Monday, April 18, 2011

Remember when?

I just found a photo of me from my 9th birthday. I had forgotten the bowl haircut my mama used to give me (because I detested brushing my hair), but I remember the party very well.

I have a selective memory, it seems. Don’t ask me to recall what I had for breakfast or where I put my keys or the name of the lady I just met five minutes ago, but I can tell you what I wore on just about any given day, details of conversations from childhood and every bit of juicy gossip I’ve ever heard.

I also have a knack for memorizing things and then immediately forgetting them. In fact, this is what got me through college. Memorize what I need to know, take the test and then hit the delete button. It may have gotten me an A in history, but it hasn’t helped me win many trivia contests.

Then there are things I guess one never forgets. And one is this birthday party. It rained. I know this because my birthday is near the end of February, and it has rained almost every year since the Sunday I was born.

All the neighborhood kids were over. The thing with neighborhood kids is you don’t always like them, but back in my day, we were sent outside and had no choice but to play with somebody. I’m sure my mom was trying desperately to keep us entertained on this rainy day. I distinctly remember her saying, “I know! We’ll have a contest. Whoever draws a picture that most closely resembles Leigh wins!”

The excitement was in the air, “Can I draw, Mama?”

“No, Leigh, it’s a picture of you. You can’t draw.”

I don’t need to check with Mom to know I probably crossed my arms, stuck out my lip and stomped my foot. I don’t need to check with her because, 31 years later, I’ve been known to do the very same thing.

My neighbors took the task seriously and began drawing, bearing down hard with their pencils and crayons.

“Turn sideways, so I can get your profile, Leigh,” said the boy next door.

I hesitated. Well, maybe being a model wasn’t so bad.

“Smile,” said the girl from across the street. I grinned and held it while they furiously scribbled, glancing up now and then at me to make sure they got it just right.

I began to eagerly anticipate the masterpieces they would produce.

One friend held hers at arm’s length comparing it to the real thing.

“Perfect!” she declared. “This looks exactly like you.”

I was about to burst with delight and curiosity.

“Can I see now?” I asked.

“Wait, Leigh, you go in the other room while I judge the winner,” Mom said.

I skipped away and waited and waited and waited.

“Mom! Are you done yet?” I shouted.

Little did I know, my mom was undergoing her own dilemma. Ultimately, she made her decision.

“OK, Leigh, you can come back in now. We have a winner!” she said with a hint of false cheerfulness in her tone.

I ran in and took one look at the pitiful green stick figure with distorted facial features and huge feet and hands and cried, “That’s not what I look like!”

I quickly grabbed the other pictures — Mom really had chosen the best one — making for a very bruised 9-year-old ego. My antics soon offended my poor guest artists, and it wasn’t long before several of them were in tears. About that time, I was taken into the other room and given a stern talking to about manners.

“This is the worst birthday ever!” I thought, knowing better than to say it out loud, and, perhaps it was, but the funny thing is, when I look at the photo I can’t help but remember it and smile.

So, as I sit and fret about my son’s upcoming birthday party, striving, as we mothers do, to make it the best one yet, I realize that sometimes the happiest days don’t lead to the fondest memories. And if it rains and we have to (God forbid) have his party indoors, I know just the contest we can have —it’s called “Draw Leigh.”

And this time I’ll be the judge!

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