He loves me, he loves me not

Today I am revising a fun memoir I first wrote as a model for a fifth-grade class. Given the choice of a time in my life when I was happy, sad, angry, afraid or embarrassed, the kids voted for “embarrassed.”

What fun it was to watch them alternately cringing and writhing in their seats—but also laughing.

*******

As soon as the dismissal bell rang, I shot down the hall, through the doors, and to the crosswalk in record time. I could hardly wait to get home from school: My grandma had called that morning to say that my present should arrive in the mail.

I’d been thinking all day about what my present might be. Was it a latch hook kit, or a Mystery Date game? I’d been wanting those forever. Maybe it was those books that I heard some middle-school girls whispering about and which titles I kept mentioning as potential gifts, as I was dying to read them, but so far no one had gotten for me yet. Last year, when I was ten, I still read the Little House books and wished I was Laura to the point that my mother made sunbonnets for me, but of course I’d become too old for that now … most of the time…

I ran the whole way home, slowing only when I got a stitch in my side. At last I reached the steps of my own house. I took them two at a time and barreled through the front door into the living room.

“MOM, I’M HOME! DID MY PRESENT GET HERE?”

“It’s on the coffee table,” said Mom.

Sure enough, a large box wrapped in brown paper sat beckoning from the table. In ten seconds I had the paper off, trying to imagine what fantastic thing Grandma had chosen for me.

I threw the box lid on the floor and yanked away the tissue paper inside.

For a moment, I wasn’t quite sure what I was seeing.

Clothes.

I was okay with clothes, but …

This was a shirt with some kind of huge design on it. I picked it up. When the shirt unfurled, the design turned out to be a giant daisy with a bright yellow center and enormous petals covering the entire front.

Ewwwww!

Mom said, “Oh, that’s nice.”

But that was not all. Oh no, that was not all.

Something was glowing at me from inside the box. A color so bright that it was practically blinding, a shade close to a French’s mustard bottle.

Somewhat fearfully, I lifted the glowing yellow thing out of the box.

Shorts.

A bulky pair of shorts that matched the daisy shirt.

Shorts made of thick polyester that would never wrinkle in a million years, an unsympathetic fabric that scratched against my skin.

I detested polyester.

I couldn’t pull my thoughts together. Was Grandma serious? Surely she wasn’t playing a joke on me! Didn’t she understand that I was now eleven, not six?

Mom said, “How cute, a little shorts set. Look—there’s still something in the box.”

I wanted to say I do not want to know, and I do not care, this is the most hideous thing I’ve ever seen in my life, but I quietly reached into the box one more time, as the last wisps of my hope withered and died.

In a flat pack of cellophane lay a pair of knee socks.

KNEE SOCKS.

They were white. Each had a daisy on them. One sock bore the words “He loves me” and the other sock was emblazoned with “He loves me not.”

“Now, that’s unique,” Mom commented. “I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”

“Mom! I can’t wear this! Can I ask Grandma to exchange it?”

“Absolutely not. Your grandmother took time to pick this out especially for you and to get it in the mail so that you’d have it on your birthday. You will keep it and be thankful.”

“Well, I’m not going to WEAR it!”

My mother’s eyes went dark, flashing like warning signs. She stuck out her chin, reminding me of a hungry bulldog that just had its food snatched away. I even detected a slight growl:

“Oh yes, you WILL wear it. You will wear it tomorrow and we’ll take your picture for Grandma.”

“I’m NOT wearing this to school, Mom! No way!”

The next morning, I trudged slowly, miserably to school in the hideous daisy outfit, socks and all, while Mom watched from the front steps with her arms crossed over her chest. She’d checked my bookbag to be sure I hadn’t snuck a change of clothes in there.

People could probably see me coming for miles, wondering what this unearthly glowing object could be. I kind of hoped I would get run over on the way to school, or that I would magically come down with flu, but my mother would still make me wear this so I might as well get it over with.

The snickering began as soon as I stepped into my fifth-grade classroom. The girls took a quick look at me, looked at each other, and erupted with uncontrollable giggles. The boys just stared, not even bothering to look away.

No one wants to be stared at in this way.

The cutest guy in my class, Allen, finally said, “What in the heck are you wearing?”

Why, oh why wouldn’t the floor just open up and swallow me? I couldn’t even think of a reply.

All day, when I passed by classmates, I heard little comments: “Here comes the flower girl” and “Has she figured out who loves her or loves her not yet?”

As I was getting up to sharpen my pencil, my left sock snagged on the side of the desk. When I snatched my leg free, a long thread pulled out.

Now I had to walk around with a long string dangling from my “He loves me” sock.

I could not endure any more. At lunch, I just wanted to sit by myself in peace. But when my classmate Vincent realized that the cafeteria was serving fried fish, he came around with his brown paper lunch bag, asking the rest of us if wanted ours. Vincent always did this on fish days; he took the greasy bag of collected fish home to his family.

He plopped down on the seat beside me. “Hey, you want your fish?”

“You can have it, Vincent. I’m not hungry.”

“Thanks! What’s the matter with you?”

“Geez, Vincent, isn’t it obvious? You can see what I look like today. Haven’t you heard what everyone’s been saying?”

“Not really,” said Vincent.

He did look a little confused.

“This is the most embarrassing day I’ve ever had! My grandmother sent me this ridiculous daisy outfit for my birthday. I can’t believe she thought this would be a good present. I hate it! I feel stupid.”

Vincent shrugged. “It ain’t that bad.” He took the fish off of my tray and put it in his grease-stained bag. “At least you got a grandma who loves you.”

I stared at him. He was smiling and happy, even though he wore the same brown shirt to school almost every day. He never seemed embarrassed. I thought about his family who’d be eating the unwanted lunches of fifth-graders for supper that night. Funny Vincent, the class clown. He made everybody laugh, including the teachers, even when they tried not to. It all came together in my mind, just then, how Vincent didn’t dwell on himself; he thought about others and tried to make them happy.

That’s what my grandma always did, too.  

Tears of shame stung my eyes.

“You’re right, Vincent. She does love me. She’s the best.”

“Anyway, happy birthday!”

None of my other classmates had said that to me.

I had an inspiration:

“Hey, Vincent, do you want half of my cinnamon roll?”

“You kidding me?”

And we sat sharing my cinnamon roll until lunchtime was over, with Vincent making Mmmm! Mmmmm! sounds and me swinging my leg, long string swaying gracefully through the air, daisy and all.

Photo: Macro daisy. Brandon Martin-Anderson. CC BY-SA

18 thoughts on “He loves me, he loves me not

  1. Great story sparked by your students’ choice! Your details are so well done, they pulled me in. I went on this journey with you through your variety of emotions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am so glad to know this – thank you! During the first drafting, the kids were reacting the whole time. One said “Uh-huh! That’s how grandmas are! Ain’t got no fashion sense!”

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    • Thanks so much for reading and for your your feedback, I know I didn’t wear this little delight very often – especially since I ruined a sock the first time. Oh dear. You may need to write your overalls memory as a purge. In retrospect it’s all so funny…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wish I had a memory bank like yours; I think I was a bit too introspective and introverted to file away many outward noticings as a child. But I will ponder that more, maybe stories will arise…That being said, you have had many teachers along the way, and not just the ones behind the desk. It’s Vincent, not your outfit, who sticks out for me in this story. I wonder how Vincent is doing these days, if he still has that positive outlook, still generous of spirit. At the very least, he has you to memorialize this moment illustrating both of those traits, amazing in one so young.

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    • The memory bank … what happens is this: I will recall something as a blip – oh, gosh, that daisy outfit! – and I will write that idea down. Later I will try to remember the rest of the backstory. I’d already thought on it by the time I wrote it out for the first time for kids. I’ve revised it a good bit since and still am. True confession: I can’t recall exactly what my mother or classmates said but I do recall having to wear that ensemble to school, being teased, and ruining my sock. It really was given to me by my grandmother who thought it was just so precious, and I truly didn’t! Lots of the rest is elaboration. Vincent is a vivid memory (not his real name – although I remember his name well, both first and last) and I can see his animated demeanor and comical expression even now. He was always in motion. We spent a lot of time trying to crack each other up. A year later we went on to different junior high schools (I revised that to “middle school” for today’s kids) and eventually different high schools so I have no idea what became of him – he ought have become a famous comedian. He was a bright, hilarious spot that one year we were in class together – and the fish story is true. He loved that fish. Looking back, I don’t know how he was allowed to collect food and take it home (did it actually go home? Did a teacher prevent it?) … but my memory runs out there. I just remember an excited “Vincent” with the bag, asking if we wanted our fish. It was fun to go back in time and rediscover him. I truly cannot recall his words in response to the daisy outfit; he was often silly but not unkind. Thank you, Chris, for reliving with me, and for telling me what reached out to you. 🙂

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  3. This story is solid gold. The message of the socks foreshadows the entire day and theme, to get ELA on you. My favorite part was the sock snag with the trailing thread. Thanks for sharing!!

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    • Thanks so much for reading and for your response! Those socks – they were dreadful at the time but priceless to telling the story. So glad you loved the snag and trailing thread.

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    • What made the knee socks so bad is that they were to be worn with those shorts – thick polyester, blazing mustard-yellow – I cringe even now! The socks were nylon and therefore picked easily. I’m with you about a good pair of knee socks in the dead of winter … many thanks. Stacey.

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  4. There is so much to love about this story. Between the details of how you felt being “eleven and not six,“ to the string dangling from the “he loves me” sock. And then, right at the end, you hit us with those universal themes of friendships and gratitude.

    It’s wonderful. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, I had a grandma who gave outfits like that. I was right there with you as you opened that gift. Then this line, “I kind of hoped I would get run over on the way to school,” made me laugh. Oh my. And yet… Vincent. I am glad that Vincent made it into this story – because no truly embarrassing story is perfect without the person who makes us realize that our embarrassment is ephemeral, in one way or another. (That said, I was pretty happy for you that you accidentally snagged the sock. Tough for the day, but made them unwearable for later on…)

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    • Remembering “Vincent” was a gift from staying submerged awhile in my young life. He often brightened the class atmosphere with his antics (looking back, I wonder if he was “that kid” to the teacher! He was hilarious). And YEAH – that did it for the socks! Thanks for reading and for your thoughts, Amanda 🙂

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