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IT was December 1999 and the end of yet another busy school year at Pelham. With my class of exuberant pupils already in holiday mode, I introduced several life-skill-related activities to hasten the arrival of break-up day and ensure that the school day was meaningfully spent. In groups, we planned, catered for and arranged the class wedding. We used newspaper advertisements to budget for would-be Christmas lists. So busy were we mock-phoning holiday resorts to book dream getaways that I was lulled into thinking I’d successfully managed to steer clear of the ever-present “millennium hype” — and all the catastrophes that were associated with 01.01.2000.
Midway through Wednesday’s programme, however, Y2K reared its ugly virus-head when one of my pupils suggested we discuss the possible disasters looming for humankind as the clocks of the world ticked steadily into the new century. Finding this a somewhat daunting topic for the young members of my class, Thursday found me steering the conversation to practical ways in which we could make a difference to at least some of the problems of the present (as well as the future) and before long the conversation swung to the hopes, dreams and wishes of the pupils for the new millennium.
At several of the older pupils’ insistence, a “Wish Box” was created wherein each pupil deposited his or her wish for the new century. Two girls took charge and read through the notes, keen to report back on their findings and possibly to arrive at some conclusions. On returning from break, however, without any prompting, the following letter was on my desk. It read …
Dear Mrs. W
We have read all the wishes. Some are absulutly crazy. Some are plane sad. Some need big bucks. But read this one. We can do something about this one. We can make a diffrens. T & S
Folded up in a tight square was the wish intended for my eyes. It read: “My wish for 2000 is my own McDonald’s Cheeseburger with my own chips, my own green milkshake and my own toy in the box. M.” It was a mundane wish, simply written with heartfelt desire and directly in contrast to many of the other “Disneyland/Sports car/Playstation/CD Player dreams” which clearly were in the majority.
To the two girls, however, this wish took on new impetus when they realised that the writer was a long-time resident of a local children’s home.
Each pupil voluntarily contributed toward the purchase of this wish and on Saturday, I was allocated the honour of driving to McDonalds, ordering the necessary Happy Meal and persuading the reluctant take-away staff to exchange the regular coke for the much-prized green milkshake. I drove up to Hilltops to watch the Christmas Concert, enthusiastically performed by the residents of the home.
Under the trees, after the show, I gave M her Happy Meal. Not acknowledging that I might have “inside information” regarding her wish, she excitedly told me that this was exactly what she had wished for. She checked out the contents of her box and arranged them from left to right. She grinned, patted the box, placed her face right above it and inhaled deeply. Smiling, she hugged the box.
We chatted for a while. She pointed out to me her room on an upper veranda. She commented on my dirty car and said that she and her friends would clean it if I just got her soap and a cloth. More time passed as she sat, frequently opening the box. My young daughter, who had accompanied me, began to nudge me. Finally, unable to check her curiosity, she asked me to ask M why she was not eating her treat.
“Oh, I am,” was M’s reply. “Right now, I’m eating the smell!”
I have no idea at what time M eventually did eat her burger and chips, but there on the grass that overcast afternoon, I learnt such a lot: I learnt that when you experience a moment of glory you should truly enjoy it, revel in it and stretch it out to savour every second. I learnt that when you suspect you can make a difference, it truly is worthwhile to make the effort, for the rewards are undeniably justifiable. I learnt that even though we live in a hurly-burly world it still is possible to derive pleasure from the simplest of things, no matter how insignificant they might seem to others. But more than anything else I learnt, as we entered the twenty-first century and the age of harsh realities and egocentricity, that wishes, no matter how seemingly intangible, can, with the love of real friends, still come true.
(M, T and S were three pupils in my class in 1999.)
About the Writer
Lorrel Wissing has been an educator for the past twenty-two or so years — the past sixteen of which she has spent in specialised education. She is currently employed as a head of department at Pelham Senior Primary where as a result of teaching a multi-grade class, no two days at work are ever the same. "I have over the years found the time," she writes, "to put pen to paper and treasure my collection of classroom anecdotes, each one dedicated to a particular child or event. "Eating the Smell" is one of these.