Truth in Advertising for a Fourth Grader
This story has nothing to do with beef cattle or local agriculture. It was submitted as a pitch to NPR’s Moth Radio Hour in the hopes of reading it at one of their Story Slams. It is possible that the themes of passion, promise, single combat, victory, loss and resolve might resonate with others as well….
It was in the fourth grade that I learned some things are slightly or more than slightly less fabulous than advertised. Each of us can probably dig through our personal attics and unearth an event that was cherished with the glittering promise of anticipation only to deliver a dull sense of deflation or a crushing defeat when the actual moment came to pass.
You see I was smitten with my teacher Anna Brunjes. She was clearly impressed with my intellect and skill with the multiplication tables. Her comment about my nice handwriting led me to believe that I actually had a shot at winning her undying affection. The special smile reserved just for me established the orbit beyond which I would not stray. The tall mustachioed character who sometimes met her in the parking lot – a rival suitor – was a mere obstacle to be vanquished when I told her all about the different kinds of birds in the Amazon rain forest. He would fade from sight as I regaled her with interesting facts about native North American Indian tribes. We were meant to be together.
Halfway through the school year I discovered an opportunity to gain the maiden’s favor – a chance to show her the depth of my devotion. It was the reading contest through which I would win her heart. Each book read (with a short accompanying report) earned you the right to place a colored paper circle on the bookworm that wound its way around the walls of the room. The winner would be presented with a “really great prize” at year’s end. I felt confident in my chances and spent idle moments imagining how I would be called up to the front of the room to claim the spoils of victory. A chorus of angels would accompany my dignified ascent to the dais as I offered polite nods to classmates along the way. I may have even practiced the reticent “aw-shucks” carriage of Yankee great Lou Gehrig or “The Rifleman” Chuck Connors. The crown was mine.
A two-man race quickly developed. On Mondays Robbie Calvert would put up his circles to my feigned indifference. Then heads turned and hearts swelled as I would often top his number with the hint of a smile. The kid knew he was beat. As my conquest became assured I started to wonder what special prize was being selected for me – how often she thought of me during our time away from each other. I would enter a dream-state pre-living the moment when voices would rise in recognition of my accomplishment.
On the last day of school I was presented with a Frito Bandito eraser and the class was presented with the so-called fireman she was going to marry. I dutifully joined the group in welcoming the intruder while silently calling out for a medic. My gaping chest wound resembled the ones on Omaha Beach I would hear about years later from my wife’s cousin’s husband’s father who attended the storied 116th Regiment of the 29th Infantry. I, however, managed to survive the morning and was permitted to take the class gerbil home over the summer. A summer during which I played baseball and swam in the ocean and nursed my first broken heart.
Respecting the Protein, MB