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Beverly Beckham

Kind, good, caring people can help get us through these times

Payton Mastrogiacomo holding gifts from her third grade teacher, Elaine Rooney.
Payton Mastrogiacomo holding gifts from her third grade teacher, Elaine Rooney.Keri Mastrogiacomo

My friend Elaine is not the only one reaching out and doing what she can to give meaning to these strange and uncertain days.

Yesterday, I received a video from Francesca, a woman I’ve known since our kids were in high school plays together. The video was of a Halloween party 25 years ago. I didn’t remember the party and neither did my daughter, but there she was on film with all her theater friends in our kitchen, dressed up as characters they’d played, talking into the camera. Francesca’s son had filmed this.

What a gift to receive. Especially now.

My cousin owns Heritage Flowers in Lakeville. Last week I read on Facebook that she was giving away masks for adults and children. A few weeks before it was free tulips. Before that, free forsythia.

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Kind, good, caring people are everywhere.

But it’s hard to remember this when the person in the White House, our leader and the leader of the free world, is so viciously unkind.

Elaine, with her enthusiasm, has put his harangues in the background of my mind for a while.

I’ve known Elaine for a million years, since freshman year at Archbishop Williams. We were in the same homeroom. We both went to Bridgewater State. After college, we taught school. I lasted a year. She taught for 43, fourth grade for the first 17 years, third grade until she retired, all at the Highland School in Braintree. The last class she taught is this year’s graduating class of 2020.

The class that has been robbed of all of its celebrations.

On Facebook last month, Elaine saw Adopt a 2020 Braintree Senior. And clicked. And adopted, not one, but every senior listed on the site who had been in her last third-grade class.

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“I pulled out their class picture with all their little faces. I had memories of every single one.”

She paused for a while. And then she went shopping.

The idea behind adopting a senior, and many towns are doing this, is to celebrate kids whose natural rites of passage — senior day, senior prom, graduation — have been canceled. People send notes, gifts, balloons, something to mark an occasion, a big occasion, that has been gutted by COVID-19.

Elaine didn’t need prodding to go searching for booty. She loves to shop. “I had to get creative, though.”

With most of the stores closed, finding meaningful gifts was a challenge. “It took a long time. But it totally distracted me and gave me a purpose.”

Back when she taught school, she rewarded her students for good behavior with “Funny Money,” currency earned that could be used to buy items Elaine purchased — paper, pencils, books, toys, games, puzzles — and set up in her “store.”

And so, she bought $2 scratch tickets with a potential value of $100,000, and put them in envelopes, which she labeled “Funny Money.”

She had a class mascot, too, Butterscotch, a stuffed bear she purchased at Build-a-Bear. Butterscotch had his own suitcase, filled with clothes for every occasion. “He had more clothes than I did.” He went to Bruins games and birthday parties. “I even bought him a fake cupcake that was made out of felt.”

And so she bought small Teddy bears (“I only found seven, so I bought three bobble-head owls dressed for graduation, too”) and attached $5 gift cards from Dunkin’ Donuts, which said “From Butterscotch.” And because she still has Butterscotch, who is ragged from being loved, she signed each gift card with his paw print.

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Somewhere she found chocolate candies with 2020 on them. And buckets, which she filled with popcorn and snacks. And frames and photo albums and bookmarks and gift bags and notebooks and paper and pencils and pens and cups with drinking straws.

“The hand-painted, personalized, congratulations signs were made by my sister-in-law, Deb. She ordered the vinyl and did every single one.”

To connect with people. To be part of a bigger, better whole. To reach out. Isn’t that what most people try to do?

Elaine’s nephew and family, in a separate car, helped her deliver all the gifts.

I see the good that people do. Jill drops off a golf-themed mask for my husband. Joanne makes him a travel-themed one. Rosemary mails me a pink mask with polka dots. David Josef has been making and donating masks, thousands of them, since this nightmare began. I want to believe that good people and the good they do will triumph in these tough times.

But every time I hear our president berate yet another someone I think his meanness is like a bad smell, like driving by the ocean at low tide. You roll up the window but the smell’s still there.

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And because of this, even the sweetest of scents are masked; even lilacs in bloom are impossible to enjoy.

Beverly Beckham’s column appears every two weeks. She can be reached at bev@beverlybeckham.com.