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O.Henry Ending

A Fairytale Ending

I Think That I Shall Never See Myself as Other Than a Tree

By  Christine Garton

Our fourth-grade Christmas pageant offered an opportunity I yearned for — the role of a fairy! While I dreamed of wands and sparkling wings, I knew I would face competition from my pixie-like classmate, Anne. For days I practiced flitting about while singing, “I’m a fairy, so light and airy.” Alas, Anne received the fairy assignment, and our teacher proclaimed that “a big ol’ healthy girl” like me would play . . .  a tree. “Well,” Mother said, “maybe you will be draped with tinsel and wear a star on your head.” No. I was to wear my blue velveteen Sunday school jumper, stand in one spot and utter one line.

I first met Anne when the black taxicab picked us and the other 4-year-olds up for delivery to Mrs. Teensy Davis’ in-home nursery school. Memories of that year consist mainly of finger painting and two horrid little boys who terrified me by saying they were going to climb under the hood of Daddy’s car and kill him. For some reason my father did not take this as a serious threat, but Anne consoled me and thus became my friend.

The following year, Anne cut through her backyard to meet me, and together we walked to kindergarten. Anne was a tiny girl with blonde, Alice-in-Wonderland hair she wore in braids. At her temples I saw delicate blue veins, like rivers on a map. Mother said Anne was born “premature,” which I interpreted as “dainty.” Built like a fireplug with a Dutch-boy bob, I longed for braids like Anne’s, so I nagged Mother into allowing my hair to grow. Although the resulting plaits were so thin that rubber bands slipped off the ends, Scotch Tape worked just fine.

I coveted the sleek, black penny loafers Anne wore in first grade. I hated my spud feet, clad in sturdy, lace-up, tan Hush Puppies, and hooked my ankles around the legs of my desk to keep them out of view. I campaigned to convince Mother to buy me loafers. “You’d tear them up in a week,” she said. In retaliation, I rode my bike for an hour, dragging the toes of my Hush Puppies along the pavement, but the shoes were indestructible.

The after-school YMCA program yielded no outlet for my inner Thumbelina. President Kennedy had determined that America’s youth were soft, so an intense fitness regimen was inflicted upon us: “Go, You Chicken Fat, Go!” We performed sit-ups and jumping jacks. Bird-like, Anne flew to and fro in the potato relay as I plodded behind on turkey drumstick legs. I could barely hoist myself halfway on the climbing rope, while Anne skittered up and down like a spider.

I mostly gave up any notion of being like Anne. I worked at kicking a ball hard and swinging a softball bat. I beat up the runty boy across the street who called me “Moose” and eventually outgrew my stocky phase.

Years later, reeling from an abrupt end to my marriage, I found myself rearing a son on my own. No time for fairies, daily life was consumed with his care and paying the bills. But I was determined to make sure my boy was rooted securely by his mother’s love.

In his early teens, my son applied for a job at the boys’ summer camp he had loved throughout childhood. One day, I received an unexpected phone call from the camp director wanting to discuss a junior counselor position. “You know, Grey had to describe his hero on the job application,” he said. “His hero is you.”

My perplexed silence prompted him to continue.

“He wrote about the big tree in your backyard where you hung his swing. He said like that tree, you are strong and give him support, but with the swing, you also let him fly.”

After thanking him and hanging up, I pondered this revelation: Was I wrong all along? Perhaps being a tree was not the indignity I’d thought.  OH

Christine Garton is a staff writer for UNCG’s Advancement Communications. She holds great pride in the fact that her son earned the rank of Eagle Scout, albeit with her foot planted firmly on his derriere . . .