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 Act Of Kindness
IStory By Tomas Vasquez nthe12thyearofmylifeIwasinthe
6th grade, 1962-63. My teacher’s
name was Mrs. Gilbert, she was a tall Anglo woman, she applied heavy blush on her cheeks and wore dark red lipstick. She styled her auburn shoulder length wavy hair up into a 1940’s look. Her choice of dress was very conservative. Long, slightly tight dresses down to her ankles and hi-heeled black shoes. I could tell that she kept herself fit. At about 50 years of age, she looked strong and healthy. What really made her noticeable were her bright blue eyes.
Although she talked with a slight southern accent, her voice was strong and loud. When she spoke she was very articulate in her choice of words. Mrs. Gilbert was an outstanding teacher. She was respected and did not tolerate any interruptions what so ever, as I was soon to find out. When I walked into my 6th grade room that late October in 1963, I remember not owning a jacket or sweater, only a couple of shirts to keep me warm as possible. The one mile walk to and back from school was a cold reality. I went through this every day. I remember walking into school feeling the warmth of school heaters. I knew I was the poorest kid, for the fact that I was the only one that did not own a coat in the winter months. My teacher, Mrs. Gilbert noticed one day as I passed her desk. I noticed she was looking at my winter outfit, or lack of one. One day I was sitting at my desk and the class bully Israel Solis, who sat next to me kept finger poking me on my ribs. Mrs. Gilbert was writing something on the blackboard and was explaining a lesson at the same time. I looked at Israel and motioned him to stop but he kept on and on. All the kids sitting close by noticed Israel poking me. As Mrs. Gilbert wrote on the board, I let out a whimper when a bully hit me with his fist on my arm. I got very angry and was about to hit him back when Mrs. Gilbert turned around and saw me as the aggressor.
She was infuriated; her large blue eyes were focused on me. She grabbed me by both shoulders and shook me violently yelling in my face, “How dare you act up in my class, you should be ashamed of yourself, your always missing class and you have the nerve to do this?” All the while, she continued shaking me. I was on the verge of tears when she finally let me go. I could feel the stares of my classmates on me. I was so embarrassed and humiliated, especially knowing that the girls witnessed this. Pointing her long finger at my face she yelled once more, “Don’t you ever do that again, understand, young man?” I nodded my dizzy head up and down in agreement. My lips trembling, I sheepishly answered, “Yes ma’am.”
No one spoke up in my defense, and I was too scared to say anything in my own defense. I hung my head and never looked
up the rest of the day. I couldn’t wait to go home. I felt so humiliated. I was really mad at Israel, but I was afraid of him. All the boys in class were scared of him. He picked on every guy in our class. I hated him with a passion. Walking out of the classroom he passed me up, turned back to look at me, and had a smirk on his face.
As the month of November came, the weather was cold and I continued my routine of putting on two or three shirts to ward off the cold breezes as much as possible. Walking everyday in the cold weather, caused me to get sick several times because of my lack of proper winter wear. I missed quite a few days. Mrs. Gilbert pointed that out when she was shaking my frail skinny arms.
Then the horrible day of November 22, 1963 arrived. It was a very beautiful day. The weather was cool, yet not too cold. The skies were clear and blue. After lunch time we all walked back in perfect formation to our seats. I remember that infamous day as if it was today. At approximately 12:15 P.M., Mrs. Gilbert had just begun explaining a lesson to us.
An unexpected interruption occurred. Mrs. Whaley, another six grade teacher burst into our room. Almost in tears, this large heavyset woman of about 50 years of age approached Mrs. Gilbert and whispered something into her ear. Mrs. Gilbert’s blue eyes grew large as she put her hands over her mouth. Tears whaled up on her deep blue eyes and her face became noticeably flushed. Trying very hard to keep her composure, her voice quivered as she relayed the following devastating news, “Class... our President has been shot... in Dallas,... our... Governor, John Connally, has also been shot and died of his wounds.
At that time, 12:20 P.M. no one knew the actual true events of which had just begun to unravel in Dallas. She asked us all to please stand and say a prayer for them. I couldn’t believe my ears. After praying she left the room for several minutes. The entire class of students was quiet and whispering to one another about these horrible events taking place in Dallas, Texas.
Mrs. Gilbert walked into the classroom, now obviously crying, and dismissed the class early. As I turned around, I noticed Mrs. Gilbert’s grief. Tears of dark mascara rolling down her face. I ran all the way home not believing what had just transpired. What lie ahead was just the beginning of this terrible day in my young life. Tragedy would strike my family which would impact our lives for many years to come.
But not before the following events exfoliated. I burst into my parent’s bedroom, they were both glued to our old rental 19 inch black and white T.V. set. My dad was furious at what had happened in Dallas Texas He took long swallows of his beer while smoking his Camel cigarettes. He
ranted, hurling curse words at the person or person’s responsible for assassinating our president. After my mom calmed my dad down, he sat down at which time I approached him. I thought the Russians might attack us now that our President had been assassinated. After I expressed my fears to my dad, he assured me everything would be alright. My poor dad, he was visibly upset, angry and in a state of shock, he sent us all to bed early that night. My mom was concerned for him as he kept drinking his beer.
That night our lives went from bad to worse. Dad suffered a major stroke at the age of 42, which nearly killed him. Leaving him in a coma for several weeks. Emergency surgery saved his life. I was devastated, crying for days. I was very depressed not knowing if my dad would live or die. My mom told us, dad had a 50% chance to survive. My family and I suffered many hardships. Hunger, was our worst enemy. At that time there were not any food stamps. Our electricity got cut off on a regular basis for several days. Even our water got turned off several times. It would be a couple of years before dad would be well enough to come home. Our struggles continued.
About one week after dad’s stroke my mom made us go back to school. I didn’t want to see Mrs. Gilbert or that jerk bully, I was miserable. Walking through the cold wind made me shiver from head to toe, suddenly, it started to drizzle and with the wind chill factor, I was freezing my butt off. Not having a nice warm jacket didn’t help. As I entered the school hallway the much welcomed warmth of the schools heaters hit my freezing body. Slowly I walked into my classroom. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone. I kept my head cast down and didn’t utter a word all day. The final bell rang and I quickly walked out. I missed school the following day. It was just too cold to go. Staying indoors my house felt warm and secure. As I laid resting on my parent’s bed, I was startled by a knock on our front door. My mom was not in the room and my other siblings were in the back rooms. I got up from the bed and opened the bedroom door into the hallway entrance.
As I opened the front door, I nearly fainted, standing in front of me wearing a long thick winter coat, gloves and hat was Mrs. Gilbert. My jaw dropped but I managed to yell out, “Ma, come here, quick!” Mrs. Gilbert’s face had a look of concern. In a low tone of voice which I had never heard from her usual loud commanding instructions she said, “Thomas I’ve been worried about you.” I didn’t answer her and just stared at the floor. Then she said, “It’s very cold out here.” She then noticed my top shirt buttons undone. As she reached and placed her hand on my unbuttoned shirt, my mom suddenly appeared as Mrs. Gilbert continued buttoning my undone
Tomas Vasquez as a young boy
buttons of my shirt. My mom snapped at Mrs. Gilbert in a loud demanding voice. She said,“Keep your hands off my son, lady!” Mrs. Gilbert stopped immediately and stepped back onto the front porch. She apologized to my mom. “I didn’t mean to pry, it’s just that the cold air was hitting Thomas on his chest.” My mom pulled me back behind her. She asked my teacher, “Who are you?” “What do you want?” Mrs. Gilbert answered, “I’m Mrs. Gilbert, Thomas’s teacher, and I’m concerned about his attendance and how he’s been sick.” My mom answered, “He’ll be at school tomorrow, don’t worry.” Motioning me to go to my room, my mom stayed at the door and spoke with Mrs. Gilbert. When my teacher left, my mom turned around and scolded me, “Don’t you ever answer the door before looking out to see who it is.” “You understand Tom?” I nodded in agreement.
I went to my room and sat on my bed. I felt kind of bad for my teacher, but then again, I couldn’t forget what she had done to me in class. I even wondered if it wasn’t her guilty conscious bothering her for nearly shaking the life out of me. I can write about this now, but believe me at that moment I was very humiliated and I never told my mom. The next day I didn’t want to go to school, I was afraid Mrs. Gilbert may get after me for my mom’s actions the evening before.
Then I experienced something wonderful that day which will remain with me until the day I die. As I prayed that Mrs. Gilbert wouldn’t say anything to me, I kept a constant watch on the large clock above the blackboard. The bully John poked me on the side again, but this time I paid no attention to him. I kept very quite as I didn’t
Kindness- continued on page 13 November 2020

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