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MY DOG DATES & OTHER STORIES

SHOW & TRY TO TELL I started second grade in a new school. Over the summer my family had moved four miles to a slightly bigger house and, as a result, I changed school districts. While it wasn’t far in mileage, the schools were worlds apart. The kids at my new school were all worldly seven-year-olds. At my old school everyone was more or less the same. We’d all been together since around birth. My best friend lived down the street. I wasn’t prepared for kids that talked about brand name footwear and hairstyles, like “feathered.” Feathered hair was very in and my unruly curly hair was very out. Ditto my K-mart sneakers. For the first week or so, I concentrated on survival. Everything at the new school moved very fast. We had to 2


Maureen Troy

change classes every five minutes. One place for math, another for English, off to gym, time for lunch. My head spun just trying to get from place to place. I identified a few of the non-feathered-haired girls for possible friendship, but I wasn’t planning any sudden moves. Actually, between all the rushing about and my natural shyness, I wasn’t capable of sudden moves. I’d been an observer since birth and planned to lay low, possibly until college. However, my teacher had other plans. The second week of school she announced her torture campaign, called Show and Tell. She rattled off names and days of the week that kids were to bring in and share their Show and Tell item. Since I was a “T” I had until the following Thursday to come up with an item to present in front of the class, or get hit by a meteor. I hoped for the meteor, particularly if it resulted in a broken leg. Then I’d be like the kids who were lucky enough to have broken a limb and still had their old smelly casts to bring in for Show and Tell.

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Over the weekend it finally hit me I wouldn’t just be showing, I’d be telling. I had been so focused on the item I forgot to consider the real horror: talking. In front of the class. I barely spoke to my family. I had a sister about a year older than me and she did almost all of my talking. If my mom asked me what was wrong, my sister would answer for me, “She doesn’t like her sneakers. Nobody wears K-mart sneakers.” This information was all correct, but I hadn’t told her that. Sharing a room since birth, my sister just knew everything, so I didn’t have to talk. My family barely noticed that I didn’t talk since they were all talkers. They seemed relieved to have one less voice to compete with. Now I know there’s a name for standing in front of a group of people and talking. Public Speaking. It’s the number one fear among people. As a comedian once put it, “At a funeral, 87% of the people in attendance would rather be in the coffin than behind the podium giving the eulogy.” Yep. At seven that definitely described me.

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My mind gave equal time to worrying about what to show and what to tell. I surveyed my room. Peanuts bed sheets featuring Snoopy. An assortment of stuffed animals. Lots of Barbies and dolls. I doubted the grown-up sevenyear-olds in my new school even played with dolls, so I certainly wouldn’t be bringing them. I loved to draw pictures of Snoopy and Woodstock, but no way was I sharing personal artwork. I sat on my bed and couldn’t come up with anything. My dad carried a gun and badge for work for some reason. I was fuzzy on the details of what he did, since he had told me he wasn’t a policeman. Maybe I could bring his gun in for Show and Tell. I quickly squelched the idea, knowing he wouldn’t let me, even without the bullets inside. I considered his badge, but I didn’t want him to go to work without it. How would the bad guys know he was a good guy without his badge? I checked out my sisters’ stuff. They were as boring as me. Books, clothes, toys, and games. I couldn’t think of anything my mom had an interest in but crocheting. Since 5


MY DOG DATES & OTHER STORIES

that idea bored me, I knew it would bore my classmates. She had some neat old photos, but I didn’t know who any of the people were. Also, I could sense that showing and telling about long dead relatives wasn’t the way to go. Maybe I could convince my mom to let me get a pet that came in a box. Like a mouse, guinea pig, or turtle. These were always a big hit at Show and Tell. I’d have to see if the pet-in-a-box was returnable, like shirts that didn’t fit. I didn’t really want to keep a pet-in-a-box. First, it didn’t seem fair to the animal. Second, I wasn’t wild about smells and messes of any kind. This I knew from having a little brother. And lastly, if I forgot to feed it and the pet died, I wouldn’t be able to live with the guilt. I’d been learning about guilt at my catechism class at our Catholic church. Guilt could kill you, so scratch the pet-in-a-box. The night before Show and Tell, in desperation I turned to my mom. “I need something for Show and Tell tomorrow.” She offered a big sigh. “Why did you wait until the last minute?” 6


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I shrugged. Why go into detail about the fact it was the only thing I’d thought about for every minute since the teacher gave the assignment a week ago? My mom suggested, “How about something you made, like your Snoopy pictures?” I didn’t want to get into it with her about the worldly seven-year-olds at my new school. “Don’t we have anything more interesting I could bring?” She thought a minute, and then rummaged around in her box of old photos. She wasn’t going to rescue me and now it was too late to fake illness. I should have gone for a sick day. Planted the idea of not feeling well at bedtime and faked a full-on illness in the morning, but now she’d be on to me because of the Show and Tell thing. She handed me a small metal hook with a handle. It looked like a crochet hook, but smaller, and the metal was so old it was pitch black. My mom said, “It’s a button hook.”

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Where was a meteor when you really needed one? “Mom, can you do any better? I can do up buttons with my hands.” She pulled out a photo that showed a young woman from head to toe. My mom pointed to the shoes. A million little buttons went up the sides of the shoes. Geez, if I had shoes like that I could miss school just trying to get ready. She explained, “In the old days people needed button hooks to put their shoes on.” Could things be more complicated in the past? “Why didn’t they just use shoelaces?” I asked. My mom shrugged. “Guess they weren’t invented yet.” The dryer buzzed and she went to get the clothes, leaving me with the photo and button hook. Then I had a horrible thought—clothes! I hadn’t even planned out what to wear tomorrow. I raced into my room with the button hook and photo. All my favorite clothes were in the wash, as in dirty, not being washed. I finally got my sister to let me wear one of her shirts after a long negotiation that made the 8


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writing of the Declaration of Independence look like a few guys putting together a grocery list. The next morning as I sat at my desk; I was so nervous waiting for my Show and Tell turn that I didn’t hear or see what the other kids showed or told. The teacher called my name. I clutched my button hook and photo. I began speaking, but I have no idea what I said. My turn went so fast I don’t remember a second. All I know is that there was no heckling and I made it through without barfing or fainting. The class passed around my button hook and photo without really looking at it. I completely understood: it’s not a smelly cast or a pet-in-abox, so who cares? Finally, I sat back down with such relief that I wanted to put my head on my desk and cry, but instead I sat rigidly. My shoulders nearly touched my ears. The girl behind me tapped my shoulder. I slowly turned. She had nicely feathered blond hair. She asked to see the photo again and said, “I’d never get to school on time if I had that many tiny buttons. No wonder they 9


MY DOG DATES & OTHER STORIES

needed a hook.” She flipped her feathers back. “I can hardly get my hair blown dry in time.” She blow dries her hair? We don’t even own a blowdryer. Maybe that’s the feathered secret. I stared at her and realized I was supposed to say something. “Yeah, uh, the buttons would be a drag. I can barely pick out my clothes and get dressed on time.” She nodded understandingly. “My mom has a lot of old pictures like these. I never noticed the buttons. I should check them out.” I nodded, not sure what to say, as usual. “Maybe you can come over after school and we can look.” Wow. Feathered girl invited me over. Okay. Good day. I didn’t vomit. Maybe made a friend. I’d better find out her name; I can’t really call my mom and ask if I can go home with the “feathered hair girl.”

www.MyDogDates.com

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My Dog Dates & Other Stories by Maureen Troy  

Free excerpt of chapter 4, Show and Try to Tell.