Chapter 1: Ribbons of Shame
My parents moved to the country when I was six years old. I had come from a tough inner city school where you learned to talk tough and walk away.
Country life was completely different and my inner city education left me ill prepared for country life. Starting in first grade, I got myself in trouble. I responded to taunts and teases just like I learned in the city. You talk tougher, meaner and talk back. Make eye contact, stare them down, and walk away. That’s city life.
But those are the exact things NOT to do in the country. Talking tough in the country just got you surrounded called a whole group on, and you could not walk away because you had to ride the bus. There was no “getting out of there.” Then you became a group target. It was forty-five minutes of hell going to school, and coming home on the bus.
My new elementary school was steeped in tradition. Everything we did- had been done forever and would continue forever. First through fourth graders played kick ball. It was the older bigger kids that ran the play ground and fifth and sixth graders got to play dodge ball.
I loved playing ball. I wanted to compete, kick hard, run fast and out play my opponents. But it was just a dream. Everything in my country school was a competition. It didn’t take me long to learn how I fit in and what my place would be. I was given as a non-countable extra to the other team. There’s a name for people like me in competition.
I was not only picked dead last for any team sport, the team captain that was supposed to pick me, because I was the only one left, usually told the other team captain, “you can have her. “
So, I actually was not picked at all. I was the exact opposite of a chosen. I was a punishment for the other team.
In the country, there are always friendly competitions: Our country school was microcosm of competitions. First grade played kick ball against second grade. Third grade would compete against the first and second graders.
Everything in the school was some sort of competition. From lining up “the best” to see which class goes to lunch first, who lined up “the best” at the end of the day to see who gets on the bus first, Every assembly had tryouts, every program girls got to compete for the solo, even the Little Buckaroo rodeo in the spring time had a contest who could sell the most tickets for the rodeo- which was a bunch of kids competing. The girls were rodeo princesses, dance princesses, and stars. Literally, a popular dance group was called, “The Stars.”
My first introduction to the country competiveness was the fall it was a rodeo and country fair.
We moved to the country in June. The fall fair was held over Labor Day. It was called, “Tomato Days.”
People entered their tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, corn, pumpkins, and even their green beans to be judged. I didn’t understand it. Jars of pickles, peaches, cake, everything laid out on the table to be critiqued and hopefully awarded a great prize. The great prize in the country is a blue ribbon. The worst prize in the country- a white one.
Our school offered plenty of competitive sports. Field day. Little Buckaroo Rodeo. Reflections Contest. Every competition always ended with award ceremonies and ribbons. Even being the last one- not picked- but given to the other team, was the daily equivalent of a white ribbon.
Field day was always three students competing. First, second and third place. Every event, every student got a ribbon. All my ribbons were white. Third place every time, every race, every competition, every year.
About fourth grade, I remember dreading having to compete and be humiliated with another white ribbon.
I dreaded field days. I dreaded try-outs. I was conditioned to know my place. Last place, every time, every event, everything. Regardless of how well I prepared and how much I tried I never succeeded. I always- ALWAYS- came home with white ribbons, symbols of shame.
You would think I would get used to it, but for some reason I didn’t. I hated it. To this day, I dislike competition. I'm uncomfortable watching sports, because I felt the defeat of loss so many times on a daily basis in elementary school. " You are not enough. Here’s your white ribbon."
© 2013 Miss K - 4/4/13