From the Children’s Friend, January 1937 –
A Change of Heart
by Coral J. Black
“Mother,” said Mary Lou as she tossed her hat on the settee and flung her small self into a chair, “I don’t want to go to the Henson school!”
Mrs. Larsen looked at her ten-year-old daughter in real surprise as she said, “Why, Mary Lou, if I remember correctly, you told me only last week that you liked the Henson school and loved your teacher Miss Jennings.”
“I did, Mother,” Mary Lou agreed dolefully, “but that was a whole week ago and things change so fast!”
“Yes, they do,” Mother agreed gravely, “they must change very rapidly at the Henson school. Perhaps you’d better tell me about it.”
“We’ve got greasers in our school!” Mary Lou announced tragically, her blue eyes wide, her face flushed, “and,” she added resentfully, “one of them sits right by me!”
“Do you mean Mexican children, Mary Lou?” her mother questioned kindly.
“Yes, they’re Mexican, mother, but all the children call them ‘greasers.’”
“I hope you are not so rude, Mary Lou. ‘Greasers’ is an insulting term used only by people who do not know better.”
“But, Mother, Billey Truel says they’re ‘greasers’ and his father owns a bank!”
“Never mind what Billey Truel does, Mary Lou. I don’t want you to call these little strangers such names, and please, my dear, treat them as you would wish to be treated if you were in a strange land – among strange children.”
“Do you mean I must play with them, mother, and talk to them?” Mary Lou asked, a troubled look on her small face.
“Of course, Mary Lou. These little folks must play and be happy. Invite them to join your games and give them a smile, it costs so little.”
Mary Lou was silent, regarding her mother with amazement, but mother went on gently, “Promise me, Mary Lou, that no matter what other children do or say, you will be nice and polite.”
“I’ll try, Mother, but,” Mary Lou shook her blonde head doubtfully, “I don’t think I can be very polite.”
Mary Lou Larsen had spent all her life on a farm and had never before attended a school where foreign children shared the same classroom. Great was her amazement one morning, three weeks after the beginning of school, to see three Mexican children ushered into the room.
They were very dark, with great brown eyes and crisply curling hair. They were painfully shy and were dressed in quite plain clothing. They could speak English very well but were reluctant to take part in class work.
The name “greaser” had first been applied to them by Billey Truel. It spread quickly and very soon a crowd of small boys and a few girls swarmed about the little strangers at noon and recess calling loudly, “Greasers, greasers, a bunch of dirty greasers!”
Juan, the oldest, resented it in the manner small boys usually do. A fight followed and the resultant noise brought several teachers on the scene.
Miss Jennings positively forbade any further calling of names and it stopped being done openly, but on the sly it still went on.
One evening, about a week after Mary Lou and her mother had talked the matter over, the small girl spoke abruptly at the supper table.
“I guess I won’t be in the operetta, mother!”
“Why not?” her mother asked in surprise, “I have your dress nearly finished. What’s the matter?”
“Senny’s sick. She sings the soprano. I can’t sing alto alone!”
“But surely Miss Jennings can find someone else to sing with you, Mary Lou.”
“She has, mother – it’s Rosita, the Mexican girl! I – I won’t sing with her!”
“Why, my dear, how you talk. Of course you will sing with Rosita if Miss Jennings wishes you to.”
“No, Mother, I – I can’t! She, she, oh, you don’t know how she looks. I can’t, I – I won’t, so there!” and much to the astonishment of the entire family Mary Lou hurried from the room, sobs of disappointment shaking her small form.
A few moments later there was a brief conversation over the telephone. It was between Mary Lou’s mother and her teacher and when Mrs. Larsen put the receiver back on the hook there was a queer little smile on her lips.
She went in search of Mary Lou and found her on the porch.
“Listen, Mary Lou, Miss Jennings just phoned to learn if you were at home. She is coming over at seven and is bringing a visitor with her – a little girl.”
“Oh, I wonder who it is? Maybe it’s Miss Jennings’ niece or her sister, she said she had a sister just my age. Do you think that’s who it is, mother?”
“Perhaps, but it’s nearly seven so hurry to your room and put on a fresh dress and brush your hair carefully.”
Mary Lou flew to do her mother’s bidding, talking happily to herself the while.
“Miss Jennings is coming just to see me and a girl is coming with her. Oh, my,” she smiled at herself in the mirror. “I expect it’s someone I’ve never seen before!”
Promptly at seven the door bell rang and Mother opened the door. There stood Miss Jennings and beside her – a girl – Mary Lou rubbed her eyes and looked again. A blue coat with a small fur collar, and a blue hat pulled low over one eye, had almost fooled her at first, but it was – yes, it really was Rosita!
For a moment Mary Lou was so disappointed and angry that she just stood and stared, but a glance from her mother reminded her of certain courtesies, and she held out her hand to Miss Jennings. “How do you do, Miss Jennings,” then reluctantly, “Hello, Rosita.”
Mother took their wraps while Mary Lou stared, unbelieving, and Rosita glanced quickly at the floor and plucked nervously at her dress.
Miss Jennings spoke quietly.
“I brought Rosita over to sing for you and your mother, Mary Lou. What will you sing, Rosita?”
“The Lark,” Rosita replied in scarcely more than a whisper.
Miss Jennings seated herself at the piano and a few rippling notes came from her fingers, then Rosita began to sing.
She forgot her embarrassment, her strange surroundings, but stood poised, as if about to fly thrilling bird-like notes that held the listeners silent and almost breathless.
Miss Jennings did not remain long. She knew by the look on Mary Lou’s face that she had accomplished her purpose.
For some time after the visitors had gone Mary Lou and her mother sat silent – then the small girl asked anxiously,
“Mother, do you think Rosita will let me sing with her?”