Our apartment in Baunach, Germany had maybe 600 square feet of living space. With two baby girls, a stay-at-home mom and a soldier in the United States Army, it was full of love and activity; every square inch. Vacuuming only took a few minutes, but it is my favorite cleaning activity, and I do it a lot, for as long as I need to; which is where the psychosis kicks in! Does a carpet ever get clean? While vacuuming a small patch of carpet in our living room, I went into some deep thought, remembering something because it bubbled up from some part of my mind, on its own. It was a powerful thought, because when it ballooned to HDTV full-screen, I stopped the vacuum and stood watching the show. It was Mr. Patton, my Junior High school principal, who gave me the 100 dollar “anonymous” donation for clothes when I was in the 7th grade!! At the age of 25, I figured it out, without even trying to figure it out. My sub-conscious may have become tired of carrying around such a wonderful piece of information- it plopped right into my consciousness during my vacuum meditation!
Sitting in the principal’s office is scary to me even now as a teacher! There I was, wearing an old torn skirt and a white shirt I had found in my mother’s closet. My socks never matched, and I remember wearing track shoes to school until they were so full of holes, going barefoot would have been more attractive. The good news about the track shoes is that most kids those days wore them that way- my how times change!! I had been called to the office over the new loud-speaker system. Kids just stared at me as I was walking out, wondering what I did to get in trouble.
“Kim, we have been given 100 dollars by an anonymous donor for a student who needs some clothes. But, the donor wanted the student to be someone who is a good student, involved in school activities. We picked you. My wife and your mother will take you shopping on Saturday,” said Mr.Patton, my principal who sat behind a very large desk that meant to me he had power.
Mrs. Patton was my 5th and 6th grade English teacher. I knew her well. This was all good. The only problem I had, I didn’t know how to shop. (That is no longer a problem.)
“I have nothing to wear!” I yelled at my mother. This was an every morning occurance- I remember crying in my closet, hovered in the corner and looking up at the clothing rod full of empty hangers. Nothing in the closet for me to wear, absolutely nothing. When I said I had nothing to wear– it was literal. Once, and only once, my youngest daughter yelled those exact words to me when she was in the 4th grade. Poor Shannon had no idea what button she pushed that morning! “Nothing…you say you have nothing to wear? Look at this closet!” I was yelling, while trying to pull apart the clothes because the closet was stuffed. She cried and I was thankful for that moment when she came home from school so I could apologize, and explain. “You see Shannon, mommy made sure you had so many clothes that you would never say that.” Silly me, I didn’t account for normal.
We went to Joskes at North Star Mall; my mother worked in the basement sales area and got a good discount, so I was going to be able to get a few items- I remember the shirt I found , the pants, I got some undies and socks. I was the happiest 12 year old alive that day in the fall of 1972. On that Monday I wore my new shirt, which was promptly stolen from my locker during basketball practice. Someone needed it more? I hold onto that thought-
I had never put the anonymous donor as Mr. Patton until 13 years later. I had never even tried to figure it out- thank goodness I am smarter than I think I am sometimes!
I set out to find him. In 2000, I was on the KZEP morning show and told my story (to a certain extent) and that Mr. Patton needed some thanking. I put it out on the air-waves. No one listening was able to help. We did get into a conversation about how much 100 bucks could buy in 1972. The 100 dollars in clothes was great, but it was what he said to me that kept me in school. He told me I was smart, I had a good future and that I was deserving! On another occasion, he called me in his office to show another administrator my cheerleader outfit. My brother’s girlfriend had been a high school cheerleader and she made me some pom-poms for my shoes and hair; other pom-poms hadn’t showed up yet! I like the word pom-poms. What Mr. Patton was really doing that day was giving me praise. I have that praise in my heart still.
In 2004 I met Charlie, the guy I had planned to marry; the same one who never took me dancing. He did take me to Waring, Texas to this small mom and pop convenience/pizza store. I walked in and there he was…. Mr. Patton. When he looked at me I was shocked to see a tear well up in HIS eye. I said, “Do you know who I am?” He said, “Yes, of course I do Kim- of course I do!”
Then I cried!
“I came to tell you thanks for the 100 dollars. It WAS YOU wasn’t it?”
“Yes, it was, and you’re welcome.”
Charlie had run into Mr. Patton at the coast. They had a school relationship as well. Mr. Patton was Charlie’s Junior High School Principal as well, and had to be called out of class to get his family’s pigs off the school grounds. Those were the days! But, cards had been exchanged that day at the coast, and when we started dating and sharing stories, Chas was quick to find Mr. Patton’s card and to promise to take me to see him.
As an educator I try to pay it forward. Though I have not given away 100 bucks, I have given. I was taught the power of words and praise.
Thank you Mr. Patton.