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My Writer's Journal

The Most Useful Girl, Chapter 2

Janey, who was chosen The Most Useful Girl in 9th grade, continued to excel in high school at everything at which I did not excel. Fortunately, there was no such thing as a "Best Dressed Girl Award," or she would have walked--or danced--away with it, and I would have continued to show up in clothes bought for me by my mother, who was more interested in "quality" than she was in "fashion"--at least for her daughter. I'm remembering a particularly hideous green dress with some sort of a bustle arrangement in the rear. I looked terrible in green, and still do. And I didn't need a bustle.

I was beginning to hit my stride in high school. I edited both the school paper and the class yearbook. I got great grades, and I vowed I 'd never take another math course. But Janey continued to outclass me, particularly in the one area where I wanted very badly to succeed: she had a boyfriend, which meant that she always had a date for the big dances, whereas I....well, you can figure it out. The prom was at the end of May, and I started worrying about it in January. I did get the Most Useful Girl Award at the end of my senior year, but I didn't have a date for the dinner dance.

Janey's boyfriend was a smart, fun, sweet guy named Tom. Janey's dad was a doctor; Tom's had a little grocery store. One night her dad caught them making out in the backseat of his Cadillac, and Tom was banished. They weren't allowed to see each other ever again. He was only a grocer's son. Her parents wanted it over.

The odd thing is, I lost track of Janey after that. We went off to college, and I made up my mind I was going to be a writer someday, though I didn't have a clue how to make it happen.

But one year I went to a high school reunion and sat next to Tom. Janey wasn't there, and Tom was relieved. He told me about the Cadillac incident. His heart had been broken, he said. He found someone else and married her. And he became a doctor. Neither of us was quite sure whatever happened to Janey.  Read More 
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The Most Useful Girl

I first met Janey in kindergarten. She was a beautiful child with a winning smile and pretty curls, and her mother dressed her in nice dresses with big bows in the back. Janey was taking music lessons and learning to tap-dance. At Halloween she appeared costumed as a fairy princess with a sparkly crown and a wand with a star at the end of it. Our teacher, Miss Keller, chose Janey to lead the parade through the parlor and the dining room and back to our schoolroom. I was a shy little girl with thick glasses, buck teeth, and no discernible talents, and my mother had put me in a clown costume. I could bring up the rear, Miss Keller decided.

I didn't see much of Janey until we were both in junior high. By then she was a classic beauty in expensive clothes. She'd become a fine pianist and she could dance to anything. I had progressed to braces, bad perms, and clothes my mother was misguidedly convinced were "smart." Despite such profound differences, Janey and I were friends.

The Awards Assembly was coming up at the end of ninth grade, and I was convinced that I would be chosen The Most Useful Girl. I participated in all kinds of activities, wrote for the newspaper, sang in the chorus, took part in assemblies, and got almost all A's except in gym. When the principal called me to his office a few days before the Awards Assembly, along with Janey and a few other kids, I expected to hear that I'd been picked The Most Useful Girl. Why else would I have been summoned? When I heard that Janey was to get the award, I was crushed, so upset that I almost didn't hear what I WAS to get: the Math Award. I hated math, even though I got A's! Almost as much as I hated gym class! How could this be happening?

Janey got her award, we remained friends, high school life went on. But there's more to the story, and I'll continue it next week.  Read More 
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