A girl finds having no family, has no tradition or culture to share with her classmates
|***THIS IS NOT PART OF MY MEMOIR SERIES*** THIS IS A FICTIONAL CHILDREN'S STORY- THANKS FOR READING!
Wendy and Sara were bursting with excitement; they didn’t notice Patricia wasn’t smiling. "This is gonna be great!" Wendy said to Patricia. "You weren't here for the cultural fair last year." Patricia shook her head.
"It was so excellent; the whole town came. Last year in the fourth grade, we just did a little show and tell," Sara said. "Now, in the fifth grade is where we really get to show our stuff. We get to bring in all kinds of things," Sara said as the girls walked home. "I'll probably do something on Chanukah; it's my favorite holiday."
Sara and Wendy chatted about what they might share. A stiffness crawled up Patricia's spine; she was finding it hard to keep up. The girls were talking so fast. Were they walking faster too?
"What are you gonna do Patricia?" Wendy asked. "Mrs. Walter said it doesn't have to be religious, just any cultural tradition." Patricia tried to think fast, she felt relieved when Sara started talking.
"I hope Halli gets her grandfather to do the teepee again. That was awesome." Sara began to laugh then stopped herself. "But the boys hogged it and I hardly got to see inside."
"A teepee, a real teepee?" Patricia's eyes widened. She began to wish a big hole would just swallow her. Instead, she just swallowed hard and tried to smile. "I don't have anything like that."
"He was one of the professional exhibits the school hired. Besides, that Halli is a showoff! The kids don't do stuff that big, some just bring in favorite foods and stuff," Wendy said. The rest of the way home Patricia kept nodding her head as her mind raced.
"What nationality are you?" Wendy asked Patricia. "You've lived a lot of places; you must have some great stuff."
Patricia's palms started to sweat; she had to think fast. "Oh ya, I have lots of stuff. I uh, think… my project is gonna be a secret." Patricia tried to add excitement to her voice though she started to feel sick inside.
Wendy and Sara looked at each other with a smirk. "You have something great, don't you?" they asked
"Oh tell us," Sara pleaded.
"I have a few things I can do, you'll have to wait and see. Bye!" Patricia said. She waved and bounced up the porch stairs; she wanted to get inside as fast as possible.
The front door flew open. In a flash, Patricia dropped her books on the floor and ran up the stairs. Just before she slammed her bedroom door, she heard Mrs. DeCarlo come running into the hallway. Patricia sat with her back against the door sobbing as she heard Mrs. DeCarlo fly up the stairs.
"Patricia, what is the matter?" Mrs. DeCarlo asked with a heavy knock. "Please tell me why I had to jump over a pile of books." In the three months Patricia had lived with her foster mother, Mrs. DeCarlo, she had never made more noise than a rustle of leaves.
"It's just not fair" Patricia Wailed. "Leave me alone"
"What's not fair? Let me help." Mrs. DeCarlo urged behind the closed door. Patricia did not answer. Between sobs, Patricia could hear slow creeks as Mrs. DeCarlo headed back down stairs. Patricia was in no mood to talk right now and she didn't see anyway that Mrs. DeCarlo could help.
A few minutes later, there was a soft knock at Patricia's door. Patricia desperately tried to think of what kind of apology to give Mrs. DeCarlo. When she cracked the door, she found only her schoolbooks in a neat pile on the floor. She smiled remembering that Mrs. DeCarlo always knew exactly what to do.
Patricia picked up her books and laid them on her dresser. Right on top was the flyer and assignment sheet that her teacher, Mrs. Walter had given out just before the end of the day.
Big gold letters shouted MULTICULTURAL FAIR across the top of the flyer. Someone must have worked hard to add pictures of dancers and pies, cookies, and different toys. “COME SHARE SOME FUN!” The flyer exclaimed in crooked lettering. "Yeah, fun!" Patricia said then looked at the assignment sheet.
There will be in-class assignments, and worksheets. Fifth grade students are encouraged to participate by adding to the exhibits with a presentation of their traditions, culture, religion, hobbies or anything students share with their families. Find your tradition and share it with the class.
Encouraged to participate it said. "I don't have to do a presentation," she told herself. She started to feel a little better. Still, there was something nagging in the pit of her stomach.
Patricia sat thinking about the different foster homes she had lived with. She had no family traditions she could share with her classmates. She didn’t even know what nationality her birth parents were, having never met her mother or father.
Patricia spent the whole afternoon and evening in her room. She wondered why having a nationality never seemed important before.
"Are you coming down to dinner?" Mrs. DeCarlo shouted up the stairs several times.
Patricia barked the same response through the closed door each time. "Not hungry!" Finally, Mrs. DeCarlo stopped asking.
The next morning the sweet smell of cookies called Patricia down to breakfast. Patricia fixed herself a bowl of cereal. She sat at the table in the warm kitchen eating while Mrs. DeCarlo was busy at the stove.
"Mamma Dee, I'm sorry about last night." Patricia kept her eyes on her cereal bowl waiting for a scolding. Mrs. DeCarlo turned and put a large cookie on the table. There was a whole egg with a blue shell sticking out of the middle of the cookie.
"What is that crazy looking thing?" Patricia giggled.
"This is an Easter cookie that my Grandma Vitelli made every year." Mrs. DeCarlo said with a chuckle. "I saw the notice about the fair. You can use this if you'd like." Mrs. DeCarlo showed Patricia a whole sheet of cookies all with differently decorated eggs sticking out of the middle. "My Grandma Vitelli always sang Italian folk songs while she made these cookies." She took Patricia’s hand. “Patricia, you're welcome to use anything I can give you." Mrs. DeCarlo said.
Patricia's eyes started to get wet. She put down her spoon. "It's awfully funny looking." Patricia said. She took a napkin and wiped her lips making a quick swipe past her eyes. Patricia didn’t want to hurt her foster mother. “I may use this but I want to try to find something of my own first.”
"Its okay, you don't have to use it, only if you want to.” Mrs. DeCarlo said as her smile faded. "I really do understand." Her smile returned as she patted Patricia's hand. "Finish up; you don't want to be late."
Patricia felt better, knowing Mrs. DeCarlo seemed to understand, even if she couldn’t help. She broke off a piece of cookie and popped it into her mouth. "These are good." Patricia said.
"Well, thank you. You just do your best, I'm sure you'll find something. If you need my help, just ask." Mrs. DeCarlo said with a reassuring gaze.
Patricia started to hum as she ran upstairs to get dressed for school. She thought Mrs. DeCarlo was right; she might find something she could share.
At lunchtime, the crowded girl's table was bursting with giggles and shouts. Patricia couldn't escape everyone shouting their plans for the fair. Patricia tried to stay cheerful but she was starting to worry again.
"I have been taking lessons." Kelly jumped up tapped her foot and twirled. "Maybe I can do an Irish step." She boasted.
"Abuela Mina, that's my grandma, showed me how to make chimichangas." Maria said.
Was that a food? Patricia couldn’t pronounce it and wasn't at all sure she wanted to eat one. The girls chatted on about red, green and black Kwanza dresses and spinning dreidels in blue and silver. Everyone was excited and shouting out ideas and talking about exhibits from last year.
Patricia wasn't very hungry but everyone seemed too busy talking to eat today. "Are you gonna tell us what you're doing?" Sara asked Patricia who sat lost in the different conversations. Sara tapped Patricia's arm. "Patricia, Hello?"
"I haven't decided yet" Patricia snapped. A roar of laughter from the next table saved her from having to explain further. The girls all turned to listen.
"dulce de lechoza, It's green papaya and brown sugar, Yaya makes it every year." Jose said grinning.
"What’s a yaya? Marty asked.
Jose and Ricky laughed. "Grandmother," they replied in unison. The boys table started a lively discussion about their grandparents' names.
Nana, Papi, Memeré and Giampa, shouts came from all around the room. The names were endless; all the children had a favorite. This was the loudest lunch Patricia could remember. She wondered what she would have called her grandmother, if she had one.
Returning to class, the students asked Mrs. Walter for some ideas. Patricia was hoping to find a way to join all the fun.
"Over the next few weeks, I will tell you some of the stories my grandmother handed down to me." Mrs. Walter said. "This should be fun and simple." Patricia thought about that. Simple wasn't going to do it for her, of that she was sure. She knew an exhibit wasn't required. But it sounded as though everyone would have something. I don't want them to think I'm some kind of loser, with no past. Patricia thought.
Patricia, Wendy and Sara headed home. Patricia followed blindly, lost in thought when Sara woke her with a start. "Okay, enough of the secrets. I am dying to know, did you decide?"
"Loads of stuff to choose from, I'm still trying to make up my mind." Patricia said the butterflies churned in her stomach. She thought about asking her friends for help, but she was afraid of what they might think. Could she trust them enough to tell them the truth? Her friends knew she was a foster child. Could she tell them she came from nowhere?
Wendy and Sara looked at each other. "Patricia, you know we can help you if you want." Sara said.
"If you have a problem…" Wendy started to say before Patricia cut in.
"Don't be silly, I just want to pick a good project. There's no problem. Unlike that Math test, that was hard. Don't you think?" Patricia tried to change the subject. She hoped Wendy and Sara would just drop the subject of the fair.
Patricia had always borrowed clothes and a home. It wouldn't be fair to use the DeCarlo family traditions she thought. If she didn't do it every year, then it would be like borrowing. No, she needed her own tradition, something that was hers.
No one mentioned the fair the rest of the way home. The girls chatted, danced and giggled their way down the street.
Patricia said good-bye to her friends and took the steps to Mrs. Lacey's house two at a time. Before she could ring the bell, a frazzled Mrs. Lacy opened the door with a laundry basket under one arm and a squirming Amanda in the other.
"You are great to come by so often." Mrs. Lacey said struggling. Amanda squealed as her mother released her grip. They laughed as they watched the little girl scurry down the hallway to join her sister.
"I like it, really" Patricia put down her books.
"I'll be in the laundry room if you need me, Okay?" Mrs. Lacy gripped her basket and made her way down the hallway. Patricia found the girls in their well-equipped playroom. The girls ignored the cartoon playing on the TV. They were busy fighting over crayons at their art easel. Patricia stood quietly watching the girls as their argument grew each pulling the crayons from the other's hand.
"Mine" Amanda said grabbing the blue crayon from Annie's hand.
"Me first" Annie shouted back stamping her foot.
"Okay, draw me a pony?" Amanda asked handing back the crayon.
"Hey, pumpkins, what's the problem here?" Patricia said smiling from the doorway. Annie gave a screech of delight when she saw Patricia.
"Paricia, risha! Outside to swing?" Annie pleaded. Giggles and squeals surrounded Patricia as she gave both girls a hug.
"Let's get your jackets; we can go out for a while." Patricia dressed the girls and the happy group ran out the back door into the yard. Amanda ran to the sand pile.
"Pie, Pie, Pie" Amanda sang out.
"Swing, swing, swing" Annie said running to the swing set. She bounced up and down waiting for Patricia to help her on to the swing.
"No Pie first!" Amanda insisted.
"I get water." Annie said, grabbing a small bucket and running to the hose. The twins worked in unison humming "Pie man, Pie man, make a pie…." Mixing water into a pile of sand, they pushed the goopy mixture into plastic pie plates.
"What are we making?" Patricia asked.
"Pies" the girls giggled.
"Are they apple pies?" Patricia was amazed how much work they put into making each pie round and flat; each pie decorated with leaves and pebbles.
"Silly Risha, dirt pies" Amanda put a smile face on her pie and then pinched her thumbs around the edges.
"You don't eat them," Annie agreed. A storm of giggles and squeals raged from all three bakers. Mrs. Lacy opened the door and called them in for a snack. The girls jumped up and quickly forgot their hard work.
Patricia directed the girls to the sink where she helped them wash their hands. Patricia saw two freshly baked pies sitting on the countertop cooling. It was clear where the twins found their inspiration.
"You take such good care of the girls. I should start paying you with more than just cookies" Mrs. Lacy pushed the plate toward Patricia.
"I am happy to help; I don't need anything more than cookies, "Patricia assured her." They are really learning to share." Patricia was proud of her little friends.
"Yes, I think you had a lot to do with teaching them that." Mrs. Lacey said.
"I have to go. I have homework... I'll come by tomorrow." Patricia hugged the little ones and picked up her books.
"Pie man. Pie man…." Patricia sang down the street.
She liked Mrs. Lacy. She loved the girls and she always had a nice feeling when she left their house.
Saturday started out sunny, Wendy invited Patricia over to hang out. Playing on the swing set, they raced to see who could fly highest.
"Patricia, watch this, I can land way over there." Wendy said as she let go and flew through the air. "Weeeee" Wendy squealed then landed with a thud.
"That was great!" Patricia laughed. "It's starting to rain, I felt a few drops." "Let's go in, maybe lunch is ready," Wendy ran to the steps, Patricia followed.
Patricia liked Wendy's house. There was a mixture of dark furniture and colorful pictures hanging on the walls. All the rooms were on one floor with plenty of open space. There was always a special smell. Wendy called it jasmine or ginger, Patricia couldn't remember, but she liked it.
They found Wendy’s mother unpacking boxes in the dining room. "Girls, I’m glad you’re here. Look what I brought down from the attic.” Mrs. Yoshiri said opening a large box and arranging stacks of colorful paper. She took different colors and spread them across the table, so the girls could get a good look at them.
“Oh, this paper is really thin.” Patricia marveled as she held a blue square up to the window.
“This is Chiyogami paper for origami.” Wendy said tentatively, she looked at her mother. Her mother nodded for her to continue. “You make all kinds of sculptures with it.” Wendy bounced on her heels. “Listen, this is how I am going to start my presentation.” She cleared her throat and straightened as tall as she could.
“My name is Wendy and I am Japanese. Japan has a very old culture. It goes back thousands of years.” She stopped abruptly. “That’s all I have so far, how does it sound?" Raised eyebrows begged for approval. Mrs. Yoshiri clapped and Patricia forced her face into a grin.
“It sounds great” Patricia managed as she turned her attention to Mrs. Yoshiri who was beginning to tell them about the paper. Patricia listened with a mixture of fascination and curiosity. Wendy’s mom explained how the paper is made by hand.
"There are all kinds of animals, flowers, and complicated decorations made from them. As a little girl, My Grandmother sat with me for hours teaching me how to fold paper," She popped a paper flower behind her ear. "My favorite." she chuckled. "Now, I can show you.” Mrs. Yoshiri beamed, as she explained that wonderful time.
“Does it take a longtime to learn? Is the folding very hard to do?” Patricia asked.
“Some of the designs are more difficult than others. And of course, you must be careful not to tear the paper.” The girls started to choose their favorite colors as Wendy’s grandmother joined the happy group.
“Will I be able to learn in time for the school fair?” Wendy asked. “It’s coming soon.”
“You have much to learn, but we will all practice together,” The older woman explained. Her black eyes twinkled behind oval wire framed glasses.
Patricia worked alongside Wendy, her mother and grandmother. She enjoyed trying to fold the paper into a whale. Mrs. Yoshiri explained how to start practicing with simple designs. A large lump sat in Patricia’s throat. She felt as though she was intruding on a special family time.
“Maybe I should go home now, so you can finish.” Patricia tried a polite smile.
“Don’t be silly, you learn too.” Wendy’s grandmother handed her some red and blue sheets of paper.
“You can learn too.” Wendy sweetly correcting her grandmother’s English.
“Yes, thank you Little Flower." The woman said with a little bow. "Yes Patricia, we will all share what we know.” The old woman began her folding lesson. Patricia started to work and soon forgot about the lump in her throat.
At the end of the happy afternoon, Patricia walked home. She shuffled her feet as her thoughts turned sad. “Who cares about this stupid stuff?” Stopping on the corner waiting to cross the street, she rubbed her toe into the dirt. “Who cares what a pizzelle or a funnel cake taste like any way? This whole thing is a waste of time.” She wiped a couple of tears from her cheek as she climbed up the steps to Mrs. DeCarlo’s house. Patricia liked her foster mother but she wished she had a family of her own like Wendy’s.
Patricia was skimming past the channels on TV when she saw a minister standing at a pulpit giving a sermon. I reminded her of another foster mom, Mrs. Scott who took her to church every Sunday. Mrs. Scott was fond of bellowing, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, the Lord will provide.” She said this almost daily. "Watch your manners and God will watch you." she told Patricia repeatedly. Going to church, every Sunday was surely a tradition of Mrs. Scott’s. Patricia changed the channel to a cartoon. She wasn’t really watching. Her mind had started to drift.
Patricia frowned remembering the group home, all kinds of kids there, but not much tradition, unless you count making your bed and doing your homework a tradition. This was turning into a big problem.
The telephone rang. Patricia switched off the TV and answered to find an excited Lilly on the phone.
"Patricia it came. The video, it's here." Lilly sang into the phone. Patricia tried to stay calm.
"What are you talking about?" Patricia said. A sinking feeling started in her stomach.
"Last year, my family's trip to India, The elephant procession, my grandfather sent me the video to show the class." Lilly said.
"Oh yes, you told me about it. Great" Patricia managed. She tried to think of what she should do, what she should say.
"Do you wanna come over; we can work on our projects." Lilly said. Patricia could feel herself getting hot. She told herself to calm down, to think of something else.
It didn't work. Patricia couldn't stop herself. "I don't want to work on that stupid project. I'll see you tomorrow. G'bye" Patricia shouted before hanging up the phone. She knew she shouldn't have been so angry with Lilly.
She ran to her room, slammed the door and threw herself on her bed. The tears were about to start again when she stopped herself. "No, this is not important. You don't need a project or tell anyone anything. This will be over soon and everything will be back to normal." Patricia resolved the fair was over as far as she was concerned.
The phone rang again. "Patricia, it's for you." Mrs. DeCarlo called out. Patricia went to the phone and was about to burst into anger at the thought of another friend with more stupid project news.
"Hello, yes… I would love to…. "Patricia smiled brightly." Okay, Thanks… Bye." Patricia stayed on the phone for just a few minutes, she twirled and danced down the hall to the kitchen. "Mamma Dee, Mamma Dee, Mrs. Binda, across the street, She broke her ankle" Patricia announced.
"Yes, I know. But why are you smiling?" Mrs. DeCarlo said frowning.
"I'm not happy about her foot." Patricia said shaking her head. "Oh, this is great Mamma Dee, she asked me to walk Bowser every day before school and after dinner" Patricia beamed. "She wanted to pay me but I said no. I'm glad to help out."
"That’s nice of you. I'll stop over there tomorrow and see if she needs anything."
Mrs. DeCarlo smiled. "I am glad something can still make you smile." Patricia had no time to work on a stupid project. Helping Mrs. Binda was more important than any old project. Maybe she should tell her friends that!
A week a go Patricia liked hearing about all the different families and what they did every year. That was something she’d never had. But this was getting old. She was really tired of hearing what everyone was planning. Her biggest problem was that people kept asking her what SHE was planning. That was when she always had to come up with an excuse. Think fast, think fast!
She didn’t know how long they were going to accept - “It’s a big surprise.” What was she supposed to say? Always being the new kid in school, she had to work hard to make friends. She didn’t want to be different.
Patricia saw Lilly before class. Lilly looked as if she was going to come over to talk. Patricia turned red and pulled her book in front of her face. Lilly went to stand with Sara and Wendy. Patricia's book stayed in front of her face until the bell signaled the start of class.
If only she could wave a magic wand and have this whole stupid fair over. A smile came to her face as she pictured the thought. Then she quickly frowned. The fair might be over but I still wouldn’t know who I am, where my real family came from she thought. When the bell rang at the end of class, Patricia realized she had heard none of what Mrs. Walters had said. She followed the students out of the room, down the hall to the cafeteria.
A nudge from Wendy woke Patricia from her thoughts. “Do you need some help with your project? You haven’t mentioned it at all. Wendy offered trying to be a good friend.
“NO! It’s a secret.” Patricia snapped her usual response then tried to look cheerful as she saw the surprised look Wendy had on her face. Patricia felt embarrassed at how she had behaved but instead of an apology, she turned away.
Wendy and Sara moved toward Lilly and started talking. Patricia knew they were talking about her. Patricia moved to another lunch line wishing she could find somewhere else to sit. She was not looking where she was going and bumped into Deena.
Deena played basketball and soccer. Most often, she hung with the boys rather than the group of girls that had become Patricia's friends.
“Oh I’m sorry, I wasn’t looking,” Patricia said.
“It’s okay.” Deena mumbled. Going through the lunch line, Patricia kept following Deena. "Did you want something?" Deena asked.
"Uh, No." Patricia stammered. She continued to follow as Deena went to a far table and sat with Marci. Patricia didn’t know Marci very well either.
“Hi Patricia, wanna sit here?” Marci invited.
“Sure” Patricia said. Deena shrugged at them both and sat down with a puzzled look. Patricia sat down next to Marci, then quickly started in on her lunch.
“Did you hear they are going to have a street hockey team for fifth grade?” Marci said to Deena.
“Great” Deena agreed.
GREAT! Echoed in Patricia's thoughts. Street hockey was a subject she didn’t know anything about, but was grateful to hear. Patricia gladly listened while the girls talked about the equipment they would need and what colors the team might get.
The knot in Patricia’s stomach was just starting to loosen when Deena said, “Mrs. Walter said I don’t have to do anything for that stupid fair.”
Patricia froze, while Marci replied, “I told you.” Patricia felt a strange calm wash over her. She looked at both girls who seemed to think nothing of this whole subject.
“You two aren’t doing a project?” Patricia smiled.
A resounding “No” came from both girls in unison.
Deena began to explain, “My dad is Egyptian, from Egypt but my Mom
divorced him. I haven’t seen him for a couple of years.” Patricia was fascinated at how easily Deena told her story, as if it didn’t matter to her at all. “I remember some Egyptian games and songs he taught me but I’d have to look most of it up.” Deena stopped as though that explained it all.
“Your mom must have some tradition or custom” Patricia said wanting to hear more.
“Well Mom said that her great grandparents came from Italy, but she makes spaghetti from a jar, we don't have much Italian stuff around." Deena shrugged.
"Are you doing a project?" Marci asked Patricia.
"I have no time; I have to walk my friend's dog." Patricia said.
"Mrs. Walter said I wouldn’t loose any grade points if I don’t participate, so it’s no big deal.” Deena said.
“Yup, No reason to bother with it, we’ll just do the class assignments” Marci ended. Patricia sat amazed and thinking.
After lunch, Patricia started to think about not doing a project. That was one way to get through this.
That evening Patricia was tired when she finally reached her room. Gym class, chasing the twins, walking Bowser and helping Joey next door with his math homework had left Patricia tired. She didn't mind being tired, she was glad she was able to help her friends. Patricia was grateful for a quiet night. Maybe tonight she could get some sleep.
Mrs. DeCarlo knocked on Patricia's door. "Hi, I dug this out for you. It's your birth certificate. I thought maybe you could use it?" Mrs. DeCarlo handed Patricia an envelope. "How is the tradition project coming?
With a forced smile Patricia replied, "Not too good."
"Would you like me to speak to your teacher about the project?" Mrs. DeCarlo offered.
"NO!" Patricia snapped. "I mean it's okay, I can handle this" she managed an even tone. "You know it just sucks that’s all," Patricia said.
"Excuse me!" Mrs. DeCarlo said.
"Oh sorry, It stinks" Patricia corrected herself. "I couldn’t try out for the track team 'cause I moved here too late. Now I can't do this, even if I wanted to. It's just not fair!" Patricia said.
"I know" Mrs. DeCarlo said. "Life sometimes just isn't fair. We can only take what we are given and do our best." She shrugged. "I don't have the answer to why life isn’t fair. I'm sorry."
Patricia nodded. "It's okay." She knew Mrs. DeCarlo tried to help. "I'm not doing a project. It's not required," Patricia said. She took the envelope and tossed it onto the dresser.
"I'm sorry to hear you're giving up so soon." Mrs. DeCarlo said as she left Patricia's room. Patricia could see the disappointment in her eyes.
Patricia picked up the envelope and read the birth certificate. It gave no clue to what nationality or culture she should have. Sitting in her room, she thought about giving up. "I'm not a quitter!" She wanted to do nothing, just wish it all away, but this was more than an assignment to her. This was much much more than an assignment.
The next day, a call to her social worker didn’t help. Mrs. Larson looked in Patricia’s file, but there wasn’t a handed-down cookie recipe or a sombrero or anything Patricia could show the class.
Patricia decided she would talk to her teacher. She explained to Mrs. Walter that her past was a little confusing. The teacher was nice, and Patricia at first thought she understood. Then her heart sank at Mrs. Walter reply.
“It’s okay if you don’t have something. It’s not a required assignment, just do the class portion.” Patricia couldn’t say any more. The teacher hadn’t seen how important this project had become to her. She knew Mrs. Walter was trying to be nice but what she said made her feel even worse. Patricia needed something that was hers. She needed to know something, anything about herself.
She felt sure she would find something at the library. She usually found all her answers there. There were books on how to wrap an Indian turban and dance a Polka. All kinds of other traditions were described in the many books she looked at, but Patricia had no way of knowing which traditions might belong to her.
What were her roots anyway? Had she really lost them all? Patricia searched through all the books she could find. She thought that somehow, some tradition or culture would jump out at her.
One book had a colorful picture of an outdoor market with rows and rows or decorated roosters. Roosters from Barcelos was the caption in the Portugal book. “Cool colors” Patricia said.
Patricia pulled out, CARNIVAL IN BRAZIL – Wow, the Samba dresses are fabulous, she thought. Patricia had never seen dresses so glamorous and shiny. So many parties, that must be a fun country, she mused. But it didn’t call to her, not the way Patricia thought her culture should. Finally, Patricia checked out a stack of books to take home.
"Patricia, hi! We thought you left. Sara said startling Patricia.
"Hi guys." Patricia replied. She hoped Wendy and Sara didn't notice the book titles before she tossed her jacket over the stack.
"What are you looking up?" Wendy asked. Patricia tried to think fast, but just shrugged.
"I'm going to see my grandmother this weekend. Did I ever tell you about her?" Sara said more to Patricia.
"No, does she live far?" Patricia asked. She was trying to be polite but not interested.
"She was an orphan." Sara said tentatively. Sara looked to Wendy for support.
"Kind of like you, Patricia." Wendy added. "My grandmother was an orphan too, before she was adopted.
"Why are you telling me this?" Patricia asked. She tried to hide that she was getting annoyed.
"The war made our grandmothers orphans," Wendy said. Patricia began to sweat. She wasn't sure why her friends were telling her this.
"We are screwing this up. Uh, look. If you need help or if you don't have a project…" Sara started.
"We are your friends. We understand. Maybe we can help you find something." Wendy finished. Patricia didn't know what to say. Her stomach started to lurch. She shook her head to clear it.
"What, you think I have no project? There's no problem, really! I don't know what you guys are thinking. I am gonna have a great project. You'll see." Patricia said. She hoped she sounded convincing but she could tell her voice was starting to crack. Patricia grabbed her coat and stack of books and headed for the door.
"Wait, we didn't mean to make you feel bad." Wendy called after her. Patricia didn't stop to reply; she put her books in her backpack, and then ran home.
"They are supposed to be my friends! How could they talk about me?" She knew she had to find something. "Maybe I should have just told them the truth." She thought. "They already knew." She clenched her fists, and then wiped her sweaty palms on her legs. Patricia wondered if all the kids were talking about her. Were they all having a good laugh behind her back? "I am somebody, they'll see. I'll find something."
Patricia sat in her room with a stack of books. "C'mon, c'mon where are you? She said, feeling sure her heritage would show it self, somehow. Determined to get through the whole stack, she looked up Spanish traditions and Chinese herbs… anything and everything-- to try to find her own roots. Nothing seemed right.
Taking a break, she looked in the mirror. She didn’t look Chinese. Maybe she was Greek, what did Greeks look like? Patricia fumbled through the stack of books until she found the one on Greece. She looked at the cover and name of the book’s author popped out, Fani Papandreou. Patricia’s last name was Clark. That didn’t sound Greek. The librarian told her it sounded English.
"What's the use? I am a freak! I'm nothing." Patricia was tired. She thought she would never find an answer to who she was in time to finish her project. She realized that whoever she was, she wasn’t going to find the answer in a book. She might find out someday, but right now, she had to focus on the school project. She only had a few days left.
Patricia looked around her room littered with books. It was a small room with the standard beige walls. The room was ready for a boy or girl. Or ready to be turned back into Mrs. DeCarlo’s sewing room whatever was needed tomorrow.
When she first came here, Mrs. DeCarlo told her she could hang things on the wall to make the room more personal. Patricia hung only three things on the wall, her Book Friends medal, Team Spirit Award and School Service Award. In three months, she had racked up quite a collection. She was proud of her awards and knew they deserved to be displayed.
Patricia threw herself on her bed. The tears were about to start again when she stopped herself. "No, this is not who you are! You do not shout at friends. You do not cry for silly things like this." She told herself firmly. "This will be over soon. You are stronger than this. Your friends will like you again." Patricia knew she had to apologize to Wendy and Sara in the morning. "They were only trying to help" she knew. "Lilly too," she added to her mental list.
Patricia got dressed for bed. Then she looked in the mirror again. She knew that not just traditions and customs came from families. She knew your looks, the way you talk and sometimes your talents came from them as well. Did I get anything from my parents, she wondered. Kelly and her mom both had red curly hair and Liz’s mom taught her to play the piano. What would she have learned from her parents?
Did my mother look like me? Did my long lanky legs come from my father? Did he try out for the track team?
Wendy clearly resembled her mom and grandmother. All three had shiny straight black hair. Who do I walk like, who do I sound like? She had never really thought about it before and now it was really starting to bother her.
She had never felt sorry for herself before. The fact that she was a foster child bouncing from home to home was just that, a fact of her life. She lived in different homes with different kids and that’s all she knew. It all seemed normal before. Now her mind was restless with questions, why do I have to move around so much? Does my real mom like to draw like me? Her heart and head started to rush, the questions flowed swiftly but these questions had no answers.
Sad and confused, she didn't stop the tears that filled her eyes as the questions consumed her. He thought about all the wonderful families that had shared her life. She had been lucky; So many homes had made her feel welcome, a part of the family. Was she wrong to wonder about her birth parents after so many people had been kind to her?
As she climbed into bed, she thought, maybe I'm not supposed to know. Maybe I will never know. She tossed and turned in her bed. Mrs. DeCarlo was a great mom; she loves me and takes good care of me, Patricia reminded herself.
She started to feel a little ashamed for wanting to know about the people who had given her away. Should she be ashamed of wanting what she could never have? Patricia lay crying and confused for another long restless night.
The next morning, Patricia resolved, she knew these books didn't hold the answers for her. "I give up on these books," she mumbled to herself. She stacked up the library books, so she could return them. She picked up Mrs. DeCarlo's dictionary she'd borrowed. She dropped it. The book lay open on her bedroom floor. The page began with "Tractor." She looked at the book for a full minute thinking. She ran her finger down the page until she found it and read the words aloud.
“TRADITION - the handing down of information, beliefs and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to another”
Patricia read that traditions are not always from a country. Traditions are not always about a religion. It was something shared by families and friends. A tradition had to start somewhere and Patricia had learned that many traditions change over the years. Some traditions were so old that no one really knew where or when they started.
She smiled as a gleam of hope crept over her sadness. Why couldn’t she start her own tradition? Traditions were just things people did every year. So what did Patricia like to do? What did Patricia think was important? It had to be something she could do every year, no matter where she lived or who her foster parents might be. Can I really start my own tradition she wondered.
She would need to find something important that she could hand down to the family she would have someday. Even if she never found her true origins, she still would have something. She just had to find the right one. Her tradition had to be something that fit her and her life. That’s what she needed for the project and for herself.
Mrs. DeCarlo again tried to cheer up Patricia, “Would you like to go shopping at the mall? You can invite a friend if you’d like.” Patricia beamed; she was in a much better mood. Shopping at the Mall was always fun. She ran to the phone and called Sara.
“Wanna go to the mall with us? Patricia sang into the phone when Sara answered.
“No, I'm going skating on the pond. You can come if you want. Everyone is going." Sara offered. Patricia’s smile faded. She thought of the group of girls all talking about the fair and talking about her.
"No thanks. I'm going to the mall." Patricia wanted to scream. When is this stupid fair going to be over! But she didn’t. Patricia calmed herself down. She said goodbye and hung up the phone. She was determined to have a fun and not think about the “stupid fair.”
At the entrance to the Mall, a man stood wearing a military kind of suit. He was ringing a bell standing next to a red kettle. Patricia had seen these bell-ringers before. They were all over town.
Mrs. DeCarlo gave Patricia some coins. Patricia went up and dropped them into the kettle. The man smiled and handed Patricia a little card and a small candy cane. Patricia popped the end of the candy cane into her mouth and looked at the card as she followed Mrs. DeCarlo into the store.
“Brighter Day Mission, We give a helping hand… what’s that?” Patricia asked, handing the card to Mrs. DeCarlo.
“It’s a place where men and women who don’t have a place to live can go to get food or clothes and sometimes stay overnight.”
“Is it like a foster home for grownups?” Patricia asked.
“You could think of it that way.” Mrs. DeCarlo smiled. “The money we gave them tonight helps the mission buy food and clothes and things like that.”
“The man with the bell? Does he work at the mission?”
“He’s probably a volunteer. They need lots of people to help out there.” Mrs. DeCarlo explained. ”Anyone who wants to help is welcome to give some time.” Mrs. DeCarlo walked toward the candle shop and Patricia followed. "Stay where I can see you." Mrs. DeCarlo instructed. Patricia looked at all the signs in the shop windows. “The smell of these candles makes everything more festive.” Mrs. DeCarlo said moving toward the candle store. Patricia trailed behind.
She wasn’t feeling very festive but she still found herself singing along to the holiday tunes playing in the stores. The mall was busy today; everyone had packages and seemed in a big hurry. The little kids lined up eagerly waiting to see Santa. Some looked frightened or worried as they recited their lists. Patricia smiled, she remembered when she was little and waited in line for Santa. For a half second, she thought of maybe standing in line and making a Christmas wish with Santa. She knew she was too old for magic.
While they shopped, the holiday decorations reminded Patricia about trying to find a tradition. She started to worry about the fair again. She thought about Sara’s dreidel, ‘A great miracle happened here’ is what Sara told her was written on the side.
A miracle was what Patricia needed all right. Her mind whirled around all the traditions her friends had told her and she had read about. The train at Santa’s village reminded her of Calvin. His family had been collecting train sets for generations.
There were groups of families shopping. Mothers with children, grandparents and fathers all looking happy and smiling as they carried their packages filled with presents. Patricia noticed something else. The families in the mall, the traditions, the customs, they all were about sharing. Tradition WAS sharing!
Patricia was not paying attention; she was wrapped up in her thoughts. She heard someone calling her name. "Patricia, Patricia" Sara called from across the mall. There was a group of girls heading straight for her. Like a bolt of lightning, Patricia felt like she was struck in the heart. She turned so quickly she smacked into a bell ringer.
Crash! Clink, clank, crash went the collection kettle. Coins and bills spilled everywhere. Patricia was so embarrassed. "I am so sorry." She started to collect the spilled coins and bills. Few shoppers stopped to help.
Patricia's school friends rushed over. "Sorry guys, I can't talk right now." Patricia said scurrying to pick up coins.
"Ok, we just came to get Wendy some thick socks, see you later." Sara said as the girls left. Patricia felt the girls were glad to distance themselves from the embarrassing commotion.
"Thank you so much," the bell ringer said.
"It was my fault" Patricia insisted. After picking all the money that had scattered, and settling the kettle, Patricia asked, "Can you tell me about the mission?" She had an idea.
Patricia saw Mrs. DeCarlo watching the commotion from the store entrance. Patricia was beaming as she skipped up to her. "Mamma Dee, Can you do me a favor… Please? ” Patricia said through a big toothy grin.
“What are you up to?” Mrs. DeCarlo asked as Patricia handed her foster mother a business card the man had given her.
“Can you drive me to the mission tomorrow? Since its Saturday I won’t be in school, and Mr. Prichard, that’s the Captain, he said I could help. He said I could even put soup in the bowls!" Patricia was talking so fast Mrs. DeCarlo had a bewildered look on her face. "Please?” she said with a pleading smile.
Mrs. DeCarlo nodded. “Goodness, calm down a minute." Mrs. DeCarlo smiled back at Patricia then looked at the mission volunteer who nodded to her. "You know you have been hiding that pretty smile lately. If it will keep you smiling, I'll gladly drive you." Patricia bounced on the balls of her feet and clapped her hands in triumph. "What time?" Mrs. DeCarlo asked as they walked to their car.
On Monday morning, Patricia went to school carrying a large brown bag. All the students listened and watched as their classmates shared their cultures and traditions. The students tasted pies and cookies; they listened to music and watched dances; and they all had a great time. Soon, it was Patricia’s turn.
She walked to the front of the class and cleared her throat. Many of the kids whispered back and forth. No one knew what Patricia was going to do.
“She really kept this a secret,” Sara murmured as Lilly nodded. Patricia opened her brown bag, took out a military style cap, and put it on her head. Some of the kids started to giggle. Patricia knew she looked silly in the oversized cap but she didn’t care. She was sure this was right for her.
“I am Private-Trainee Patricia Clark of the Brighter Day Mission,” she said loudly. A few more giggles came from the back. “I don’t know if I’m Irish, Jewish, or English. What I do know is... I’m a helpful, caring person who shares.” She smiled. All the kids looked around wondering what she was talking about.
Patricia paused for a moment as she saw the puzzled faces. Then she continued to explain, “I have no family traditions passed down to me. It is my turn to start a tradition.” She smiled broadly, as she told them what the mission did and why it was important.
“Captain Prichard who runs the mission says it is important to help those who don’t have families to share with them. Captain Prichard and his friends volunteer to share what they have. They share their time and help many different people. This is just like Mrs. DeCarlo, my foster mother. Many foster families had shared their homes with me. Now it is my turn to share.” Patricia smiled as some of the teachers started to clap.
“I spent Saturday afternoon spooning soup and handing out blankets to people who needed help. It made me feel really good inside. I am going to do this every year. It is MY TRADITION! I found that tradition is to take care of and pass down your culture and way of life to those you love. I will pass down to my children the culture of helping and sharing" Patricia looked up to see many of her friends smiling and nodding their heads. Patricia knew that she might never find her roots. But now she had a tradition, one of her own.
Patricia continued her speech. “It is a gift when we can share our roots and traditions. I was upset for a while and not a very good friend to some of you. For that I am sorry." Patricia looked at Lilly and Sara and saw them smiling. She knew they had forgiven her bad behavior. She nodded at them then went on to finish. "I realized; Traditions are made to be shared.” Before Patricia could realize what was happening the whole class was clapping.
Mrs. Walter joined them saying, “The assignment was to find a tradition to hand down, and that is exactly what she did!" Patricia took a bow and joined her friends in the back of the room.
“You really kept this a secret,” Sara smiled.
“And it was worth the wait” Wendy added, taking the cap from Patricia and putting it on her own head.
Patricia couldn’t wait to get home and tell Mrs. DeCarlo that all the kids voted; hers was the best tradition. Patricia ran into the kitchen. “The class voted to take a field trip; we are all going to spend a day next month helping at the mission. Mrs. Walter said they would try to do it every year and make it a class tradition” Mrs. DeCarlo put down a tray of hot cookies and gave Patricia a hug.
“I am very proud of you; you’ll be helping so many people.” Patricia’s smile ended just long enough to pop a cookie into her mouth. Then she twirled and danced into the other room.