I can remember the way that my burlap-potato-sack Native American costume felt. The one I wore in Mrs. Roush’s second grade Thanksgiving pageant. Yes, I was a Thanksgiving pageant. And yes, I was the only Native lady. There were plenty of boys playing Pilgrims and Indians but I was the only girl siding with the Natives. You see, I was the only child small enough to fit into the costume, which had no room for alterations because it was made of a burlap-potato-sack. Don’t misunderstand, the costume was actually something beautiful and impressive, but try asking a second year old year to wear a pair of burlap-potato-sack pants and matching top (adorned with beaded decoration), when all the other girls are wearing the flowing skirts and bonnets of the Pilgrims. I know. Even the beaded decoration and single feather headband could not save this one. Not for me anyway. But you see, the thing about this costume was that the individual who wore it was designated to perform a specific solo piece in the production. So in the end, I didn’t mind that much. Even if Bethany Hayden gave me a snotty-glotting look every time we were doing some version of a square dance.
Mrs. Roush was a favorite teacher of mine. She was. Tall and thin. Much older when I was her student, I have since learned that she can only hear these words from beyond another veil. She was something special. She had this bright auburn, firey hair that was styled like she was from Dallas, TX, but transplanted to Montana. She did talk like she was from Dallas though. If you know what I mean. She had long slender fingers and the most beautiful handwriting. She was the one who taught be cursive and I can still see her stunning script. You don’t really see that anymore. Everyone is typing everything. And typing has such less personality. Yes, you can get your thoughts out faster, quicker but there’s something special about receiving a handwritten note. Anything you received written by Mrs. Roush, you knew was special, that she took her time to make it beautiful. But, above all that, she was tall. I’m not sure if it was relative because I was so small but I do believe that she was just, tall. And she was a runner. Every May Day, she had all her students and their parents over to her house for the tradition she had started early in her teaching career. You see her house, was a perfect square, in design. So you could run around the entire perimeter of the house much like you are running around a track. And so it begins. The student and Mrs. Roush would line up in their designated spots, the student located at the, let’s say SE corner of the house and Mrs. Roush at the SW corner. There was a third individual at the NE corner because the student would start the race first and then when the student rounded the NE corner the third man would signal for Mrs. Roush to begin. So basically you were halfway around the house because Mrs. Roush even began to run. Of course no one really stood a chance. I believe Mrs. Roush ran track in college or something, either way she killed every race. AND, there was a catch. If..I should WHEN she caught you, she would lay two big red kisses on your cheeks in consolation. And of course, we are not talking about simple rouge here, we are talking Mary-Kay-Ben-Nye strength, vibrant apple red lipstick, that she would apply before every race. If you beat her, you got a lovely May Day basket filled with goodies and treats, but I never saw that happen.
The races and pageants and handwriting aside, the real reason that I truly loved Mrs. Roush is because she saw me. She saw me. She could see this little, young girl ,who had tornadoes at home, for who she was, love her and embrace her intrinsic nature. Mrs. Roush saw me. This may seem so simple but the the truth is that not many people do see me. Its not that I’m dishonest or trying hide anything but I’m just different. I’m not saying special, just different. Mrs. Roush had the awards at the end of the school year and again, this was something purely Mrs. Roush, no other teacher in Highland Park Elementary did this. At least, not when I was there. She had these awards, similar to the ones they give out senior year of high school, you know “Best Eyes, ” “Most Athletic,” “Most Likely to Succeed” and all that. These were a bit different as the students did not vote, the awards were purely designated by Mrs. Roush. We all knew about them. And there were some that were repeated every year that some students were really excited about. I wanted “Best Eyes.” I’m not sure why. I suppose because they are blue and I had often gotten comments on them. I’m not sure why I wanted “Best Eyes” but my heart was set on it. Well, Bethany Hayden won “Best Eyes.” Bethany Hayden. Bethany Hayden was mean. She had evil eyes. She once got me in trouble on the playground by staging a rock being thrown and blaming me and getting all her little minions to go along with it. “Best Eyes.” Bethany Hayden. No. That wasn’t right. I was upset. I was. Disappointed. And my name still hadn’t been called. I waited.
Mrs. Roush was at the podium and she began talk about the next student. “This next student is not like any others I’ve had. This next student is happy marching to the beat of her own drum. She is smart and confident. I have never given out this award before but this award for the “Most Independent” was designed specifically for Chelsea DuVall. Pause. That’s me. I run up and get my award from Mrs. Roush, who looks so loving and proud, rush back to my seat, look down at my beautiful laminated award and…”WHAT IS MOST INDEPENDENT??” I was in second grade and all I knew was that “Most Independent” wasn’t “Best Eyes.” My father reassured me that is was a good thing, something I would learn to appreciate and he was right.
Mrs. Roush is right. I have always marched to the beat of my own drum. Maybe I don’t feel that way now, living among artists and walking among the talented. But, growing up, yes, I was different. Even if it meant that I got bullied. Even if it meant that I was not the popular girl and didn’t have many friends, I was somehow unafraid to be myself. I think now, that independence, that strength was given to me. I was armed for survival. I’m so glad I didn’t get “Best Eyes.”