Working Class Dog

The prize.

We were going to be sewing book covers, and I had gotten last pick of the material. I folded the brown cloth flecked with green three-leaf clovers into a loose rectangle and rested my chin in the palm of my hand. I watched the second-hand of the on the school clock jerk its way through the last-minute before class would begin.

I had Home Economics as the second period of the day in eighth grade. Mornings were lonely that year.  None of my friends were in my homeroom, Honors English still intimidated me into silence, and Home Ec was filled with girls in Lee Jeans and feathered hair.  The boys weren’t any use to me either.  I was too shy to even look them in the eye, let alone be funny or cute.  I was just about invisible, partly because I had perfected blending into the background by this third year of middle school.

And that’s why I was nervously smoothing the brown cloth flecked with green three-leaf clovers.  I knew – knew – that this morning my anonymity would disappear.  I could feel what was about to happen in Home Economics, before we started sewing our book covers.  I had some vague Judy Blume-inspired feeling that this day would bring the climax to my school day existence.  Today was the day that my bland, invisible, taupe-colored life as an eighth grader would begin to sparkle and glisten.  The announcement over the loudspeaker would include my name, and everyone was going to know it and be awed.  I would never again search nervously for a table in the lunchroom. I would never again be the left-over lab partner in science class. I would never again have to sit out a game in gym class.  My anonymity and blurred identity would become celebrity and focussed popularity.  Hooray!

But even before the announcement buzzer had finished assaulting my ears, my forehead was hiding on my hands.  I regretted entering the contest, and suddenly I wanted to stop time, run to the main office, grab the announcement out of the principal’s hands.  Suddenly my invisibility felt comfortable and safe, not stifling.  I didn’t want to lose it.  I bit the inside of my cheek as the principal’s voice explained that each grade would have one poetry contest winner.  That the winners should let their English teachers know which record album they wanted as a prize. I squeezed my eyes tight and wished that I could blend into the ugly brown and green material before the eighth grade winner was announced.

And then it happened.

The principal announced that I had won the poetry contest, he said my name, he read my five line poem for all to hear.  Mortification. My head still down, I realized that I would now have a red mark on my forehead where I had been resting it on my hands. I lifted my head, expecting to meet 21 sets of eyes with my own.  I realized, too late, that it would not be awe my fellow students would feel, but derision. My loss of safe invisibility would give way not to popularity but derision.

I took a deep breath and looked up hesitantly.  Nothing.  Casually sliding my eyes around the room, I realized that no one but the Home Economics teacher had even paid attention to the announcement. Or if they had, they didn’t care enough to acknowledge it.  I think that’s when I finally understood that question about the sound of a tree falling in an empty forest.

The Home Ec teacher smiled at me, but seeing my terrified face, she didn’t prolong the announcement with further acknowledgment.  Suddenly all business, the teacher turned to tell the class to follow the book cover patterns carefully. I bent my head in sad relief, and I began sewing my last-pick brown cloth flecked with green three-leaf clover to the rattling hum of junior high grade Singer sewing machines.


About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to car culture, dealing with leaving a career I loved, and spouting off along the way. Do The Most Good.
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72 Responses to Working Class Dog

  1. sisterhoodofthesensiblemoms says:

    Wow! You spun that tale so masterfully. I had to go back and look at the beginning again to see how you drew me in. You created the angst that is middle school: that belief that THE one moment is going to change your life and then once you think that, furiously backpedaling from it because “the same” is safe, it is taupe. “Today was the day that my bland, invisible, taupe-colored life as an eighth grader would begin to sparkle and glisten.” Nicely done with “glisten.”

    I can’t believe you put yourself out there, asked for a prompt and then created this. You are a storyteller, my friend. You are someone who can take the mundane “write about a school memory” and make it sparkle, glisten even. Ellen

  2. Carrie says:

    I can relate to melting into the background. I got pretty good at it too. And like you I yearned to be recognized and yet was so very terrified of it.

    Great post! 🙂

  3. Lenore Diane says:

    I really enjoyed this post, KD. As I read your words, I felt as though I was the one experiencing the moment.

  4. Delilah says:

    Oh yes, I too am a master of blending in to the background. At least until I do something awkward to call attention to myself. Wonderfully written!

  5. Boy are you right… Erica’s is the best place to be ever.

    I do not think you could have done a more beautiful job of writing about this moment. I loved every word of it. I loved getting to know the middle school you, felt suspense as the announcement was made and felt sadness for the relief you felt for not being totally recognized. What a beautifully flowing piece of a moment we can (I can) all relate to! -LV

  6. I loved this post. It took me back to Home Ec in middle school where I had to sew a giant pillow phone… and another memory was also jolted- I remember my second year teacher a student won a writing contest- she was mortified at the announcement- and instead of her classmates ignoring it- they kind of flipped out, but in a nice way. I could tell she was absolutely ready to die so I remember trying to distract them and change the subject. I only hope she remembers my actions as kindly as you- and not that I was trying to steal her thunder. ((excellent post writing to jar 2 memories out of the old, cobweb covered safe!))

  7. Pish Posh says:

    Awww. What was the poem?

    • It was a tiny five line poem, but I knew that teachers would be all impressed with it. Even though I had written it in the fifth grade! It’s not very good, but I knew they’d be all like “Wow, look at the atmosphere she created! And such a quiet girl!”


      Shadows dark and lonely
      Drifting through the night
      Quietly, quickly they move
      Never a sound they make
      In their moonlit passages

      • Pish Posh says:

        Oh man that is brilliant. Very evocative. I remember I wrote a piano song that was dark and dramatic like that. It was only two or three chords over and over again but it was my masterpiece. I still like to play it.

        I am so glad you still have the poem. You should make this into a little card and put it up over your desk. Do you draw? This would also go well with a photograph or illustration.

        It’s funny how even at a young age we just know when something is well done. I remember I wrote a story in sixth grade my teacher was going to love. I wish I still had it.

        You’re a born writer. I’m glad to get to know you. Thank you so much for sharing this!

      • kvetchmom says:

        What a gorgeous poem. I love it!

  8. Mayor Gia says:

    Hehehe I definitely remember that feeling – proud and embarrassed all at the same time.

    • Totally mortified. When my English teacher gave me the album a week or so later, I felt so “cool” that I had chosen something other people knew about. I think it was after it had kind of left the realm of cool…but who cares! Rick Springfield!

  9. Emily says:

    It’s nice to relive junior high so vividly (thanks to your wonderful writing) then be able to look around and realize you’re NOT back in jr high.

    • Absolutely! I have wished that my today self could go back and whisper something about how much it all doesn’t matter much in a few years. Now we get to relive the pain through our children. Wahhh!

  10. Andrea says:

    Wow, I’m impressed and I already knew what a great writer you are. I was nervous for you. Very well done.

    • It’s funny when something you think is fair-to-middling strikes a chord with people. I guess that memory is so vivid and charged that, to me, the story seems dull and deflated in comparison.

  11. Well done in relating that want to be recognized but not feeling. I still experience that to this day. Annoying insecurity nags us. I like the detail, the red mark on your forehead, the smile from the teacher. And I like the poem, which I saw in your comments. Nice.

  12. Vanessa says:

    I remember that feeling. Wanting to fit in and be recognized and at the same time being terrified of any notice. It must make you proud when you look at that memory though. And that Home Ec teacher had to have been a teacher who loved teaching to be so compassionate.

    • Thank you for stopping in – and I was so grateful to her for not saying anything. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t do what I wanted to with my own students later on. I’d always ask first if they wanted an accomplishment announced.

  13. Anna says:

    love this. also love that you had a teacher who knew to leave “well enough alone” so many grown-ups i think wouldn’t have known that was the right way to play it.

    also love the poem, and that you still know it, and that we all got to see it here all from a writing prompt!

  14. So well written! I also felt like I was back in Jr. High with you… terrifying. Haha.

  15. aprilviv says:

    Wow reading this I felt as if I was back in high school beautifully written.

  16. jamie says:

    Wow wonderfully written.

  17. tara pohlkotte says:

    oh man. you made me smell the way my home ec class smelled. of eggs and fabric. bleh. ha. wonderful. i knew exactly how you felt in that moment, we’ve all been there in one form or another…but um…that poem? super good! people should have listened to that announcement!

    • You like it? I remember writing it in the 5th grade and being embarrassed by the moodiness of it. But it all melted away because I WANTED that Rick Springfield album, and I think it was something like $7 at the time or something. 🙂

  18. So cute and so appropriate!!! My 6th grade son just won the county young author’s contest for his poem and when they announced his name on Saturday at the awards ceremony he was too embarrassed to walk up front to accept his award. He sat in his seat and refused to go up front. What is up with that??????

  19. I loved this post. I could have written it. Yes, I won a poetry contest. Yes, they read the cheesiness aloud, and I was mortified. Yes, I remember the girls in Lee jeans with feathered hair. Beautifully written!

  20. Cathy says:

    I like your poem too. Glad the other kids didn’t pay attention.

  21. *sigh* This makes my heart hurt a little. I would have experienced those same feelings had I been in your shoes. I always desperately wanted acknowledgement and acceptance, but the things I did that acknowledgement and acceptance for weren’t the things that my fellow classmates even cared about. In fact, the fact that I was a good student, a fairly decent writer only caused me more grief during my school days.

    But I’m proud of you, and I’m proud of your poem. You and I would have been friends and giggled and grinned over our amazing poetic abilities 😉

    • The thing was I was NOT an overachiever by any stretch of the imagination. There were the smart kids, and I wasn’t one of them. So I think a part of me was nervous that I’d be called out as a fake – and I wouldn’t be able to replicate the effort. I still suffer from that fear!

  22. Emma says:

    I also won a writing contest in elementary school! It was titled….

    {wait for it}

    {it’s awfully clever}

    {and original}

    “The Adventures of Marcia Brady”
    … Your poem wins hands down!

  23. Wow. Did you ever sum up 8th grade. The only thing missing was your period. That was an awesome post. Congratulations, if it means anything now!!

  24. suzy016 says:

    oh, i do know what you mean. but now these years later i wish i could have been in your home ec class and cheered for you!

  25. I can relate to this post … and it’s beautifully written ..

  26. This is just wonderful. I think what drew me in and kept me there were the careful details. It all just felt so right and real. There was no jangling sues that something isn’t quite right. It all just works. Great work! Erin

  27. I chuckled when you wrote that only the teacher heard the announcement. Of course. As if anyone listens to those announcements. This was a great post. I loved it!

  28. This brought me right back to middle school (yikes!) I tried my best to hide in the background, too so I understand your mortification. Bless your teacher for not making it worse. I also won some writing contests in middle and high school and no one cared in the slightest. Aside from my parents anyway.

  29. So well written – I could so easily remember those junior high feelings 🙂

  30. Felt like I was there which is indicative of some great writing skills. I want to read the poem. And I want middle school to disappear for everyone forever. It’s just such a strange, strange time. I am sorry you had to experience it. Sincerely. Love the Judy Blume reference. I was wondering if you were going to start your period or lose your virginity. Very suspenseful. Very meaningful. From a very great writer.

  31. Wow. Were you in my 7th grade home ec class and I didn’t even notice? Although you couldn’t have been because *I* won the poetry contest that year. My invisible self won something…and stayed invisible. Which ultimately, considering what happened in high school, when all hell broke loose…probably would’ve been best if I’d stuck with “invisible.” Do you still have your book cover?

  32. I can almost feel the persistent pit-sweat from middle school. At least you got Jessie’s Girl out of it.

  33. Anonymity can be a grand thing! I’m so glad my Junior High days are over; although the town I live in is so small sometimes I feel like I’m right back in it all over again.

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