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.
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.
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.
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.
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.