Before the incident with the mouse, my knowledge of Gracie Rangel was accurate but limited. I saw a well-loved efficient kindergarten custodian who removed dust specs before they had time to light and who moved any child in a crisis in the direction of help before tears got a head start. I assumed my perception of her shyness came partly because she was not as comfortable with English as with her native Spanish. But as I said, that was all before the mouse.
A kindergartener in the class next door that connected to the one I taught spotted a mouse one afternoon just as school was letting out. After the children left, Gracie joined the teacher and me on a thorough but futile mouse hunt. Since there seemed to nowhere else for the mouse to go, we remained on high alert for scratching sounds the rest of the week.
On Friday, I rapidly stashed things in an upper cabinet before going home for the weekend. The open door shielded my vision when I felt it. Tiny tracks crossed my foot and started up my right leg. I screamed, threw stuff up in the air, and slammed the door shut only to look into Gracie’s smiling face as she jerked her hands behind her back. As I laughed with her on her successful practical joke, I mentally crossed “shy” off my description. The next week, we found the mouse in my closet, and it came to an untimely end.
As Christmas neared, I saw an opportunity to even the score with Gracie. Happening into the office as they put names into a box for drawing for the faculty Christmas party, I requested and received Gracie’s name before they put it in. For her gift, I crocheted a small gray mouse.
But I was not to have the last word. The next year, Gracie requested my name before it went into the box. The mouse she gave me brings a good memory and a smile each year as it graces a special space beneath my Christmas tree.
Eventually, I would be privileged to have Gracie’s grandson Peter in my class. He was a quiet child who also appeared to be shy, but if you looked carefully, you could see a twinkle in his eye that looked an awful lot like his grandmother’s.