Roses from a Mother

Submitted into Contest #86 in response to: Write a story where flowers play a central role.... view prompt


Creative Nonfiction Middle School

I went to meet William at his school, before he was approved to move into my class. Quite large for his age, he seemed to be immature, and perhaps, of limited cognitive potential. He had been placed in a classroom in a separate school for what was then labelled as “trainable mentally retarded.” My classroom was for students classified, at that time, as Educable Mentally Retarded, a step up from William’s placement .

I went to his classroom to meet him him. He was head and shoulders taller than his any of his classmates, and clearly uncomfortable folding his lanky body into the primary-aged chairs spread around his classroom. 

I pulled up a chair next to William and tried to engage him in a conversation. He ignored me. I persevered. He belched. He looked the other way. He stuck his fingers in his ears. When he reached out to, perhaps, bother one of his classmates, I took him by the hand. I asked if he’d come to a table with bigger chairs, where we could talk. 

He moved over to the table. For the next ten minutes I continued to try to start a conversation with him. He responded the food,, I offered, but was unwilling to work for reinforcers. He told me his name, but nothing else. By the end of our time, he sat quietly, listening to my jokes. 

i called William’s mother. She believed he had been misplaced in his current room. “He has way more smarts than the those other children in his class,” she told me. “When he is at home he can do all kinds of chores. He washes dishes, pulls up weeds, even feeds the chickens. He wants to help me.”

William and his mother lived together in a two-room shack down one dirt road straight through about three forks and on into their modest homestead. They had no running water, no electricity. They grew a small garden with tomatoes, onions, beans and potatoes. They had a henhouse attached to one side of their house, and kept six hens there.

His mother explained, “William’s poppa left several years ago. He was tired of being a Daddy. And William, catching onto this reluctance, drove him off. Drunk all the time, never willing to help out much, I didna’ try to stop Daddy from leaving.”

“So it is just you, William and the chickens?” I went on, needing more information

“Oh, and Daisy, our hound!”

“Did you ever think William was ‘slow’”? I asked.

“He seemed OK to me. He started school in a kindergarten near our house. But, he got into trouble early on. He was picked on by the other children, and they threatened him. He refused to follow his teacher’s suggestions. Pretty soon they asked to test him. I said, ‘Sure,’ snd he ended up in that retard school.”

“And what did you do?” 

“Nothin’ I didn’t know what to do.”

“How long has he been at that school?”

“Five, six years, I guess.”

“Why are you looking for something else now?”

“They tell me he’s unhappy. And, he sure ain’t learned nothin’ in all the time he was there!”

“What has he done in his classroom?”

“Nothin’ at all. His good days are when he doesn’t pester anyone else.”

I had my self-contained class in the Middle School, fifteen miles from William’s home. With twelve students currently enrolled, I was at my maximum. Taking in an extra student, who could be problematic did not seem like an easy option. But, if he were truly misplaced, it was time to get him into a less restrictive placement.

Willam’s test scores indicated nothing. Every time they tried to test him, they got nothing from him. His current teacher was enthusiastic about the move. “He’s a neat kid with spunk. That, alone, makes him seem like he’s misplaced!

We arranged for William to come to my classroom for a trial period.

My students greeted him warmly. “Just do what Mrs. Metlay tells you, and this is a cool classroom.”

Since William was the tallest student in my room, we needed to look around the school for a desk the right height. 

William sat in that desk and looked around. He tried to be silly, but my other students gave him evil looks, and within a day he was trying to complete the work I assigned him. I enlisted my other students to help him with his assignments, since they were way ahead of him, academically. He collaborated with them on his “morning work” packet, learned his alphabet and how to write his name.

Several weeks after William started in my class, I sent a note to his mother with him,

“Dear Mrs. Platt,

  I want to tell you what a joy it has been to have William in my class. He cooperates with the classroom routine, completing all his assignments. He gets along with the other students. He is truly trying to learn, and is succeeding. I love working with him on his assignments.”


Mrs. Metlay

I read William the note, knowing that he’d be much more likely to give it to his mother if he knew it was good. He glowed.

The next day, I got a phone call from his mother. I dashed to the office to take it. Breathlessly, she asked if I were in the school building. I said I was.

Ten minutes later a floral delivery truck arrived at the school. There was a box with a dozen long-stem roses and a ‘Thank you” card, signed by Mrs. Platt. I walked proudly down the hallway of my building, carrying my flowers.

At the end of the day Mrs. Platt called. “Please tell me exactly what happened when you got the flowers. what did you say? What did you do?You have to know I have never sent anyone flowers before. And I want to be sure I share in the experience. And, I have never before gotten a positive note from any school William ever went to.”

March 24, 2021 00:04

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