We didn’t grow up with much, at all. But somehow, despite your circumstances, life has a way of showing you that there is always someone worse off. I discovered this when I was in 3rd grade. Well, sort of.
In third grade our school was grossly over-crowded and some classes had to move to the “mobile units”. The mobiles (or mo-beels as we called them) were large trailers that were converted into classrooms. They were decent, but at times unbearable – hot in September and cold December. It got so cold that winter that a pipe burst in the bathroom and caused the entire mobile to flood.
A lovely learning environment!
There was no cafeteria, so we survived on cold “choke sandwiches” – sandwiches so dry and so thick that they could choke you! One fine day, my mother packed my lunch – a not so choke-y sandwich, some potato chips, etc. Nothing fancy, but good. I remember eating my lunch and seeing Danny Wilson behind me. He wasn’t eating. He just sat with his head on his hands on the desk. Why wasn’t Danny smiling? Why wasn’t he joking? Why wasn’t he eating?
One of my chips fell on the floor – the dirty mobile floor. I picked it up and thought I’d joke with Danny. I thought maybe it would cheer him up. So, I waved the chip in front of his face. I raised my eyebrows up and down to taunt him. I thought I was being pretty funny until Danny raised his head from his hands . . . and ate it.
Hadn’t he seen it fall on the floor?
Didn’t he know how dirty that floor was??
Did the teacher see me feed someone dirty-floor-food???
I froze for a second. I was mortified. I decided right then that if he hadn’t seen the chip fall, then I certainly wasn’t going to tell him!
Small as it was, that incident has been engraved in my memory for decades. Now, as I peel back the years as an adult, I see the scene a little differently. Danny wasn’t a snazzy dresser, his clothes were worn and sometimes too short, he didn’t keep a fresh haircut, and, he always had a runny nose. He was probably poor, like most of us.
But, the thought occurred to me that maybe he didn’t see the chip hit the floor. Maybe what he didn’t know, really didn’t hurt him. I mean, he did come to school the next day. Or maybe he thought that I was some arrogant little girl that thought so little of him that I would feed him food off the floor like a dog!?! Even though that was the farthest from the truth, that was the thought that hurt the most.
If he was as poor as me, he should have had Free Lunch, so I still didn’t understand. Nevertheless, I mentally chastised myself for my lack of humanity , for not offering him some of the good chips, and for not showing kindness. Today when I see students whose clothes somehow betray them, with frayed edges and dingy, warn sleeves, I think of Danny. When I see them hungrily hunch over lunch trays and devour the school lunch they “claim” they hate, I wonder how many of them are having their first or only meal of the day. Poverty and lack for children is real, whether we notice or not.
I have no clue where Danny is today. His name isn’t even really Danny. But, at 8 years old, poor as we were, “Danny Wilson” made me feel grateful for clean chips.
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