Fourth grade was not a flattering year for me. I had just survived 3rd grade and having my teeth be bigger than my body when this happened. I swear, no one bothered to tell me that those tight, plastic headbands were not complimentary to my face shape. Sometimes my grandma and I would ride the bus downtown to Woolworth’s Five and Dime, and she would let me pick out something for twenty-five cents. Perhaps that is why I had such a classic selection of headbands.
Grandma and I would walk up and down every aisle in Woolworths and after we made our purchases we would sit at the counter and eat lunch. Grandma always got a tuna fish sandwich with the ‘best cup of coffee in the world.’ I would get a grilled cheese sandwich and a root beer. Simple fare for simple folks. After we ate, I would spin myself around and around seated on that bar stool at the lunch counter, while Grandma enjoyed her last sip of coffee.
The red, button-up sweater from Sears that I loved was all kinds of wrong, yet I have the pictures as proof that I was determined to look my best. Glancing back, I clearly see my stylistic mistakes, but at the time I felt well put together.
Still, I had a delightful smile, don’t you think?
My 4th grade teacher was Mrs. Batson. Mrs. Batson was no-nonsense all day every day. She was a small but sturdy force, short in statue and long on obedience, and wore dark-colored, perfectly fitted suits with structured shoes. She was tough and I was afraid of her, except that I kind of knew she liked me. I was always the only one in my class who didn’t have a mother and because bad news travels fast, I must have been pegged as someone who needed a little more encouragement.
I knew this because even in her strictness, she would look at me and almost smile. Her eyes would tilt ever so slightly, and the corners of her frown would swing upward for only a second. I always wondered if anyone else saw it, but I think it was just for me. I mean, come on…. looking at this picture, Mrs. Batson was probably thinking, “Bless her heart!”
I learned during 4th grade that I had something called ‘buck teeth.’ And when I told my dad that Stanley Steinkruger called me that, he said, “Nancy Lynn, you just have an overbite. And someday you will have braces that will help you have the most beautiful teeth in the world. Don’t listen to the likes of Stanley Steinkruger.”
Bless my heart.
This 4th grade photo was not to be my last ‘less than stellar’ school picture. I had an overbite with a large space between the front two teeth, and a few more years of the plastic headbands. I even had another year of a red sweater in which I discovered turtlenecks are really not for me either.
When I arrived at Wolflin Elementary School in Amarillo, Texas, for my first day of 5th grade, I found out I had Mrs. Batson for my teacher again. How could this be true? But it was. Mrs. Batson moved up to teach 5th grade and I was in her class. 5th grade turned out to be a doozy of a grade for me. Somewhere between the first day of school and Thanksgiving, I woke up one day needing a B-cup bra and I was 5’5” tall. I tried all year to practice the art of slumping down, so as not to look so much taller than the boys.
One more sad little piece of information was that as a baby I had had ankles that turned in toward themselves and because of that, I wore orthopedic shoes, even into the 5th grade, like these black velveteen saddle oxfords.
Those shoes were heavy on my feet and so sturdy/clunky that as much as I tried to scuff or wear them out, they wouldn’t. Nothing could penetrate those toes of steal.
Just when I thought it could never get worse, the 5th grade girls had to see “the film” and as my luck would have it, this was also my year to become a ‘woman.’
Culminating my 5th grade school year, I was a full 5’6” tall. I also found out I needed glasses. My dad let me pick out my glasses which were brown sparkly glitter, cat-eye frames. I adored them and took special care to keep them in their case when they weren’t on my face.
Next, came the years with braces and tight-lipped smiles to hide them. It is what it is, y’all, and I have the pictures to prove it! The day we got out for Christmas break my 6th grade year, Stanley Steinkruger was deep in his throws of flirting with me. But bless his heart, he teased me by grabbing my glasses and using them to play catch with another boy. You can guess the end of the story. Broken glasses and hurt feelings. My father admonished my carelessness, and I was never friends with Stanley Steinkruger again. The good news was I finally got a pair of slip-on flats and was allowed to give up my orthopedic saddle oxfords.
My later elementary grade years left me with a few scars, as much of growing up usually does. Often, the ‘awkward’ years last longer than one would wish, and in the throes of adolescence, we do not see our own light. We let other people tell us who we are and hush the swan’s song inside of our ugly duckling.
But Hans Christian Andersen knew what was true for all of us when he wrote:
It is only with the heart that one can see clearly, for the most
essential things are invisible to the eye.
The Ugly Duckling