas theme with the table decorations. All of the kids showed up for class early on the big day, even Ryan, which surprised me, because I wasn't sure he was going to show up at all, so I hadn't given him an assignment.
"Here, these are for the table," Ryan said, his eyes looking away from me, "I made them last night." And he handed me two wooden snowmen, two Christmas trees and a Pilgrim and Indian.
I was stunned, they were adorable. He'd hand carved and painted them, on all sides, so no matter where they sat on the buffet table you'd be able to see the detail of his work. You never know about people. I thought I was going to cry, but I could tell he didn't want me to make too big of a deal about it. His parents were as shocked as I'd been, when I pointed out what their son had made.
Two wooden Christmas trees, two snowmen, and an Indian and Pilgrim, sit on the shelf of my china closet, but every year on Thanksgiving and Christmas, I take them down, and put them in the center of my table and of course, I re-tell the story of the boy who made them for me.
*If you'd like to see a photo of my "treasures" go to: http://www.emailbookclub.com/photo/tabletop.html
Thanks for reading with me. It's so good to read with friends.
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FOR DUTY AND HONOR by Leo J. Maloney
* This month's Penguin Classics book is THE CHARTERHOUSE OF PARMA, by Stendhal. Start reading now and be sure to enter the drawing for your chance to win a Penguin tote bag: http://www.supportlibrary.com/bc/v.cfm?L=drclassqqxqR1AFEAEE9442&c=CLASSICS