The Fire Prevention Week Miracle

Friends, you have waited patiently. For my promised story of something "unexpected" I will regale you with one of my greatest childhood triumphs and the tragic hubris that it inevitably provoked.

It was around second grade. We had recently moved from the great metropolis of Great Falls, Montana, where there was a mall and an Orange Julius, to the small town of Whitefish, where there was a small main street with a five and dime and a two-lane bowling alley.

I was used to moving--we moved a lot--and so I was used to being the new girl. I am sure there are many ways to be the new girl, but I played this role by laying low and getting a good sense of the land before inserting myself too directly into the limelight, which is why, when my teacher announced that we would all be participating in a Fire Prevention Week coloring contest, I just took my piece of coloring paper with the outlines of a fire engine and a fire hose and--I don't know--maybe a burning building, and I went to my desk and I did what I did best: I did what my teacher told me to.

Now, when we were still living in the BIG CITY, my first grade class had actually visited a fire station, and so I had a little worldly experience, and I knew, for example, that fire hoses were often red, so I did not even think twice: I took out my red crayon and colored my hose.

The boy next to me laughed. "Red! Ha! Hoses are green. Who has ever heard of a red hose?" And then, to my humiliation, it seemed as if everyone was staring at my picture with it's red hose, and everyone was laughing, and everyone was agreeing with the boy: "A red hose. Who has a red hose?"

My cheeks burned. I tried not to cry. It was awful. There I was: The new girl, just trying to make her way in a new school without drawing too much attention to herself, just trying to figure out how to BE a person from tiny, little Whitefish and already I had blown it, already I had marked myself as a martian who believed in a world of red hoses.

In my mind it seemed like months past, like the whole school year even had passed, and then one day we were ushered into this big multi-purpose room and we sat down and, for each grade, a winner to the coloring contest was announced. And there it was: my name! My name! Me of the red hose! I had won. I burst out--really, really embarrassingly loud--"Oh, Jesus!"

Then, like Miss America, I went up and collected my award. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen! It was a wooden plaque about the size of a large coaster and it had a little metal emblem on it, and it said my name. Oh! I loved my plaque. It was the first thing I had ever won--it is still one of the only things I've ever won. I used to take my plaque with me everywhere. I kept it in my backpack. When I rode my bike, I put it in the basket. I'm sure I was a nightmare.

But pride cometh before the fall. Yes, my friends, it doseth. One day, riding on my bike with my beautiful little plaque shining up from my perky little basket, I ran into a friend. I do not remember if I tried to show her my plaque, or if I said something about my plaque, or if she just saw the plaque and just wanted to throw up, but this part I do remember. She said, "You are so stuck up. You think you are so great because you won that coloring contest. Well, you aren't, and you're mean. So there." Then she rode off into the sunset, leaving me and my little plaque alone, her words ringing in my ears.

Well, you do not need to tell the new girl t
wice to just BLEND IN. Don't be too awesome. Don't be too awful. Keep a low profile, and when you win a plaque say as little about it as possible and do not ride around with it in your bicycle. I went straight home and put my beautiful plaque away. I said nothing more about it. But I knew: I won that coloring contest, and I won it for one reason: fire hoses were not green. They were red. I didn't need to think like everybody else. I just needed to think like me.

(PS: There I am in all my glory. I'm the blond. Next to me is Chris. She was my best friend when I lived in Whitefish. I ended up really liking Whitefish. It was a great place to be a kid.)


Cathy Perlmutter said...

I could cry.

Petrea Burchard said...

I know this story. That's how shoulders get chipped.

Bellis said...

That's a lovely story, but what a mean "friend" to put you down like that. I moved schools a lot also, and was never adopted by the popular girls the way my daughter was when she moved schools. No, I was befriended by girls that no-one else wanted to be friends with. In one case, the girl didn't have a single friend until I joined the class. And they were much, much nicer than those mean girls.

Watson said...

Sometimes I wonder how we survived childhood. But look at you now, beautiful woman with wonderful kids. And a great story teller too! You deserve another plaque.

Shell Sherree said...

I'd have loved your red fire hose, Margaret. Mine probably would have been pink. Such a sweet piccie. :)

Margaret said...

Oh, Bellis, I'm sure I was a nightmare and deserved all the grief I got.

Ms M said...

I am familiar with this story, too...

Ah, but here we all are now, seasoned, perhaps chipped in places, but strong.

altadenahiker said...

We migrating kids have a lot in common. It never leaves you.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

Yes, it's a painful memory but I must say, this was so much fun to read. You are a truly engaging lioness.