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Glass Half Full: Of pink pigs and Billy Houses

Ruth Glass
The Pink Pig adorns the Glass family Christmas tree ever year.
Courtesy photo |

Most families treasure certain holiday traditions and rituals, and ours is no exception. December 1 heralds the beginning of the season with a switch from everyday to Spode Christmas china and the first listening of Christmas music. Those dates are inviolate.

The time to decorate the tree usually varies about, but not the first ornament, the bestowing of which has become nearly sacrosanct in the Glass household.

The Pink Pig is not, in itself, a beautiful ornament. In fact, it’s a bit garish: blown glass, gaudily decorated, with absolutely nothing about it that suggests a traditional Christmas.

It was a gift, my very first year of teaching, from a kindergarten boy named Teddy Fonseca. Teddy was the only child of a single mother, who brought with him every day a combination of great warmth and some particular needs.

Among other things, he replaced the letter “F” at the beginning of any word with a “T.” Consequently, instead of “feeding the fish,” which he loved to do, Teddy would “teed the tish” most of the year, until his articulation fell into place.

His mother confided that Teddy had picked out the pink pig especially for me. Who knows what it was about that pig that inspired Teddy to think of his teacher, but I recognized a special gift when I received it, and The Pig became my own young children’s favorite.

Every year when I unpacked the box marked “Pink Pig,” we would remember Teddy and wonder what had become of him.

At some point in the decorating process, The Billy House emerges. I taught Billy Stone in sixth grade several years and many states away from Teddy.

In seventh grade, Billy encountered a very demanding math teacher who challenged his confidence, and I volunteered to tutor him.

Truth to tell, I enjoyed spending time with Billy, and he was wonderful with our two daughters. Under our Christmas tree that year I found a somewhat-crudely-but-ever-so-lovingly-wrapped package containing a table top ceramic house with a light inside.

Mr. Stone confided they had to look all over Washington, D.C., to find a gift that satisfied Billy.

Every teacher treasures the gifts that she receives over time; every teacher is reminded of the giver and the times shared — sometimes decades ago.

When I was a student, while I got along just fine with most of my teachers, it never occurred to me that they might actually remember who I was many years later. We do.

Teachers suffer with their students, celebrate with their students, and frequently worry about what becomes of them. We seldom forget a child; they live in our hearts.

About 10 years ago, I discovered that Teddy died of a heart attack when he was a young adult. My soul was shocked. I don’t know where Billy is. He should be 45 now. Both of them and hundreds of other students live with us every Christmas season.

Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.


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