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Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Elementary School (07/19/04)

TITLE: Being Different
By Marina Rojas


I vividly remember fourth grade at Eagle Mountain Elementary School in the southern California desert. Our little tiny elementary school was set up against the mountains, quite near the iron-ore mine where our fathers would head off to work every morning.

There was one teacher in particular that had caught our attention, Mrs. Anderson. We all noticed something different about her. Some of the girls said she was a freak. Others said she was a space alien. All I knew is that I did not want to ever be in her room. I had seen her hands. They were different. The fingers on her hand grew progressively smaller, looking like little plump balloons hanging at the end. I was glad she was not my teacher. Her hands made me scared.

My classroom teacher was Mrs. Moen. She was a total disciplinarian, rapping her students on the head in an instant with her ruler for any trespass of the classroom rules. Didn’t do your homework? Whap! Chewing gum? Whap! Talking in class? Whap! Most of us sat still in silence, full of terror of being on the receiving end of the old woman’s ruler.

One day we were told to bring a map of California to class. My Dad produced one from his glove compartment. I put it in my bicycle’s basket, making sure I didn’t forget it. Ever diligent against the wrath of the ruler, I was relieved to have the precious map in my possession.

In the morning, I rode to school as usual, picking up my friend Marilyn, then pedaling up the long street to school. As we parked our bikes in the bike racks, I picked up my notebook, then double-checked for the map. It wasn’t in the folder! I looked all around, panicked. I couldn’t find the map! I must have dropped it on my way to school! I thought of the consequences with the ruler. I began to cry.

Marilyn tried to talk me into going into school, to tell my teacher what happened. She thought Mrs. Moen might understand “just this once”. I knew different. She would be more than delighted to punish me in front of the whole class, since I had never been a source of any problem prior to this. I grabbed my bicycle holding on for dear life, wailing. Marilyn began to cry, too.

I felt someone touch my shoulder. I turned around. Oh no! It was her! The teacher with the ugly fingers was standing behind me. Being in trouble with my mean teacher, and now being touched by her was more than my little fourth grade heart could stand! “I want to die!”

“Oh, no, honey, no you don’t,” the finger-teacher’s voice was so soothing, “tell me, what’s wrong?” She ran the stubby fingers through my hair. Well, they feel just like regular fingers, I thought as she tried to calm me down. But they’re alien fingers; they will take me to Mars. She noticed me looking at her fingers.

“Aren’t these the strangest looking things?” She held up her fingers for me to peruse, “My fingers are this way because of a birth defect. Remember when we collected dimes on a card, for the March of Dimes?” I sniffed, nodding yes. I’d had a good time begging everyone for dimes to fill my card. “Well, they help find out how birth defects happen, so they can help other children not to have them.” She sighed, smiling, “They just didn’t have any medicine to help me, when I was a little girl.”

For the first time, I looked at her face. Her beautiful green eyes seem to sparkle with love. “So, why are you crying?” She asked.

I spilled my guts, telling her everything. Grabbing my hand with her stubby fingers, we walked over to her car. Getting into the glove box, she handed me a map. “When you’re done with this, return it to me. You never know when I’ll need it.” Winking, she squeezed my hand. I thought about how soft her little fingers were. Giving her a big hug, I ran to my classroom.

I did return her map. Eventually, Mrs. Anderson and me, we became good friends. She helped me to learn early that different can be good.

Member Comments
Member Date
Corinne Smelker 07/26/04
Good story Marina, I remember seeing a teacher I thought was ugly, (I wanted the young, pretty one). Turns out I was the lucky one! The older teacher was by far the more compassionate.
darlene hight07/26/04
This is a great story!
Angela Moore07/26/04
Very sweet story.
Lynda Lee Schab 07/26/04
Looks can definitely be deceiving! Just goes to prove the old saying, "don't judge a book by its cover."
Excellent article - wonderful lesson.
Blessings, Lynda Schab
Deborah Anderson07/26/04
Beautiful story. God bless you.
L.M. Lee07/26/04
I loved the "whaps!" I could hear the wood crack! ha!
John Hunt07/27/04
Very nice story. Good job.
Melanie Kerr 07/27/04
That was heart-warming - a real feel-good story. It was well written.
Marcell Billinghurst07/27/04
What a lovely story, full of fear but also of finding compassion and help from someone who was different, someone who was not to be feared but a friend in need.