Editor's Query: Kennedy, the Class and the Chewing Gum

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lyndon Johnson was president and Robert Kennedy was attorney general in early 1964. At age 26, I was a special education teacher in a public school in Alexandria. In those days, special ed classes were filled with students who had varying degrees of challenges. Not all of them knew how to walk quietly through a school hallway, what constituted reasonable behavior or how to sit still in the classroom.

The father of one of the students worked in the Justice Department and invited the class to tour the office and meet Bobby Kennedy. I drilled the students for weeks on how to behave appropriately, both on the bus and in Kennedy's office. I firmly told them at least 100 times, "No chewing gum!"

On the day of the trip, I stood outside the school bus door with a small paper sack collecting gum.

The kids' behavior on the bus was exemplary. We toured the building without incident and walked into Kennedy's office to find him without a jacket, shirt sleeves rolled up, the wonderful Kennedy smile on his face -- and chewing gum. The students totally lost it.

"Miss Jensen!" they yelled, jumping up and down. "He's chewing gum!"

"Did teacher make you spit out your gum?" Kennedy asked.

"Yes!" They all screamed.

He gave me a charming look, pulled packets of gum out of his desk drawer and distributed them all around.

The children loved him.

Jean Jensen, Alexandria

New query: Tell us about a time when a beauty disaster sabotaged a good time. If you have a 100 percent true story taken from your own experience concerning the above query, send it to queries@washpost.com or The Washington Post Magazine, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Include your daytime phone number. Recount your story in 250 words or fewer.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company