Thursday, January 2, 2014

Tremaine and His Magic Fruit

 He first came to me after the semester had already started. He was small and shy and eager to learn. Wiry little glasses and a crooked little smile. It's never easy for kids to change schools in midstream, but Tremaine seemed to like our little group and fit right in. I assigned his seat with the boys on the front row near me on the end and tried to catch him up on what he'd missed. After a few days I noticed he didn't have a 3-ring binder for his music or his daily Gratitude Journal, so I quietly slipped him one of mine. The next day he opened every neatly organized section to show me his work. He was so proud to have a notebook like the others, colorfully labelled and perfectly perfect! He guarded that notebook like a cloak of jewels and smiled when he opened it to sing the first time.
Then something happened that changed the way I looked at Tremaine, the way I responded to Tremaine, the way the entire class looked at Tremaine. The only one unfazed was Tremaine. And that is why it was so remarkable. 

He would bound into class like a missionary on a mission, the first one into the room. But not like one of those braggy kids winning an imaginary race down the hall; Tremaine just wanted to get down to business. 
"Hey, Miss Mimi! Have you had a good day?" 
"It's better now that you're here, Tremaine."
"I'll fix the chairs for you, Miss Mimi. I don't know how they get so messy." And he would scurry around at lightning speed counting the rows and spacing them just right, each day arranging chairs for the rest of the choir before the last tardy bell even rang. And that wasn't all.
Tremaine had a knack for catching things. Mostly, things I dropped. Music that fell off the piano? No problem. Tremaine caught it before it hit the floor. 
Missing music stand for Maestra? 
It would magically appear in front of me before I even knew it was missing.
What happened to the cushions....? on my chair? Tremaine was fluffing before my ellipses stopped ellipsessssing.
Have you seen my.....thank you, Tremaine.....baton? I would find it waiting for me just behind the notebook of music he'd already opened and placed on the stand. I need the blue Expo marker. Found. In my hand faster than you can blink Beethoven. Someone missing page five? Just ask Tremaine. He'll find a copy for you and make extra packets too. Sometimes my coffee cup or water bottle moved with me from podium to piano and back again. Magic? Nope. Tremaine. Quietly. Unobtrusively. Tremaine. 
I never asked him to do those things. He just did them. 
The only time I would stop for a second to acknowledge his logistical subterfuge was from the occasional feel of one little arm around my waist and two little pats on my back, as if to say I love you Miss Mimi. I learned to pat his head between the beats and give a soft lean into his hug so as not to disturb his remarkable rhythm for catching things - the kind of kid who could sense if you were having a bad day. Somehow he knew between the measures and missing musical artifacts that Maestra could use a little helper.   Tremaine never missed a beat you see, even when he wasn't singing.
While all those things are admirable and wonderful about Tremaine, they don't hold a candle to this. 

His class went to lunch just before choir time, so perhaps part of the reason he was so anxious to get to class early (I later learned) was that he was illegally (according to school rules) carrying contraband in his right pants pocket right out of the cafeteria.  I began to find pieces of fruit on my desk. First it was a banana. Then another...and another..and another. Every single day they kept coming.  Bananas and apples and sometimes an orange. I never told the rule keepers.  To this day I have kept his secret. It was his lunch and purchased with his money.

"Oh! A banana!" I would squeal with delight, at first, while the fruit giver pretended not to hear me as he arranged the chairs rather noisily. And then one day before anyone else arrived, he came around to the side of my desk, opened up his perfectly beautiful notebook to reveal a hidden - and rather dark - squishy mushy banana from his lunch tray. That banana had seen better days I'll tell ya. But who cares? "Potassium!!" I squealed. "I will have potassium for my afternoon snack thanks to you, Tremaine. I am so excited! Thank you!" 

Now you might think that a teacher in all good conscience should refuse to take food from a kid's lunch tray. After all, he surely needed the nutrition himself. And I did ask him one day if he just didn't like bananas....he never answered, just kept bringing them...then it would change to apples and oranges and back to banana, so I knew it wasn't that he didn't like them. 

 It meant more to him to give them to me than to keep them for himself.
That is a gift I wouldn't dream of taking away from him.

 Maybe it was his unspoken way of paying for the notebook. Maybe it was just his unspoken way. 
But it was his quiet consistency that astounded me and the humility with which he gave his best gifts. Every day, every day, every day without fail. 

Today I found a sad little face waiting outside my door with his mother at the end of the day. And I knew when I saw the dreaded white transfer paper that for whatever reason the Universe had chosen, today was Tremaine's last day.  And he was going whether I liked it or not. I joked about stowing him away in my car trunk so he could go home with me and not have to transfer, but he just looked down at the floor. He was pale. And unusually sad. Woefully awkward. I didn't understand how one Christmas break could have changed him so.

"He has to move because his dad died this week," said his mother. "Just after Christmas. It was unexpected.  He was only 37. Tremaine has to move back in with me and go to school in another town," she said.

And just like the quiet ways of the silent little fruit giver in front of me, he tried his best not to cry. And he didn't. Not even when I hugged him goodbye. I don't know why I'm writing about things I never write about in public tonight, or why my heart wants to break, why I'm angry, or how my brain doesn't understand how any of this could happen to such a wonderful child. But I do know that sometimes we are privy to witness and receive of kindnesses that will stay with us long after the kindness is mushy and stale. 
Mine came in the form of smuggled in snacks for a hug-starved teacher - who just happened to need to see more than anything that such kindnesses still exist. 

I wish the world was full of Tremaines.
I hope he remembers to take his notebook.

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Janet White said...

And now I have tears in my eyes. So many children deal with tragedies with such quiet strength.

Mimi Lenox said...

He is a remarkable little guy. I am going to miss him terribly.

*But maybe I'll see him around at the grocery store...perhaps at the fruit stand? Stranger things have happened.*

Judy at Peace Be With You said...

What a stunning, touching, heartwarming story. I hope life treats Tremaine kindly. Thank you for sharing this marvelous story.

Michelle said...

Blessings to Tremaine, wherever he is now. I'm betting he grew up awesome.

My cousin Frank was a Tremaine. He'd do the ironing for my mom, when they were on holiday with us. He was seven. First up, sitting in the window with my dog. The two of them side by side, arms/paws around each other as they watched the sun rise.

Frank went on to become a rescue/fireman in Canada. He was a sunshine soul. He died in a snowmobile accident on Valentine's day. He was 24. I've never felt quite the same about Valentine, but I don't begrudge the angels taking back one of their own.

speedyrabbit said...

I hope Life doesn't ruin him and that he remains a kind and thoughtful person as he grows up,very sad to lose loved ones like that,xx Rachel

Gemma Wiseman said...

It is these special students that make being a teacher a treasured life. We have our stresses and frustrations by the truck load, but these special students carry us on. Tremaine is a little earth angel, I am sure. I am also sure that you will meet him again.

Mimi Lenox said...

Now I have tears for you and Frank. Surely an angel. They always leave a mark that never disappears.

Mimi Lenox said...

Judy - if kindnesses are repaid in kind, he will be just fine.

Mimi Lenox said...

Speedy - I wish he could have stayed with us. It was one more loss he didn't need.

Mimi Lenox said...

Gemma - I do believe I will.

Jesse said...

Phenomenal and all too familiar story, with a distinctly Southern flavor! As a Special Education teacher in a highly transient school district, I have always often felt this pain. Yet as I read your tale, I somehow sense that you were just a bit more heartbroken as this sad series of events unfolded.

Akelamalu said...

I'm sure Tremaine will write just as fondly about his time spent with you. xx

Happy New Year Mimi xx

Sue said...

this is a sad story, sad that Tremaine lost his father, sad that he had to leave a class he loved...but I can't help but think how much sadder it could have been, that he might not have had a mother who wanted him back, that he might have ended up in the foster care system...

The Gal Herself said...

How sad, for you and Tremaine, both! I hope your paths cross again. I'm sure the impact you made on him was as great as the one he made on you, and you two deserve that.

Mimi Lenox said...

Jesse - What you do is so honorable. Your students are lucky to have such a creative soul as their teacher! I'm talking about that book of yours! Yes, I am! Majorly impressed. You clearly understand the heart and language of kids.

Thanks for reading.

Mimi Lenox said...

Akelamalu - I hope so. I kinda need one of those hugs right now.

Mimi Lenox said...

Michelle - I know I wrote a comment back to you and it is gone or maybe I said it via email not sure.. I'm sorry for your loss and that the world lost a man like Frank. Angels, yes.

Mimi Lenox said...

Sue - You're right. Thanks for putting it into another perspective for me.

Mimi Lenox said...

Gal - Those accidental impacts that sneak up on ya are the strongest and most profound.

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