The little boy stood in the door of the small, ramshackle house in his underwear. He was nine years old and soon headed for the fourth grade. Where he would go from there is anyone’s guess.
He was a student his young teacher, Miss Laura Welch, had come to love and wanted to take, along with another, to an amusement park for a Saturday of fun, something he’d otherwise likely never see in childhood. She was moving on from his elementary school, taking her career and her life to the next stop down the road, but her students would never leave her, she knew, not in her mind.
Despite their behavior and their manner they trusted her. She was an anchor point in their lives, maybe the only one some had, and she wanted those closest to her to have something solidly happy to remember her by, so she’d sent word home inviting them out for a weekend adventure. When she arrived to pick up the first child his sister was also standing by dressed and ready to go, so naturally Miss Welch had taken them both.
So it was that she and her boyfriend had the others waiting in a car on the street. The other kids were excited and anxious, their minds on the small wonders that seem so large to a child. They’d stopped to pick up their last passenger where he lived, in a part of town not traveled at night or any other time by people who didn’t have to, and when Miss Welch knocked at his home’s front door he opened it.
“He was standing there in his underwear, and I could see in his eyes how much he wanted to go,” she said.
The boy’s mother was in the back of the house. Miss Welch could hear her, but she couldn’t make her come to the door, couldn’t get her to bring the boy some clothes or help him get dressed, and the boy couldn’t find clothes lying about to wear on his own. She couldn’t get the mother’s acknowledgement that she’d come to pick him up or that he had permission to go. With a carload waiting at her back, a non-communicative guardian somewhere to her front and a wide-eyed boy standing hopelessly at her feet, she had no other move.
“I hugged him goodbye with an extra squeeze,” she said, “then I left him there.”
He didn’t leave her there, though. Through the decades since, that morning has haunted her. Miss Welch would marry George W. Bush, have children of her own, become First Lady of the United States. She’d travel the country and the world, but part of her soul would remain forever in the doorway of a tiny house in a rundown neighborhood in Houston, Texas, on a morning when hope either grew strong or died, where a child either endured or was overcome, behind eyes that had already seen more of the hard side of life than many ever will.
The experiences the outdoors can give us stay with us always. Beyond the days are the memories. In this way the most unremarkable morning or the simplest laugh can carry us through countless tough times ahead. The way the clouds look at sunset or the sight of a squirrel pressed flat against a tree never fades.
When we introduce youngsters to these wonders, even on simple days we may soon forget, we’re giving them something to remember, and you never know what they’ll remember. Small wonders seem so large to a child, and so are not small at all. In this time of thanks, these small wonders remind us of God’s blessings, and remind us to say a prayer for the small ones life leaves behind.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.