Because I intend to publish the novel from which this excerpt comes, Symphony Christmas will not be placed in Backfile.
The morning after his candy trick, Stephanie had come to him with a proposition. Her church collected cans for the needy every Christmas. She thought their class should do the same thing.
Neil thought it was a wonderful idea. He called Mrs. Hagstrom and discussed it with her to make sure that the parents would not have any objection. The biggest problem Stephanie’s project presented was identifying the needy in the community and getting food to them without putting them in the spotlight. Fortunately, Delores Zavala had lived in the district all her life and knew every adult, child, car, cat, dog, and everyone’s financial condition. She proved invaluable and Stephanie turned out to be an eleven year old dynamo. Within three days she had organized all her friends, and their friends, and their friends. That meant every child in the sixth grade. Two weeks after the idea was born, there was a seven foot stack of canned goods in the corner of Neil’s classroom.
December was a busy month for them all, but particularly for Carmen whose mother became ill and began to take all her spare time. After two weeks Carmen was looking tired and complaining that she wasn’t getting any Christmas shopping done. Neil offered to sit with her mother to give her an evening off. Carmen accepted and Neil found, to his surprise, that Maria de la Vega spoke no English. Carmen had been so much at ease in her job, and so confident in the world she shared with him, that he had assumed her family was educated and English speaking.
He ended up having a great time. Mrs. de la Vega was past the worst of her illness and her zest for life had returned. She waited until Carmen had gone out, then got up and cooked Neil a delicious Mexican meal, ignoring his protests, and carrying on a one sided conversation in Spanish. Only their gestures and laughter were bilingual.
Carmen chewed him out royally for letting her mother out of bed. Neil said, “How was I to stop her? Carmen had to admit that it would have been impossible.
Several days later, Carmen came in to see his can tree. She had only just heard of it from Delores. She said, “Why didn’t you tell me what you were doing? I would have ben glad to help.”
“I really didn’t do that much,” Neil explained. “Stephanie Hagstrom and her mother were the force behind it, and Delores agreed to do the distribution for us.”
“How did you ever get it started? I’ve tried to get my seventh graders to have some social conscience all year, and I’ve gotten nowhere.”
Neil explained about the candy trick. She said, “Good. Good. We need more of that kind of thing.” Then she gave him a dazzling smile, looked around to see that no students were near, and gave him a quick kiss.
“”What was that for? Not that I’m complaining.”
“That, Neil McCrae, is because you are a nice guy.”
“It took you long enough to notice.”
Her gaiety went away. Neil said, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Are you sure?”
She nodded. “Someday I will,” she promised, “but not just now.” continued