We are experiencing the coldest weather in 25 years in Georgia. This morning as I sat here drinking tea in front of a fire, I started thinking about an earlier time of very cold weather.
In the early 1980s when I was a young teacher, I rented a house adjacent to an elementary school in the system where I taught. It was a great deal for me because the school district charged very little rent because they wanted a teacher in the house in the hopes that he or she would watch over the school.
One January morning I awoke to the lovely news “Cobb County Schools are closed today.” There was a little snow and ice, but the schools were closed primarily because of the cold. If I remember correctly the temperature was in the single digits. Those of you who live in areas where it gets really cold will probably laugh that we close schools because of single-digit temperature, but school heating systems, particularly in older schools, are just not equipped to handle such weather.
I went back to sleep.
About thirty minutes later, Mrs. Burrell, the secretary at the elementary school called me and told me that a parent had called her at home to tell her that she had spotted a handful of young children waiting at the school. Since the secretary was home and didn’t want to drive in the bad weather, she called to ask me to walk over and check on the kids. I immediately told her I would be happy to do so . . . and then grumbled as I hung up the phone, climbed out of bed, and got dressed in my warm clothes.
I had to walk all around the building, but I finally found five little boys (kindergarten to third grade) standing together behind the school. I can’t remember that much about them except that two of them were not bundled up well for the cold weather, and Billy, the youngest one, had no gloves or mittens and as his nose ran, it actually froze on his face.
I brought all of the kids back to my house and had them call their parents to pick them up. Four of the parents arrived within 30 minutes to pick up their children, but not one of them even thanked me.
Billy and I sat in my kitchen as I tried to get the 5 year old to tell me his phone number. No luck! Then I asked him to tell me his last name. Still no luck! When Mrs. Burrell called me back, I had to describe Billy in the hopes that she could figure out who he was. Sure enough, she responded with his last name and then said, “Now, we’ve got a problem.”
According to the secretary, Billy’s parents were not very supportive of the school so teachers usually dealt with the grandmother, but she was out of town for the week. Because Mrs. Burrell knew it would be impossible to reach the parents, she decided that she would come pick up Billy, keep him at her house, and then take him home at 11:45, his normal time to return home after half-day kindergarten.
I told her not to worry about Billy because I would keep him at my house and take him home at the proper time. So, Billy and I spent several hours watching cartoons in my den and waiting for the time when I could take him home. He was so cold that I had to remove most of his clothes and bundle him in a blanket while I dried his clothes. I also realized very quickly that women in their twenties without children rarely have food or drinks in the house that appeal to five year olds!
At 11:30, I dressed Billy in his nice warm clothes, put him in my car, and set out to take him home according to the directions the secretary had given me. No one was on the road!
I drove into a seemingly deserted neighborhood of lots of little houses and very few trees. As I pulled into Billy’s driveway, however, I experienced a surreal scene that I hope to never again witness. Two police cars pulled in quickly right behind me, and officers jumped out of their cars, drew their guns, and screamed for me to get out of my car with my arms raised.
The experience would be unnerving for everyone, but it was particularly upsetting to someone whose greatest transgressions prior to this moment involved overdue library books and a speeding ticket for driving 58 in a 55-mph zone in South Carolina!
After telling Billy to stay put, I stepped out of the car and raised my arms high in the air, just as I had seen in cops-and-robbers television shows. The policemen lowered their guns, and an angry woman jumped out of one of the police cars and screamed, “What did you do to my baby?!!” She ran over and pulled Billy out of my car. I discovered that the parents and policemen had been searching for Billy all morning, but I have no idea why they would not have talked to neighbors who lived right beside the school!
After explaining the situation to the police officers and giving them Mrs. Burrell’s name so they could check my story, they told me I could go. They also told me that they were planning to charge the parents with abandonment for leaving a 5 year old child outside a locked school on a morning of single-digit temperature.
A little upset, a little angry, and very cold, I drove home.
So much for being a Good Samaritan!
Would I do it again? Absolutely! What makes this story interesting is that it is such an anomaly, and it pales in comparison to the hundreds of other times when I have helped students and parents who thanked me profusely.
I just hope the next time I have to help doesn’t come on a snow day when I am nice and warm and planning to sleep late!
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