It was Christmas 1961. I was teaching in a small town in Ohio where my twenty seven third graders eagerly anticipated the great day of gifts giving.

Each day the children produced some new wonder—strings of popcorn, hand made trinkets, and German bells made from wallpaper samples, which we hung from the ceiling. Through it all she remained aloof, watching from afar, seemingly miles away. I wondered what would happen to this quiet child, once so happy, now so suddenly withdrawn. I hoped the festivities would appeal to her. But nothing did.

The day of gift giving finally came. We oohed and aahed over our handiwork as the presents were exchanged. Through it all, she sat quietly watching. I had made a special pouch for her, red and green with white lace. I wanted very much to see her smile. She opened the package so slowly and carefully. I waited but she turned away.

After school the children left in little groups, but she lingered, watching them go out the door. I sat down to catch my breath, hardly aware of what was happening when she came to me with outstretched hands, bearing a small white box, unwrapped and slightly soiled, as though it had been held many times by unwashed, childish hands. "For me?" I asked with a weak smile. She said not a word, but nodded her head. I took the box and gingerly opened it. There inside, glistening green, lay a golden chain. In a flash I knew—she had made it for her mother, a mother she would never see again, a mother who would never hold her or brush her hair or share a funny story, a mother who would never again hear her childish joys or sorrows. A mother who had taken her own life just three weeks before.

I held out the chain. She took it in both her hands, reached forward, and secured the simple clasp at the back of my neck. She stepped back then as if to see that all was well. I looked down at the golden chain, then back at the giver, "Maria, it is so beautiful. She would have loved it." Neither of us could stop the tears. She stumbled into my arms and we wept together. And for that brief moment I became her mother, for she had given me the greatest gift of all: herself.