Not My Poster
When I was in second grade we moved to a very small town in Kansas. That first year my popularity quotient was at 1 on a scale of 1 – 10. This is a gift in a small town. Normally, the new kid scores a goose egg. What got me the one was one little girl who befriended me. The girl’s name was Heidi Hanes.
Over time, I grew to hate Heidi Hanes. The girl had such a smug sense of natural superiority. It was like she was born to the manor by virtue of her having been born in a town the size of a flea riding on the back of the Labrador retriever that is America. Her parents owned the hardware store on the thorax of the flea.
One thing that really ticked me off about Heidi Hanes: she was better than me. She was better than me at everything. More athletic – check. Better grades – check. More popular – that, too. There wasn’t anything that I could do better than her. I know. I tried.
As I said, at first we were friends. Heidi adopted me into her little clicque, which was only the smartest girls in our grade. There were four of us. We all hung out at recess together and wore zip up hoodie sweatshirts in different colors. Mine was green. The group was Heidi and me, another girl named Krista, and Suzy Jo. Suzy Jo was my favorite. I liked her best. She was a farmer’s daughter who always wore her hair in pigtails. Krista was tall and thin with coltish legs and brilliant red hair. Heidi and I were short blondes.
We four used to spend every recess together practicing our “gymnastics.” We all took acrobatics lessons from the same old woman, the one who taught everyone in town. She had gained some international renown as an acrobat in her youth, and her studio was plastered with pictures of her in tumbles and pretzel poses all over Europe. Consequently, our cheerleaders were all really good.
At some point, the friendship between Heidi Hanes and me suffered. I don’t remember exactly what caused the big falling out, but I think it may have been the crayon shaving competition.
You see, when Heidi Hanes and I were in third grade we were in the same classroom. We both had this teacher that we really liked named Mrs. Gustaf. Mrs. Gustaf was young and pretty with short auburn hair and glasses. We loved her. We thought she was the best teacher ever. The year we had her in school she was expecting a baby with her husband the gym teacher, and it was like that made her doubly creative and fun.
She took some empty appliance boxes and painted and decorated them and turned them into learning centers. We had designated times every day that allowed for some self- study. You would go into each of the learning centers and work on language or math or science or social studies. I was pretty sure Mrs. Gustaf was the most brilliant teacher EVER. Our second grade teachers never did anything creative besides letting us have a stuffed dog or stuffed kitty on our desk as a reward for being a good student. LAME.
The year I became a third grader something miraculous happened. The people at Crayola decided to make boxes of 48 and 64 crayons with built in crayon sharpeners – in the boxes. Ingenius!! This was still back in the day when most kids were deprived. We had 24 crayons to a box. I begged for the 48 pack, and I got it. Heidi, of course, had the 64 pack. I don’t remember who came up with this idea, but one of the two of us decided that we should sharpen as many crayon shavings as we could possibly produce and then melt them all into a giant crayon for Mrs. Gustaf.
We had a contest with Heidi and I as team captains, to see who could get the most crayon shavings. Since the teams were of uneven sizes, with me having four students and her having, well, the rest of the class, it was no contest. Foiled again! I am certain that this constant beating at the hands of Heidi Hanes accounts for my childhood affinity for both Daffy Duck and Underdog. That little girl was just so despicable!
Of course, I’m not sure what happened to all those crayon shavings. I’m not even sure how we spent so many hours in the day sharpening crayons without Mrs. Gustaf knowing. Maybe she was on maternity leave? It was thirty years ago. I’m a little sketchy on the details. What I do remember is that ultimately there was no giant crayon. I guess we couldn’t get anyone’s mother to agree to ruin a giant cooking pot, melting multi-colored crayon wax into a giant crayon mold that would turn out looking like an elephant turd.
One year some non-profit agency sponsored an art contest in our town, and we were asked to create posters with artwork depicting a theme about something like only you being able to prevent forest fires or how it was important to just say no to drugs. Something like that. Our entire class worked feverishly on our posters. In truth, I didn’t even think mine was all that special.
However, when the judges gave prizes for the art, my poster got first place to Heidi Hanes’ third place. Proof that there is a God! I beat Heidi Hanes at something! Let the river run! Let all the dreamers wake the nation! Come, the new Jerusalem!
We were invited to a banquet where we would be presented with an award and would get to see our posters with the ribbons on them in a glass case. My dad went with me. I remember it was the kind of meal where I had to know which fork to use when, and my dad would have given me a lecture when I got home if I had put an elbow on the table. After the meal we got presented with our awards, and then we could walk down a hallway to see our posters. And there was my first place ribbon stapled to someone else’s poster. I was holding my dad’s hand, in the middle of the hallway. He was so proud of me, and I whispered, “Dad, that’s not my poster.”
He didn’t hear me the first time. He had to ask me to repeat it, and I could have backed out then. I wonder if the thought had even occurred to me that no one probably paid any attention to anyone else’s poster but their own, and I would be the only one who knew that I really didn’t win. I don’t think it did. I think I was just crushed that I really didn’t win. Because beating Heidi Hanes was only important if I really beat her. A victory like this one would be hollow.
So, we went and told someone, that night. And I went home and cried bitterly in the bathroom, on the toilet. My dad came in and said that that was a hard thing that I did, but it was the right thing to do, and that he was so proud of me. He was prouder, he said, than if I would have really won that poster contest. Within the week, the poster contest officials sorted out the dilemma, and the blue ribbon was presented to a classmate named Roy, and I got an official apology over the mixup.
And Heidi Hanes continued to be “better” at everything than me. And the world moved on as it should.