In fourth grade there was a girl who didn’t always brush her hair (or have it brushed), and she smelled like a dishrag that hadn’t been wrung out properly. She had a sweet smile though, and this day it was present—everybody loves Christmas parties. She clutched the present she had brought for the exchange in her hands, held it tightly to her chest. It was just in a grocery sack held shut with 3 rubber bands.
In her class there was another girl, her hair neatly in a braid thrown over her shoulder. She also wore a smile on her face but smelled of Johnson and Johnson. In her right hand she held a gift back with red and green tissue paper parading out of the top.
The teacher asked all the children to put their present up front and grab a number from the basket on her desk. As numbers are drawn and compared, fists pumped with excitement and some dropped their shoulders and shook their heads—their fate had been decided.
Number 21 went first. This was the worst number to draw because although he got first pick, his gift could be “stolen” form the next participant. He chose the box with the hotwheels wrapping paper and what was inside was not much of a surprise.
Number 18 stole the hotwheels.
Numbers continue to pick presents. Eventually number 4, number 3, and anticipation mounted as everyone wondered who had the number 1 ticket.
Number 19 had ended up with the grocery sack present—a used hand puppet with traces of dirt around its sleeve. Number 19 knew she would be stuck with this and let out a complaint, causing the bearer of this gift to look away in shame.
Number 2 went and the teacher smiled, “So who does that leave with number 1?”
The girl with the braid raised her hand and smiled. She had control of this crowd and her choice was endless. There were 21 gifts to choose from and she had the privilege of seeing them all unwrapped. Barbies and coloring kits, an etch-i-sketch, and a train track set (some parent had obviously gone over the five dollar limit).
Her eyes scanned the goods and with confidence and poise that should not belong to a fourth grader, she stood. Small hands held their new treasures tightly and hearts beat wildly, wondering if their newest joy would be taken.
And the girl with number 1 walked over to the girl with number 19 and she picked up the old, worn out puppet.
“I choose this one,” she said.
And some students gawked and some rolled their eyes and one little girl with unbrushed hair smiled. Her gift had been chosen by Number 1. The teacher’s eyes welled up and she told the kids they could eat their cupcakes with red and green sprinkles and she walked to the back of the room to the girl with the braid and said in hushed and peaceful sort of way, “That was very nice of you.”
And the girl with the braid smiled, and with frosting on her upper lip, shrugged her shoulders and said, “I think it hurt her feelings that no one wanted it. I didn’t want her to feel bad.” She took a drink of punch and her teacher hugged her.
My sister never really stopped being that girl with the braid.