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The Silver Spoon

The Continuing Saga of Isabel Rios

By Rick Henry Christopher Published 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 9 min read

Isabel Rios was a dazzling, eight-year-old girl from the dirt-poor side of Bakersfield, California. She hardly ever smiled, but had these big, dark, brown eyes that sparkled when she looked at you. There was something magnetic about Isabel Rios that drew people toward her.

It is September 1945, and the beginning of the school year. Isabel was entering second grade at Franklin Elementary School. Immediately, she was one of the teacher's favorites because she was raised in a family that spoke only Spanish and was determined at age five to learn how to speak English. By seven years old she had mastered the language. She learned by listening to other people talk and would always ask bilingual adults what certain words in English meant. She learned the most from her Uncle Joe who was a wealthy contractor in Bakersfield. Isabel admired her Uncle Joe and aspired to be like him someday.

As the teacher took roll call, she asked each student what their favorite subject was in school. When she called on Isabel, she raised her hand and answered in a strong lower toned voice that carried across the room, "Here! My favorite subject is math, because I'm good at it." This made the young, blonde-haired Caucasian teacher pause, because she wasn't expecting such a big voice from such a petite girl. She smiled at Isabel and said, "You speak English beautifully, Isabel." Isabel responded back copying the teacher’s accent, "What does ‘beautifully’ mean, Miss Cooper?" Miss Cooper stopped a minute to think, "... It means perfect, Isabel." With that response Isabel sat up straight in her chair with pride in her eyes and said, "Thank you Miss Cooper."

After class Isabel approached Cecil Littlejohn. He was a little, black boy and the only other student out of 22 that answered math as the favorite subject. "Hi, I noticed you like math also." Cecil looked at the little girl somewhat surprised and he smiled intently and said, "Nobody ever says ‘hi’ to me."

"Why?" Isabel asked in an inquisitive manner.

"Because I'm black and the others are afraid of me," Cecil answered.

"Well, that doesn't matter. You're smart, that's what matters," Isabel commented back.

After that exchange Cecil and Isabel became close friends, and the two of them would eat lunch together every day on the school playground. Isabel's cousin, Matthew, joined them often. Matthew was also in Miss Cooper's class but had not yet learned much English, so Cecil and Isabel would teach him during recess.

As time progressed Isabel proved herself to be right at the top of the class. She and Cecil were the two that consistently scored 90% or higher on all quizzes and tests. When it came to Question-and-Answer time Isabel's hand was always the first one up.

One afternoon Miss Cooper was asking questions on United States Geography. She asked, "Who can name a state with a name that begins with a ‘W’?” Isabel's hand went up quickly, but, of course, with poise. Miss Cooper skipped over Isabel and called on Gloria for the answer. Miss Cooper went on with the same range of questions of states starting with the letters A, C, T and so forth. With each question Isabel raised her hand, but Miss Cooper called on the others for the answers. This upset Isabel quite a bit as she had the answers for every question.

After class Isabel approached Miss Cooper about this. She asked with a sad look in her eyes and a soft high pitched voice, "Miss Cooper, have I done something wrong?" Miss Cooper looked at Isabel and gently answered, "No, Isabel you're my best student." Isabel responded, "I feel like something's wrong." "Why do you say that?" Miss Cooper asked. "No reason. I was just asking," Isabel answered. Miss Cooper looked softly at Isabel and said, "Isabel there must be a reason for you to ask this question. The only way we can fix the problem is if you let me know the reason."

Isabel stood in front of Miss Cooper's desk and said in a very soft feminine voice, "I raised my hand for every question, but you never called on me." "Oh, Isabel," Miss Cooper said. "I am so sorry. I did not call on you because I knew you knew the answers. You are my smartest student. I need to know what the other children know." Isabel replied, "But, you could have called on me at least once." "You're right Isabel," Miss Cooper said. "I promise, next time I'll call on you." "Thank you, Miss Cooper. I appreciate that," Isabel politely said as she began to leave the classroom.

On Friday, a few days before Halloween, Miss Cooper had two guests in the room: a man and a lady from The Bakersfield Californian, the city's local newspaper. They were doing an article on the children of Franklin Elementary.

"Hello, children, my name is Rudy Jensen. I am a reporter with The Bakersfield Californian." Mr. Jensen motioned toward his female counterpart and said, "This is my assistant, Julia Lopez. She has a few questions for you today."

Mrs. Lopez told the children a little bit about her childhood, "When I was a child, I grew up on a chicken farm. I would help my parents by feeding the chickens. I would toss the chicken feed to them, and they would all scramble to get the feed and eat. It scared me the first time to see them all run toward the feed. I thought they were going to chase after me. I began running back to the house." Mrs. Lopez did a running motion, and the children laughed. "One of the chickens did run after me. That really frightened me. But I made it back in the house before it could get me. I was safe from that monster." The children laughed at Mrs. Lopez again.

After telling her story Mrs. Lopez asked the class a few questions. Her first question was, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Most of the boys answered they wanted to be a fireman or a policeman. Some of the girls answered they wanted to be a dancer, while others said, "I want to be like my mom." When it came to Isabel she said, "I want to be a contractor like my Uncle Joe."

The last question Mrs. Lopez asked was, "What are you going to be for Halloween?" Most of the answers were typical, such as a ghost, witch, Frankenstein, or a monster. Then came Isabel's turn, who replied, "Halloween is for children. I'm not going to dress up." Miss Cooper interjected, "Isabel we will be having a Halloween party, and if you want some treats like cake and ice cream you will have to come in costume." Isabel thought about this and said, "Well, then, I’d be Mickey Mouse. But he's a boy, so I'll be Minnie instead, she's cute and girly." Mrs. Lopez chuckled at Isabel's innocent confidence.

After the questions, Mr. Jensen and Mrs. Lopez sat down at the back of the class as Miss Cooper finished the last half hour.

A few minutes before class ended Miss Cooper wrote a note on the blackboard, "Stay after school: Isabel Rios." This frightened Isabel as her name had never been on the blackboard before. By the time class ended her entire body was shaking and she was sitting rigidly in her chair.

Miss Cooper noticed this, and she walked over to Isabel and took her little hand and told her, "Isabel, you're not in trouble. Mr. Jensen wants to write a short story about you for the newspaper." Isabel's eyes grew big, and she said with her lips still quivering, "Oh my goodness! I thought I was in trouble and couldn't figure out what I did wrong."

Mr. Jensen said, "We want to ask you a few questions and take some pictures." Still somewhat agitated Isabel said, "Okay."

Mrs. Lopez opened a suitcase and asked Isabel to choose a sweater to wear. Isabel's favorite color is pink, so she chose a knitted, button-down, lavender pink sweater.

Before the photos were taken Miss Cooper pinned a little silver spoon broach to Isabel's sweater. Miss Cooper explained, "My grandmother made this broach for me out of my baby spoon when I was just five years old. I've had this for 22 years, and I would like you to have this now, Isabel." Isabel looked at Miss Cooper with her big brown eyes, "For keeps?" "Yes, for keeps," Miss Cooper answered. Isabel gave Miss Cooper a big hug and said, "Thank you. I will keep this forever."

Mr. Jensen took a few photos of Isabel. The first photo was of her sitting at her desk. He asked her to smile but Isabel responded, "I don't smile. I have too much on my mind to smile." Mr. Jensen accepted this and snapped the photos.

After the photos were taken Isabel took the spoon broach off the sweater and removed the sweater and gave it to Mrs. Lopez. Mrs. Lopez said, "No, Isabel, the sweater is a gift. It is yours to keep." "Really?" She said, "I have never had anything this nice before. Thank you!"

The following Monday morning when Isabel arrived in class Miss Cooper handed Isabel a copy of the Bakersfield Californian. She asked Isabel to turn to page 12 under the Community Section. There were two classroom photos of Isabel and a short story about her.

The story read as follows:

"Isabel Rios is a third-grade student at Franklin Elementary School. She is in Miss Cooper's morning class and is a bright and outspoken girl who knows what she wants out of life. She says when she grows up, she wants to be a contractor like her Uncle Joe. Her uncle is Joe Rodriguez who contracts laborers to all the farms in Kern County. Isabel said that her best friend is her dad because he is handsome and takes her to the store to read comic books every Saturday. Isabel's best subject in school is math, and although the class is learning addition and subtraction, she is already doing multiplication. She said her Uncle Joe taught her how to do multiplication out in the fields. Isabel hopes to start working the fields next summer picking cotton, onions, corn, and grapes. She says she's ready to make her own money. Isabel said that for Halloween she is going to dress as Minnie Mouse because she has a crush on Mickey."

After reading the story Isabel folded the newspaper and put it in her backpack, then quickly raised her hand when she heard Miss Cooper ask, “What is the capital of the state of Pennsylvania?"

After school Isabel did not have the patience to wait for the bus, so she ran all the way home. When she arrived she fell into her mom's arms with her heart beating fast and out of breath. Her mom asked, "¿Qué pasa Isabel? ¿Por qué respiras tan pesada?" Isabel answered in Spanish, "Because I ran all the way home. I want to show you this." She pulled the newspaper out of her backpack and showed her mom the article. She translated the article into Spanish so her mom could know what it says. Her mom was so proud of her and gave her a big hug and kiss on the cheek. This was one of those rare moments that Isabel was beaming and smiling from ear to ear. Feeling acceptance from her mom meant the world to her.

Next, Isabel pulled the silver spoon broach out from the pocket of her dress and showed it to her mom. "Look, mama, Miss Cooper gave this to me. Her abuelita made it for her when she was five. She told me she wanted me to have this because I was a very special person." Isabel's mom took the broach and looked at it. "Este es un regalo muy bonito." Isabel commented, "Yeah, I want to put it on the shelf next to the picture de mi abuelita. This is very important to me."

Isabel's mom put the spoon on the shelf placing it next to abuelita’s framed photograph. Isabel sat there in front of the shelf which was above the fireplace and stared at her spoon for the next fifteen minutes thinking about when Miss Cooper gave it to her. She would never forget this day.


About the Creator

Rick Henry Christopher

Writing is a distraction to fulfill my need for intellectual stimulus, emotional release, and soothing the bruises of the day.

The shattered pieces of life will not discourage me.

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Comments (3)

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  • Test6 months ago

    Really nice Rick, this was a great tribute to your mom as a young woman

  • Test6 months ago

    This is lovely. I love that she got rewarded for her ibtelligence and glad the teacher was so kind 🤍

  • Cathy holmes2 years ago

    Very nice story of a charming, intelligent young lady. Well done.

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