43: Ravioli Rescue

43: Ravioli Rescue

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just for Preteens

Ravioli Rescue

The best portion of a good man’s life — his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.

~William Wordsworth

As soon as I walked into school, I knew something was horribly wrong. “Marla wore her uniform to picture day!” My classmate’s outburst announced my mistake to everyone before I even figured it out on my own. I turned red. I’d been wearing the same uniform — navy skirt, white blouse, navy vest, white socks — to Catholic school nearly every day since kindergarten. It wasn’t exactly crazy that I’d forgotten to dress up, but I still felt humiliated.

“So?” I sang in response to the taunts. “My mom wanted a picture of me in my uniform to send my granny in Louisiana!”

The lie just popped out before I could stop it, but it was better than letting everyone think I was stupid, even if I was. In my head, though, I was beating myself up. How could I have forgotten something so important? All the other girls were dressed in dainty dresses and had their hair fixed perfectly, and here I stood, in Catholic school navy and white, wishing more than anything that I looked as elegant and nicely dressed as my friends. Lisa had curly hair for the first time ever and Gloria wore a beautiful green velvet dress that made her look like a movie star.

The bell rang and most of the teasing stopped as everyone settled into their desks. First thing after roll call, our teacher announced that we would not have our pictures taken until after lunchtime recess, so we were to be very careful with our nice clothes until then.

Even without nice clothes, that was not as easy as it might have sounded.

At lunchtime in the cafeteria, we had ravioli and green beans and applesauce and a roll, my favorite meal of the week after fish sticks. My friends and I usually ate quickly because every minute spent eating took time away from recess. We had forty-five minutes total for lunch and then recess. If we spent twenty minutes eating, we only had twenty-five minutes left to play, but if we inhaled our lunches in ten minutes, we got to play for thirty-five minutes. Today, though, good pants and frilly dresses motivated everyone to eat slowly.

I got my tray and walked to the table I shared with my friends.

“Mystery meat wrapped in pasta,” my friend said next to me. We all laughed. I stabbed a piece of ravioli with my fork and opened my mouth. Before I even had time to react, the ravioli fell from my fork and splattered heavily onto the front of my clean, white blouse.

The other girls didn’t even laugh. Everyone knew this was a horrible thing. Not only had I forgotten to wear dressy clothes for picture day, now I had ruined the uniform blouse I was wearing. My picture would be ruined.

I got up and ran to the girls’ bathroom. Looking in the mirror, I could see there was no hope of hiding the stain. I grabbed brown towels from the dispenser on the wall and scrubbed at my blouse furiously, trying to clean up the mess. It was no use. I sat down on a bench in the bathroom and started to cry. My mother was going to kill me. I hung my head and bawled, great drops of tears soaking my face.

“What happened? Are you crying?”

When I looked up, I recognized the girl speaking to me as a seventh grader, but I didn’t know her name. I pointed at my shirt. “I didn’t even remember today was picture day,” I wailed. “And now I’ve ruined my uniform blouse.”

“It’s a pretty big mess,” the girl agreed.

“I want to go home! I can’t get my picture taken looking like this!” I dropped my head into my hands again and sobbed.

“Stop crying,” the girl said. “I have an idea.” She tugged on my arm. “Hurry, or you’ll miss the whole recess!”

The girl pulled me into one of the bathroom stalls and said firmly, “Take off your blouse!”

“The sauce won’t wash out,” I said. “I already...”

“Just hurry!” she urged. “We’ll swap for the day. But hurry up, because Sister Margaret will be looking for me.” And right there in the bathroom, this seventh grade girl took off her blouse.

“What if we aren’t the same size?”

“We’ll be fine. Just hurry.”

So I did. I took off my stained blouse and handed it to the girl. “But what about your school picture?”

“Seventh and eighth graders went first thing this morning.”

I couldn’t believe my luck. I slipped the seventh grade girl’s top on quickly. It fit perfectly, and it felt like silk. It was a white blouse, like mine, but it had white flowers embroidered into the collar and cuffs. It was beautiful.

“Wow,” I whispered.

“You look great!” the girl said. “So don’t cry anymore, okay?”

I nodded.

The girl smiled. “Maybe leave your vest off for the picture,” she said. “I gotta run.” And she was out the door.

“Wait,” I cried. But she was gone. I didn’t even know her name. How was I going to give her blouse back after the picture?

I took a minute to look at myself in the mirror. I looked good. I felt grown up and pretty in the girl’s soft blouse. Happy for the first time all day, I walked out into the sunshine.

“What took you so long?” my friend Lisa asked. “You missed almost the whole recess!” She didn’t even notice my shirt.

Just then I saw a line of boys and girls getting on a school bus. The girl who had given me her blouse was in that line.

“Where are they going?” I asked the playground monitor, Sister Helen Clare.

“The seventh and eighth grade children are going to sing for the people at the nursing home today,” she answered. “They’re off to make some folks happy.”

One of them had already made me very happy, but I didn’t say so.

I had a thought and I gasped out loud. The seventh grader still had on my dirty blouse! She must have forgotten she was going on a field trip. She would hate me!

I looked at the bus, full of older kids, and suddenly I saw that very kind girl waving happily at me through the bus window. She stuck her head out and screamed, “Have a great picture day!” The girl was laughing with her friends as the bus pulled slowly away.

She knew what she was doing all along, I realized. She was just a very kind girl who didn’t seem to care at all what her friends thought of her dirty blouse.

As I watched the bus pull out, I thought, “I want to be like her.”

The next day, I gave the girl’s freshly washed and ironed blouse to a seventh grade teacher to give back to the girl. I didn’t even learn her name, but I never forgot her kindness to me on what could have been a very bad day.

~Marla H. Thurman

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