Martha

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“Martha”

 

By Jerry Stewart

 

 

What’s the best time, the best year to be a child?  I don’t know that, but I do believe the most difficult year to be a child is when you’re in the seventh grade.

Think about it.  You’re just becoming a teenager.  If you’re a boy, your voice is changing.  You’re becoming awkward and clumsy.  You never liked girls, but now it’s even worse – now they scare you to death.  And what you want most of all is to not do anything to draw attention to or embarrass yourself.

Her name was, well, let’s just say her name was Martha.  She sat next to me in Mr. Baxter’s 7th grade math class.  Martha wasn’t pretty; she wasn’t even cute.  In fact, some made fun of her just because of the way she looked.  I’ll never forget that day.  It was a warm Texas day.  We had all just returned to school from our spring break and the school photographer had just delivered our individual school pictures.

Now, the drill went like this. As soon as you got your pictures, start laughing, laugh hard, fall out of your chair laughing at your picture.  Then, if someone else starts laughing at your picture, they won’t be laughing at you, they’ll be laughing with you.

We were all looking at our pictures, falling out of our chairs – everybody except Martha.  She just sat there cautiously peeking into her packet, until some kid in the back of the room said, “Hey Martha, let’s see your picture.”  At first, she didn’t want to do it, but then she slipped her picture out of the packet, and somebody began to laugh.  And then another, and another, until, finally, everybody in the room was laughing at Martha’s picture, even me.

Then the bell rang and we all headed for the door – everybody except Martha. As I looked back, I saw her still sitting in her chair, with her head down, crying, as Mr. Baxter tried to console her.  “Oh brother, what had we done.”

I never thought about it again much until that next day.  Martha wasn’t in her seat next to me, and I knew why she wasn’t there.  After class, as we all ran for the door, Mr. Baxter told me to stay behind.  After the room had emptied, he said, “I thought it was terrible what you kids did to Martha yesterday”.  At first, I tried to act like I didn’t know what he was talking about, but I knew.

He continued.  “You know Martha’s got a problem with the way she looks, and whatever confidence she did have in herself, now it’s all gone.  You kids destroyed it.  And what I want to know is what are you going to do about it?”

I sputtered out, “Me? Why me? I wasn’t the only one laughing.”

He just sat there for a minute, looking at me.  “You can go.”

As I walked out, in my mind I was still asking the question, “Why me?”  I carried that question around for the next few days. Martha did return to class, sitting low in her chair, always looking like she was just about ready to cry.  Why did we ever laugh? I felt sorry for my part in that cruel incident, but I still didn’t know what I had to do – why I had to fix it.  But I thought, “What do people do to make somebody feel better?”  Then I got it – a card – like a sympathy card.  But it would have to be anonymous.  No one could know – I was too scared.

That day after school I broke off from the other kids and made my way to the local drug store.  I had to be careful – no one could see me buying a card.  As I cautiously made my way down the aisles of the store, I saw it – a table full of cards marked “75% off”.  I made my move, but there were so many to choose from.  As I tried to decide which card would be the right one, I heard the voices of a group of kids just coming in – I had to make a run for it.  I grabbed up the most colorful card I could see, laid down my money, and ran down the street toward my home.  Then, when I was at a safe distance, no kids around, I peeked into that bag and pulled out the card.  It said “Merry Christmas”.

Merry Christmas?  Merry Christmas?  Its May. Christmas was five months ago!  My heart sunk.  I had just bought a Christmas card in May.  Brother!  Well, I wasn’t going back in the store.  Somehow this belated Christmas card would have to work.

So, that next day, before anyone came into Mr. Baxter’s class, I snuck that card in, laid it on Martha’s desk, and ran back out the door.  As the class bell rang, I purposefully waited until the last minute to come in so no one would suspect me.  When I did, there sat Martha holding the envelope, looking sick – she was afraid to look inside.  After all, it might just be another cruel trick.  But the other kids egged her on, “Martha, open the card”.  I thought to myself, Martha just open the card”.  Finally, she did, as a number of the kids gathered around.

“Merry Christmas?”  She opened to the inside, “From – A Friend”.  All the girls began to say, “Oooh Martha, you’ve got a secret friend, a secret admirer.”  And suddenly something amazing happened.  Martha no longer slumped down in her chair.  She sat up straight and tall, she looked all the girls right in the eye, and – she smiled, she smiled a big smile.

For the next few minutes all the girls fussed over Martha, talking with her as she proudly showed off the card.  Me? I looked straight ahead.  No one could know it was me.  I was too embarrassed.  But, as I looked at Mr. Baxter, there he was, looking right back at me.  I could tell by his face – he knew.  He knew.  But he never said a word.  He just smiled.

Over the next few weeks, things calmed down in Mr. Baxter’s 7th grade math class, but something had changed.  Someone had changed – Martha.  She was different.  From that day on, the other girls, even some of the boys, talked to her.  She smiled, even laughed – she was happy.

Soon, school for that year was over, and I never saw Martha again.  But I learned something that difficult 13th year of my life.  How easily we can hurt – how easily we can heal.  Sometimes with something as simple as a very old Christmas Card.

 

God Bless You – See you next week!

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