Almost Half My Life

I remember the day clearly.  It was after school, and I was making my way from Mrs. Pennington’s Art class where we were practicing for the Spring play, “Hansel & Gretel”.  It wasn’t such a mystery to me then, but now I wonder what the hell I was doing in the Speech & Drama festivities.  I guess I enjoyed the camaraderie and activities that surrounded the competitions, but the truth is that I totally sucked at it, and each year (despite my seniority) I landed the most insignificant parts in the annual plays.  This year I was portraying Fritz, one of Hansel’s fat mischevious friends.  The role involved one line. 

Most people don’t understand the very competitive nature of the Speech & Drama team.  There are various categories of competition, such as Storytelling, Improvisation, Broadcasting, Poetry, and Prose with limited spots for competing in each category.  After trying several different categories it was decided that I would be best suited for Storytelling.   

For three years, my summers were spent painstakingly reading through various children’s and young adult books & stories, I would select a short story to work on.  Not only was it necessary to memorize the story, but I had to develop specific voices for each character, and a unique method of conveying the story; making sure that I modified the story (or my storytelling) so that I used up the appropriate amount of time.  Then came months of practicing; reciting the story in front of the mirror, in front of family members during Sunday dinner, in front of the Coach.  Looking back, I never received rave reviews, unless my grandmothers were in the audience, but for some reason I pushed on.

And don’t even get me started on the actual competitions!  Always on a Saturday, and usually in a far away county hidden deep into the hills of Kentucky, we would board a school bus around 5:30am and drive to the school that was hosting the meet.  Nerves a bundle; not getting enough sleep; worrying about missing an entire page of my story; hoping for forgiving judges, we trudged on through the morning to our destination of the day.  I suppose one thing I enjoyed about the three years spent in S&D was the time it allowed me to spend with my mother.  This was the only thing that we ever really shared together … and even though we didn’t spend the ENTIRE day together, just knowing she was there made me feel good.  For whatever reason, she seemed to really enjoy the meets, and she even got involved enough to judge a few of the competitions so perhaps that’s why I kept with the program.  I just wish it had been an activity that I actually excelled at.

But despite how wonderful it may have been to have my mother in attendance to support me, it never softened the blow of NEVER winning!  It was torture, yet I continued … is that really a good trait to teach your kids?  Keep pushing at something that just isn’t your strong suit?  Wouldn’t I have been better off concentrating these efforts on a pursuit that yielded some positive results?  Anyway, the fact is that I didn’t … I continued the course, and this was exactly what I was doing after school that April day fifteen years ago.

As I exited the Middle School through the large front doors, I looked up and saw that it had rained at some point in the day.  Early evening was setting and the air was cool and breezy.  I spied my grandmother’s Grand Marquis waiting for me on the corner and I climbed in, glad to see her.  It wasn’t common for my grandmother (who lived in the neighboring town) to pick me up from school, but I assumed she was on her way to our house for dinner and thought little of it.

The news was playing on the radio, and her face looked serious.  “There has been an explosion”, she told me.  This shocked me, and she continued to tell me about the Oklahoma City bombing.  On the news, we heard of dead children and injured people.

Luckily, the school was only a short drive from my home where we parked the car and went inside to eat dinner.

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