Kaylee Herrick Short Story Zara’s Hats Sara Zirkwekel was strange. At least that is what everyone in our 6th grade class thought. I don’t mean to sound rude, but if I had pointed her out to you, you would have thought so too. Why would you think she was strange? Because Sarah was not like other girls. (At least that I could tell, I mean, I was a little boy, and girls had cooties, so what did I know about girls?) But as far as I had heard about girls, girls like dressing up in pretty clothes and playing with dolls and building lemonade stands with their other friends that were girls. Not Sarah. She always played alone and did not care about pretty clothes or lemonade stands at all. Sara also didn’t look like other girls. Sara had long, wiry, red hair that curled and twisted in every direction around her head. You think this would have been her distinguishing feature, but it didn’t even come close to her coordinating hair bow, sweats, and glasses she wore every day to school. Each day it was a different theme. One day it would be a bow with the moon on it which coordinated with her sweats that had little solar systems and stars all over and matched her glasses that sparkled like twinkling stars around the rims when she would turn her head. The next day it would be purple sweats with leaves sewn on like patches with a corresponding tiara thing stuck on her crazy poufy, red head. Yep. Imagine that and then times that by every day of the year—pretty strange. Not only did she dress strangely, but she acted strangely as well and I would know. Being her next door neighbor since the day I came into existence, I got to witness this strange behavior first hand. Everyday, I could see her through my bedroom window in her yard running around collecting flowers or painting smiley faces all over the trunk of her trees: can you say weird?
You think she would leave this at home, but she wouldn’t. At recess, she would wander around grabbing things out of thin air and then look at you with this look in her eye like obviously there was something there that you just couldn’t see. Not only that, but she would run around the playground talking to herself and collecting rocks that she would glue together into little castles and decorate them using grass and tar from the play area underneath the jungle gym. Yep. She had always been this way. She lived in her own little world and the rest of our 6th grade class lived in ours. This pattern continued just like it always had from Pre-K to 6th grade until career day. You would think that this would be an inconsequential day, but for some reason, on career day, the worlds of Sara Zerkwekel and our 6th grade class collided. Mrs. Kittle, our exuberant, but sometimes over the top 6th grade teacher, asked each of us to prepare a report on what we wanted to be when we grew up and why. Some people chose firemen, teachers, nurses, doctors, scientists and of course Johnny, the most popular kid in our class, picked President of the United States—and of course no one argued with him, because what Johnny wanted, Johnny always got. I did my report on how I wanted to be an accountant like my dad. I liked numbers and it seemed like a good career and I knew people really like my dad, the accountant, so it seemed like a pretty good choice. Anyway, almost everyone in the class had been able to tell what they wanted to be when they grew up except Sara. When it was her turn, I looked around and she was nowhere to be found. Mrs. Kittle looked concerned, “Has anyone seen Sara? She was just here a minute ago.” At that moment, Sara ran into the class in the craziest outfit I had seen in my life. She had on pink sweats with flowers painted all over in acrylic paint with some fake flowers twisted together around her neck and hands as jewelry, but that was pretty standard for Sara. The most ridiculous part of the outfit was her hat. Sara had a wide brimmed hat on that had a variety of real potted
plants glued around the part that surrounded her head. The pots were filled with roses, daffodils, and sunflowers just bursting into the air and over the brim of the hat. In her arms she also had several other hats. One hat was made to look like a wedding cake with little blue ribbons all over it, and another hat had little plastic trees on it with part of the brim cut out of the hat where she had inserted a plastic container full of water to look like a lake. Our whole sixth grade classed was stunned and sat in silence as Sara began to speak. “Hi! My name is Sara Zirkwekel and I want to be a hat maker when I grow up, but not just any hat maker, oh no, a magical hat maker.” She cleared her throat and looked everyone straight in the eyes one by one. “I want everyone in the world to have a hat that matches their personality and passions! I am going to find a way to make hats with flowers that grow straight out of the hat, and hats made out of cake that are edible, but don’t melt or crumble when you wear them.” She stared at everyone in silence waiting for applause or bursts of excitement, but nothing happened. We just stared at her in amazement. I didn’t know what to think. Part of me felt it was a cool idea. I would want one of her hats. That is, until I heard Johnny, Mr. Future President of America Johnny; blurt out “What a dumb idea. No one would ever want one of your stupid hats.” Sara just lowered her head and looked at the ground as Johnny began to laugh, then the class started laugh, and then I started to laugh. “Ya, what a dumb idea” I thought. “No one would want one of her hats—Sara is so strange.” So I laughed. I laughed with the class. I laughed because Johnny did and you always do what Jonny does because Johnny gets what Johnny wants. Sara kept her head down as she walked back to her desk and kept it down for the rest of the day. I thought I saw a bead of water drop down Sara’s lowered face and water her fake flower necklace around her neck. I don’t remember thinking much more about Sara that year, but I do remember that summer I noticed a for sale sign on Sara’s lawn. I felt like I should go say
goodbye, but mostly I just felt relieved that strange Sara would not be next door to do strange things anymore. It has been twenty years since that day in Mrs. Kittle’s 6th grade class. I didn’t become an accountant like my dad, but a writer, and as a writer I see strange people a lot differently than I did when I was in Mrs. Kittle’s 6th grade class. Strange people have the best stories and usually end up doing the greatest things: they have become my favorite people to tell stories about. Whenever I am working on another story about someone, I think about Sara and what might have happened to her. Where did she go? Did we, ignorant little 6th graders following a boy named Johnny, crush her dreams? (By the way, Johnny did not become president. He works at the local waste management plant. Yep. Johnny no longer gets what Johnny wants.) Last week an article crossed my desk at the New York Times about a new line of hats that is taking the world by surprise in hopes that I could get the scoop for a feature article on this new famous designer. These hats have real little trees that change color with the seasons on them and hats made out of cake shaped like the Eiffel Tower that never crumble or melt in the sun. People all over the world are talking about these hats and how they have reinvented fashion forever. (At least that is what I am told. What do I know about fashion?) No one knows who makes them or how they work, but they can’t get enough of them. All I have been able to dig up about this mysterious, new artist is that the hat company is called Zara’s Hats. Something inside me hopes it can’t just be a coincidence how similar the facts add up to the little girl Sara I once knew. I am going to keep digging, but even if I never find out, I have a feeling that Sara turned out alright.
Reflection I had a really fun time writing this story. That is, once I started writing it. I had such a hard time getting started. I felt so inadequate writing a short story because I did not feel like I am a creative writer. I had written down multiple starts to my story and little blurbs about my characters, but I couldn’t get past the first page. Looking back on this process I feel I can really sympathize with my students. Students who are creatively gifted might feel overwhelmed at the process of a research paper, while those who have felt they have been doing research papers for years might feel they have nothing to offer when it comes to writing creatively. I know for me, it wasn’t until I read the first page to my husband and told him my idea and he loved it that I felt confident enough to keep going. From this experience, I know good feedback and encouragement is gong to be critical in helping my students write. I know personally, after getting mostly B’s on papers this semester, I feel overwhelmed every time I go to write because I feel it will just turn out average again because I don’t have enough time to work on it and I just freeze. What really helped me get over this were some strategies we used in class. Free writing really helped, but even more helpful was the recipe activity. It helped me get enough of my ideas out there to relate it to another student in the class. This discussion with another student who showed enthusiasm for my ideas helped me get going in the writing process. When students feel inadequate to write, activities that will help them just get their ideas down and discuss them with other students, I feel, will really help them in the writing process. I know it really helped me.
Short Story Grade Sheet
Ideas (30) • • • • •
Story is interesting to read, with meaningful characters and conflict. The story premise is limited enough to address in the assigned length. One or two characters are substantively developed so that they matter to the story. Evidence of thoughtful theme/themes is present in the story. Imagery portrays setting and characters vividly.
Organization (20) • • • • • •
Plot follows the expected story arc with identifiable beginning, climax, and resolution, even if abbreviated or reversed (as in a flashback). The introduction and rising action quickly engage the audience meaningfully, introduce the conflict, and encourage further reading. The resolution of the story avoids a moralistic or pedantic message; instead there’s a satisfying sense of resolution. Pacing is deliberate and makes sense for this story; writer knows when to spend more time and when to move quickly. Thoughtful transitions connect scenes in meaningful ways. A title effectively frames the concept of the story.
Voice (10) • • •
Tone conveys vividness, immediacy or a personalized perspective to engage the reader. The narrator is selected because he/she provides an effective point of view for this story. Voice and style stay consistent throughout the story.
Word Choice (10) • •
Word choice is precise and matches the tone of the story. Dialogue is purposeful and moves the story forward.
Sentence Fluency (10) • •
Author uses varying lengths and types of sentences to express differing purposes. Variety of lengths and structures contributes positively to the pacing of the story.
Conventions (10) • •
Dialogue is punctuated correctly. Errors in conventions do not distract from the effectiveness of the story.
Reflection: What strategies did you use that benefitted your writing this assignment? How might you use those strategies in writing different genres in the future? What did you learn about writing that might apply to your future students and teaching practice? Try to theorize about your experience (L4), not just relate it.