By Carolyn Bahm
Students are the real apples of a teacher’s eye, but educators see plenty of the beloved red fruit in school life. “Bringing an apple to teacher” is a universal theme for classroom gifts.
Three Northeast Mississippi teachers with fruitful apple collections explain their passion for this sweet theme and how the gifts evoke even sweeter student memories.
Leading the Apple Dumpling gang
New kindergarteners in Alisa Sides’ class never have trouble finding her classroom at Saltillo Elementary School. They just ask for directions to the “Apple Dumpling Room.”
Sides, a teacher for seven years, explained that each classroom has a different theme to give each room a distinct identity. She’s still glad she chose apples.
“Apples are something that God makes and nobody has any control over, and they’re all different,” Sides said.
Like most teachers, she gets mementos from students and fellow teachers on special days. Most gifts have some link to her favorite fruit.
“I think everybody identifies apples with teachers,” Sides said. “It’s amazing all the different things you can find with apples.”
Her collection includes more than 70 apple-related items, ranging from an apple-shaped table to a step stool, bird feeders, a bath sponge and even an apple-shaped insect-repellant candle. She has so many goodies, in fact, that she has to box some up for storage and then rotate items on display occasionally.
Handmade or store-bought, new or old it makes no difference in the present’s value, she said.
Once a child who had no money to buy a present handed her his own used videotape as a gift. She asked if he really wanted to do that, and he was positive. Sides said he explained, “This way all your children can enjoy it.” The movie remains a precious gift in her collection.
At the start of the school year, her class does a unit on apples: They cook apple dumplings, make applesauce and drink apple cider from a Tennessee orchard, then top off the festivities by watching the Disney movie, “The Apple Dumpling Gang.” They also learn the classroom’s riddle: What’s a house that’s red and has no windows or doors, but there’s a star inside?
An apple, Sides said. She cut open an apple, slicing it horizontally instead of the usual vertical slices. The seed pockets inside make a distinct star shape.
All the gifts she receives are heartwarming, she said, but they’re not what she loves best. “The most precious collection that I have are the memories that the 125+ Apple Dumplings that I have taught have given me.”
The core issue: Having a ball with apples
Twenty-five years of gifts from grateful students and parents have filled Carole Ball’s home and classroom with mementos. Today, she teaches the fourth grade at Thomas Street Elementary School in Tupelo, and she has an ever-expanding apple collection.
Gifts have included decorative felt apples, potholders, candles, erasers, earrings, Christmas tree ornaments, a trio of nesting apple containers, a spongy “stress apple” to squeeze on tough days and two small jewelry boxes from her daughter and husband. One child gave her a basket of dried apple slices. Another teacher presented her with a brass apple bell. Her husband had an artist friend draw a boy and girl with the saying, “Love is … when she’s the apple of your eye.”
Having a collection makes it easy for others to dream up gift ideas, she said. “And even if you have several things the same, it doesn’t really matter if you get another if you’re collecting.”
On the first day of school each year, Ball returns the favor by bringing apples for her students to enjoy. Her own favorite is the Red Delicious, she said.
Other treasures in Ball’s collection include cross-stitched pictures, stenciled pictures, a wire potpourri holder and an apple cookbook. She also has windchimes, cookie jars, sweatshirts, sleep shirts and even an apple-shaped magnifying glass to wear on a gold chain. Her most fragile item, a white porcelain apple painted with flowers, came from China.
“I like handmade things and apples that fit in with my collection,” she said, “but I like whatever a child gives me because it’s from his heart or his mother’s heart. It has a great deal of meaning.”
A stem-winder of a collection
– Apples are a daily slice of life for Patsy Permenter, who teaches a multi-age class of first- and second-graders at Church Street Elementary School in Tupelo.
After eight years as an educator, she found her home overflowing with apples, apples, apples. She redecorated her kitchen, using apple wallpaper and creating the place to display her apple trinkets.
One cherished gift is not apple-themed, but it’s still the apple of her eye. Permenter treasures her “Pug Pot,” a flowerpot painted yellow with red ladybugs. Her students were making them for Mother’s Day a couple of years ago, and one boy insisted on making two. He surprised her with the extra one. Today, daffodils fill her flowerpot and still remind her of LeDerick “Pug” McIntosh, now a third-grader.
Other favorites include an apple suncatcher that hangs in her kitchen window, reminding her of a former first-grader, Henry Stern. Wooden apple carvings are a reminder of another student gift giver, Julie Lansphere. Over the years, Permenter also has collected apple spoon rests, glass salad bowls, plaques and knickknacks.
A perennial favorite is also anything homemade by the child.
“The little gifts that come from the heart, like bookmarks they’ve made, are wonderful,” Permenter said. “That’s really special stuff that you can’t even order.”
Other gift stories
Not all memorable teachers’ gifts fit into the apple mold:
– That sinking feeling: Wilma Earnest, or “Miss Wilma,” enjoys the special gifts and memories she amassed during 20 years of teaching at Kiddie College Kindergarten in Okolona. The little ones were a lively crew, she admitted.
“I had to have the commode taken up three times to retrieve toys,” she said.
Favorite gifts from her students often included homemade gifts, candy, jams and jellies that her whole family could relish.
Her most unusual present wasn’t the proverbial “everything but the kitchen sink” … it was the bathroom one. Earlier in the year, one child had dropped a metal toy truck while washing his hands in the bathroom. The heavy toy smashed a hole in the porcelain lavatory.
“So we didn’t have a sink then,” she said.
Then came the end of the school year, and Miss Wilma examined the packaged gift from the entire class. Something for the kitchen, she thought happily. “So imagine my surprise when I opened my gift at the end of our graduation program to find a set of faucets for a cast-iron sink!”
They had wrapped just the faucets instead of the bulky, heavy sink itself, which was also part of the present.
She continued, “I thought for sure that the class had given me a blender that year.”
– Scrabbling for a hankie: Debbie Lansdell of Tupelo recalls the kind of teacher’s gifts that make misty-eyed listeners reach for a second handkerchief. She is a third-grade teacher at Tupelo Christian Preparatory School.
While all are treasured, two gifts stand out from the rest. The first was the Scrabble game given by a fifth-grade boy and his family when she was working at an Arkansas school.
“I had visited his home and played that game with him and his family and commented on how I enjoyed playing it with my parents,” Lansdell said.
Soon afterward, she got a shocking call from her parents: Their Memphis house had burned during the night. They were unharmed, but they had lost their home.
Her parents insisted that she go on to work that day instead of rushing over. She complied. Before leaving school that afternoon, she got another message: Stop by the school office.
“During the day, my students’ parents had been contacted, and they had collected things for me to take to my parents. The first think that caught my eye was the game of Scrabble,” Lansdell said.
The thoughtful gift made her cry, and it also touched her parents, she said.
The second most memorable gift is a handmade bouquet of wooden tulips from a third-grade girl. The girl had chatted often about visiting a beloved elderly neighbor and working on projects together.
That Easter, the girl walked in with a big smile and her handmade wooden flowers. Her neighbor had cut the flowers, and she had painted them, the child explained. Lansdell said, “Since that time, her friend has passed away, but a very special part of him still lives in that bouquet of tulips in the corner of my living room.”
Other special presents have ranged from candy, potpourri, lotion and soaps to gifts of T-shirts, afghans, homemade goodies, holiday decorations and even a hug and a note of thanks.
The pleasure of teaching still remains as the greatest present, she said. “The joy of being in the classroom every day and seeing a child’s eyes brighten when he understands something for the first time is a joy and a gift that only a teacher can truly understand. That in itself is the only gift that I ever need to receive.”