There he was, every day, standing outside his special learning class, watching as high school teenagers streamed the hall into our fourth period classes.
He was on the smallish side for a junior high student. His orange-red hair was thick and freckles covered his face. His green eyes were serious, almost mournful. He rarely smiled and spoke even less.
Ricky, as I learned was his name, was in the classroom across from my 10th grade home economics class. He always leaned against a locker, studying the other kids who were laughing, joking and hurrying. Something about him softened my heart to its very core, so I stopped daily to speak to him, trying for conversation.
He would shyly drop his head and murmur a word or two. I thought I was getting nowhere with him, but still, I persisted. Especially when I noticed his solemn eyes flashed a bit of light when he saw me coming, and he’d smile slightly.
Still, I didn’t know how Ricky felt about me until the last day before Christmas break that year. When I sauntered down the hall, toting my books, I didn’t see him. That was unusual. I went into class and set my things on one of the long tables where six of us sat. I picked up my knitting supplies and prepared for class to start.
My friend, Lisa, nudged me and gestured toward the door. There stood shy Ricky, grinning broadly and searching the room. I have thought often of the courage it took for him to come to that classroom of giggling girls. He was dressed in jeans and a red, flannel shirt. When he saw me, his smile spread wider. He hurried over and thrust toward me a rumpled, small, brown paper bag.
Puzzled, I looked at him, not understanding. Finally, he burst out with, “Merry Christmas!”
“Ricky!” I exclaimed. “Is this for me?”
His glee grew and he nodded his head. My heart melted. I opened the bag and reached in to pull out a rock about three inches in diameter that had been colored in uneven scribblings of green crayon. I didn’t understand.
“It’s a frog,” Ricky announced joyfully. “I made it for you.”
My eyes filled with tears, and I hugged the little boy, thanking him profusely for the gift. He was so proud and, from that day forward, there was no doubt that we had a friendship. I was, in fact, his only friend among the 800 students scattered between the six grades.
To this day, it remains my favorite Christmas gift. Every year when I think about it, I shed a few emotional tears and wonder where Ricky is and hope that he is doing okay.
I try to remind myself that this is the real spirit of Christmas – the simple gifts that come from the heart.
Another story I always remember was the year that I was 10, and we were practicing for the church Christmas pageant. Normally, through the year, we only had about 15 kids in our tiny church, but this expanded at Christmas when kids came to be in the program and to get a gift off the Christmas tree.
Regina was, Mama said, being “raised by the hair of her head” by her grandmother. She was wearing black patent loafers with a gold chain across the top. I thought they were the most beautiful shoes I’d ever seen.
Mama was sewing for me a red velvet skirt and vest to be my Christmas outfit. I begged for a pair of shoes like Regina’s.
“They’re so poor,” Mama replied. “There’s no tellin’ where them shoes come from.”
She managed to find a pair similar though not as pretty. Regina was very proud that someone had copied her.
These two stories always remind me how much we all truly have in common.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Let Me Tell You Something.” Visit rondarich.com to sign up for her weekly newsletter.