Sliced and Diced for Christmas
By a Budding Femme Fatale
By Steve Carr
I spent three days in band class. Before my first day as a bussed seventh-grade student at O.E. Bell Junior High in Idaho Falls, I guess I was supposed to have selected an elective but I’d never heard of such a thing. Because I hadn’t, when fourth period rolled around I was ushered to the band room. It didn’t take long for the seasoned teacher to notice I was empty-handed.
“What do you play and where is your instrument?” Thirty-two sets of eyes looked my way. I blushed as only a seventh-grader can, yet somehow intuited that if I cracked, I’d never find my way to coolness. Junior high is a proving ground, a lengthy prison term. I looked around. My pimple-chinned neighbor held what I recognized from my father’s Herb Alpert record album as a trumpet.
“Trumpet. I play the trumpet.”
“And where is your trumpet?”
“Don’t have one.”
For three days I practiced pursing my lips and expelling air to create a buzzing sound that, as you might guess, sounded more to my pre-adolescent ears like a hilarious extended bodily function. I assumed this was what all Herb Alpert wannabes were taught to do while waiting for a trumpet. (Grades: “A” for lip bugling exuberance, “D-minus” for disruptive behavior, and “Incomplete” for failure to acquire a trumpet.)
On the fourth day I was escorted from band to shop class. I arrived just as the teacher, who was missing most of his right thumb, was describing the proper use of the belt sander. (I’m not making this up. He really was able to say, “Don’t do what I did.”) I was enthralled by the efficiency of the electric sander. My first project, a desktop book holder, was sanded down to a size befitting a modest collection of doll-sized books. (Grade: “C-minus.”) Things didn’t get much better. From too much glue to not enough stain, my efforts produced grades that hovered below average.
My last project of the semester was the most ambitious, a laminated cutting board that would be a Christmas present for my mother. By then, my fascination with the belt sander had waned and I had discovered the lathe. My perfectly glued and stained board was adorned with an intricately turned handle. Quite the turnaround! (Grade: “A” and signs of hope for a future career.) I proudly carried my masterpiece home.
A girl, whom I had noticed day one but who didn’t know my name, took the seat next to me on the bus. She admired my gift for my mother while I mumbled and blushed. She jumped up at her stop, giggled, and waved goodbye—my cutting board still in her hands. I was smitten. As we pulled away I realized with resignation, and then a smidgen of satisfaction, that come Monday I’d see her again when she returned my gift for Mom. What I had forgotten in my twitterpation was that we wouldn’t be returning to school until after the Christmas break. That year I gave Mom a handmade card with a promise of more to come. A promise never fulfilled.
When next we were on the bus, the attentions of this tease were directed elsewhere. After a few days I mustered the bravery to approach and ask about the cutting board. Cornered, she looked me in the eye and without a hint of shame told me she had given it to her mother for Christmas. As I mentioned, junior high is an unwitting proving ground. I survived, barely.
All these years later, the actions of that girl still baffle me. But I’ve since realized I got the better end of the deal. Had I been able to give the gift to my mother, odds are it would have been merged with any number of other lovingly crude childhood creations and soon forgotten in the mix. As it is, that creation, my handiwork, and its gilded memory, live on, proving my potential—which I fully intend to realize one day.
I wish you all cheery, if imperfect, holidays this season. (Grades: eggnog, “C-minus,” laughter snort while mouth full of eggnog, “A+.” Note: making the honor roll is overrated.)