Valentines I’ve never forgotten

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defiance defiance slocum
Slocum Elementary, Defiance (OH)

It was Mrs. Zeskey.

For some reason, I knew her first name, Roberta.

Every Valentine’s Day, I’m reminded of this kind lady. She was my fifth-grade teacher at Slocum Elementary in Defiance, Ohio.

I’m sure she wasn’t the only teacher at that school or in any other community who encouraged their students to bring enough Valentine’s Day cards so every student would receive one in the card exchange.

I suppose Slocum was a typical school in that day, the late 1940s. That means we had about 25 or 30 kids to buy a Valentine’s Day card for. So maybe we had to ask Dad or Mom for a quarter to invest in this classroom event. In my case, I might have taken change out of my miniature house bank from First Federal.

Of course, you signed each card. Mrs. Zeskey gave us class time for that. Then you passed out your cards to the other students.
So everybody got a card from everybody else in the class.

If you didn’t happen to like one or two of the other students, you didn’t have to take the card home. You simply could discard that Valentine in the trash on the way out the school door.

What I liked about the card exchange was that it included everyone in the class. In that 5th grade room, a few students weren’t popular. But on that day they didn’t have to feel excluded or unloved.

That’s the way it had been just before the Christmas vacation. Mrs.
Zeskey invited us to draw a name for the gift exchange. Everybody drew a name. But I drew the name of a girl who wasn’t popular. Somehow Mrs. Zeskey saw my distress. She took the slip of paper with the girl’s name and gave me a slip of paper with her name. How special that must have made the girl feel, to have received her gift from our teacher!

And I got to give the teacher a Christmas gift.

Today, I’m ashamed of my prejudice toward the girl. But at the time, I was so grateful that Mrs. Zeskey came to my rescue. At class reunions, that girl never fails to greet me warmly. I’m reminded of one teacher’s kindness. I’m ashamed all over again.

I have no idea whether Mrs. Zeskey’s lessons in math and reading were average or outstanding. I recall she often read stories about animals to the class. One character was Reddy Fox. I believe that character and his animal friends talked.

I loved such stories. And being read to. Most of all, I remember Mrs. Zeskey as one of my favorite teachers. So as this Valentine’s Day draws near, I send a greeting to the teachers whose lesson in kindness and inclusion is the greatest lesson of all.

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