Each spring, as the school year came to a close, every class in the small K-12 Christian school I attended would gather on the pull-out bleachers in the gym for an awards assembly. I was finishing second grade and vaguely remembered going forward the year before to claim the “Highest Academic Achievement Award – First Grade.” I had my turn to win.
Assembly morning rolled around, and end of the year excitement filled the air. Mom came into my room to help me choose an outfit. This was unusual, for it wasn’t picture day or any other special time. Why did she care what I wore?
Oh no, PLEASE not that.
I choked back the protests that threatened to escape my lips as Mom reached into the closet and said, “Why don’t you wear this darling blouse?”
Wrong on so many levels, the first was the use of the word darling to describe a despised article of clothing. Blouse. Resplendent with buttons, a Peter Pan collar, and certainly pinstriped in various pastel shades, I hated it.
Mom loved it.
I wore it.
I’m sure it choked me.
Maybe the wraparound skirt or suede shoes or knee socks that I chose to complete my ensemble softened the blow. Maybe it was the last day of school that triumphed.
Several hours later found me sitting on the bleachers of an echoing gym waiting to hear who would receive honors this year. Maybe my stomach fluttered. Maybe I should have had a clue.
“Highest Academic Achievement – Second Grade, Julie Kozel.”
I rose and began the long trek down the bleachers and up the aisle between folding chairs filled with beaming parents. Ascending the steps to the stage, I shook the hand of the rotund principal who handed me a plaque, all the while looking sweet and smart in my darling blouse.