Bay's Travel Blog

I don't travel much any more. Resist!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Once upon a time....

"Once upon a time, and long ago, I heard someone singing soft and low/ Now, when day is done, and night is near, I recall the song I used to hear."

Those are my favorite lines from my favorite song from the musical Peter Pan. I was 17 when I did that play.

I was four when this photo was taken.

Today, I am 39. I don't feel 39. I don't feel 20-something, much less almost forty. Time passes so quickly, like the fastest rocket known to mankind. One day you're a little kid on the beach, the next you're a senior in high school, and before you know it, you're a wife or mother or both, and you're looking at your own 17-year-old and thinking, "But I swear I just gave her a bath in the kitchen sink."

I could have continued my Retreat trip report (and I am still working on it), or I could have posted a picture of me today. I could have posted a picture of me last week, or I could have found a picture from my wedding in 1987. I could have dug up one of the pics from when I was at camp, or I could have posted one from my 25th birthday (which was really nice).

I picked this one. I'm not sure why.

When I was a senior in high school, the speech/play productions class threw a surprise party for me at school. It was one of only two surprise parties that have ever been thrown for me. Actually, I sort of suspected the other surprise party, which was held just the summer before at camp. The other aides threw a party for me because I had to leave a week before camp was out. But I could tell they were acting suspiciously, so I wasn't really surprised.

Not so on my 17th birthday.

You see, I had a particularly bad day on October 26, 1983. Early in the day, I was called out of one of my classes and summoned to the guidance office. There, the guidance counselors harangued me for an hour to stop making trouble. Apparently, without my knowledge, one of my teachers had *commented* that there was something wrong with the state guidelines for "gifted" students if I was not considered a gifted student. And I was not considered gifted. The schools in those days got extra funds for the numbers of "gifted" students that they listed in their rosters, and I was not among those extra-smart people.

It had never really bothered me not to be considered gifted, although I knew it irritated my mother -- at least when I was in junior high. In junior high, they actually had "enrichment" classes for the gifted students, and I might have benefited from the additional scholastic opportunities there. But once I went to the high school, there was nothing for gifted students. There were three levels of all academic courses: remedial, average, and above average. And I was in all the above average classes that I needed to be in -- which were just English and history. I barely scraped by in science, and I loathed math. Nothing else really mattered beyond English, history, and my electives, so I was never concerned about the whole "gifted" label.

Then I was called into the guidance counselor's office, as I said -- *on my birthday* -- and berated for putting a teacher up to the mischief of trying to get me re-labeled in the middle of my senior year when it would be too late to benefit anyone, least of all the school.

It was a bad, very bad, terrible, no-good, horrible, very bad day.

I was frustrated. I felt mistreated and abused by the guidance counselor who was a horrible, snotty man. I had never liked him. His wife was great. But he was an insufferably smug cretin. He sat there, rubbing his beard and telling me that I was an "over-achiever."

Now, at home, I only heard that I was an under-achiever. Mama was constantly frustrated by my bad grades in maths and my noncompetitive nature. And when the guidance counselor finally named my supporter, I was forced to admit that in her eyes, I probably *was* gifted. I was talented on the stage, and I was a very good writer. By that time already, I had won the Century III scholarship competition (based largely on one's knowledge of current events) and the National Council of Teachers of English Achievement Award in Writing, which had caused no fewer than three English teachers to burst into tears of rapture because my school had *never* had a winner in that contest.

And I was more than willing to take the IQ tests necessary to ascertain whether or not I was "gifted" as the state Department of Education defined it.

But mostly, I sat in that room wondering why he felt it necessary to beat me up with this, and didn't he know -- he *had* my file sitting right in front of him the whole time -- didn't he *know* he was attacking me on my *birthday*????

No, he didn't know.

I had "early dismissal" at school that year, meaning that I attended five classes and then was free to go home. That was the last year that any school in Tennessee had such a thing as early dismissal except for the vo-tech students who had jobs that counted as school credit. My last class of the day was Speech/Play Prod. I had never taken those electives earlier in my school career, even though my most passionate extra-curricular activity was theatre. And even though I could have left school at 2:30, I usually stayed after. I was president of the Forensics Society, and I was competing in speech/theatre competitions, and of course, I usually had play practice after school. Besides, I still wasn't driving a car yet. I wouldn't get my driver's license until Christmas break that winter.

So when I went to fourth period, instead of taking notes during the history lecture, I was writing a letter to a friend of mine who was going to a boys' school in Virginia, venting all my frustration with the guidance counselor who had attacked me so suddenly. When the bell rang for fifth period, I went directly to Ms. Sutherland's classroom and resumed writing my letter.

I was sitting in my desk, quietly, writing out all my frustrations, and I realized that Ms. Sutherland was standing behind me. I looked up, and she was reading over my shoulder, reading about what had happened in the guidance counselor's office. She tried to smile -- it was more of a smirk -- and she asked, "How's your day?"

"Not good," I said, blackly, "Don't ask. I'll be fine. Later."

And she shrugged. I didn't know until much later how angry she was.

Finally, the bell rang, and class started. Ms. Sutherland -- a dramatic woman with a purposeful, manly gait -- strode across the front and said, "Everyone stand up. We're going to do vocal warm-ups today."

And we all stood up and shook out our arms and rolled our necks in preparation for the usual warm-ups. We started with humming loudly through our entire range, and then yawned, and then we started doing tongue-twisters. I was terrible at tongue-twisters, but that just made that class more fun.

And then she said, "Now let's do Big Black Bear --"

And the whole class -- the entire roomful of people -- immediately started singing, "Happy birthday to you."

I was so surprised. I was shocked. I sat down, collapsing onto the floor next to my desk, which isn't quite as pitiful as it sounds because the desks were on tiers. I sat down hard on the step next to my desk and cried as my classmates -- my friends, my compatriots, my fellow thespians, my *people* -- sang loudly and lustily to me, and two girls appeared from the dressing rooms with a lit birthday cake. I had not even noticed when they slipped out of the room during the vocal exercises to light the candles.

The cake was in the shape of a star, and on top of chocolate frosting it held my name in lights.

There were stacks of cards from everyone in the room.

I just cried through the whole thing.

I could not believe -- and part of me still doesn't believe -- the trouble to which they had gone. Not only had they - a group of more than 20 -- conspired to throw me a surprise party, but they ordered a cake in the shape of a star and made cards for me. There were refreshments and music, and we spent the whole hour doing nothing but playing charades and laughing.

And I never had a clue. I had no idea. I don't remember what my mother gave me for a present that year, and I do not know what I was wearing. And I had had a truly awful day -- up until that beautiful, shining moment.

I can still see their faces in my mind; I can still hear the song and the laughter. I can still feel the warmth of their hugs as they each gave me a card or patted me on the back. There was one card from one student who wasn't actually in the class -- he was a freshman whom I knew in my typing class, and his sister was in class with me. He liked me so much and so enjoyed being in on the surprise that he made me a card himself and made his sister give it to me.

That was the best birthday I ever had. And it had started out so badly --

Which is proof that things always get better just when you think they can't get worse.


At 26/10/05 9:41 AM, Blogger Jane said...

Happy Birthday Dear Bay.........
Happy Birthday to you!


At 26/10/05 3:07 PM, Blogger Becky said...

Well, I'm too far away to buy you a star cake, but I'll send you many, many happy birthday wishes and all my love. You're the best, Baybee. :)

At 26/10/05 10:26 PM, Blogger Sophia C. said...

I hope your birthday is filled with all the starcakes and every other wish you desire! have a great day!


At 27/10/05 3:34 PM, Blogger Hi, my name is Greg. said...

Happy Birthday and I Love You, Bay! You, my friend are *my* starcake...just knowing you then and ALL THE TIL NOW!!! LOL! As far as being gifted? You are a gift to any and everyone that knows you.

With all my love and kisses!

At 31/10/05 9:39 AM, Blogger Wanda E. Santiago said...

Bay I hope all the wishes of your heart come true!! You do know how to tell a story!! Hugs Wanda


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