Thursday, May 9, 2013

Brownie for a Day, published in Southern Women's Review in February 2012

By Mollie Smith Waters
            They were the “IT” girls. Even at the tender age of eight, everyone in school knew who the “it” girls were. They had names like Amanda or Tabitha or Jenny. They were blonde, long-haired, and always adorned with lots and lots of ribbons. Even now I feel sure that they had enough ribbons to rotate them daily without having to repeat a set for at least two weeks. But it wasn’t just their cute sounding names or seemingly endless supply of ribbons that made them special. Not only did they play together—exclusively—at recess or P. E., but they always ate together—exclusively—at lunch. Even their lunches marked them as exceptional. They would sit enjoying their home-prepared meals from metal Dukes of Hazard or Barbie lunchboxes while the rest of us shuffled through the lunch line.
Yet they were different in another way as well; they were BROWNIES! And each Tuesday they came dressed identically in their mocha colored Brownie uniforms complete with knee-high socks and Buster Brown penny loafers. In fact, the only differences between them on this day were the ribbons, all various shades of brown or white—but still keeping in line with their uniform theme.
            The Brownies got to leave class 45 minutes early on Tuesdays. They’d leave the 2nd grade hall and join any 1st grade Brownies out on the playground, where they would swing or slide or climb the monkey bars until the magical white van would arrive to whisk them away to their secret meeting place. I knew they played on the playground because I’d seen them do it; I’d stumbled across their revelry once during a trip to the bathroom shortly after their departure from class. While the rest of us were inside slaving away on our spelling or math, the Brownies were outside on that playground, unsupervised, having the time of their lives. I had seen their freedom and complete acceptance of each other; they exuded confidence and entitlement. They belonged. Right then and there, I knew I was missing out on something wonderful, and from that point on, my one elementary school goal was to BE a BROWNIE!
            Becoming a Brownie would prove difficult. For one, it wasn’t cheap. My family was poor, so poor that the walls practically reverberated with the word “money” because there was never enough, which was a constant worry. Living in a trailer park and being poor were things you were acutely aware of, even at age eight. For me, “extras” were out of the question.
I also had another problem: none of the Brownies were my friends, so I had no one I could turn to with all my questions. And, boy, did I have questions! They ranged from the practical to the whimsical. Question 1: How much does it cost to be a Brownie? Question 2: Where does that white van take you once you leave school? I had no one whose brain I could pick, but fate intervened. In my reading group were two Brownies, Mary Ellen and Ashley.
Each day, I listened closely to these two girls as they discussed Brownie-related issues. Mostly, their conversations were mundane; I gleaned nothing from their banter about the cost. Clearly, these girls did not have to worry about where the money came from. However, I did learn where that white van took them and what they did once they got to their meetings.
  Apparently, the “secret meeting place” was no secret at all. They met in the fellowship hall of one of the local Baptist churches. While that revelation was disappointing, their long list of activities more than made up for it. For Christmas, the Brownies had written their letters to Santa and had made stockings embossed with their names in glitter. On Valentine’s Day, they had made construction paper hearts full of syrupy sweet sentiments for their moms and dads. It was quickly approaching Easter, and I didn’t have a moment to spare if I didn’t want to miss out on that activity, too!
As it turns out, Easter coming so late in the school year is an opportune time for clubs everywhere to have recruitment meetings. Hence, each Brownie was encouraged to bring a classmate to the Easter outing. In a class of twenty students, only about half of which were girls and half of those were already Brownies, the pickings must have been pretty slim for me to garner an invitation, but that is exactly what happened. Mary Ellen asked me to be her guest.
The weeks leading up to the Easter event seemed endless. I was already in overdrive from the mere prospect of joining the Brownies on this momentous occasion, but Mary Ellen and Ashley fueled my excitement as they regaled me with the Easter meeting plans. We’d have a visit from the Easter bunny, we’d be hunting eggs, and we’d be making our very own construction paper hats that had two giant rabbit ears coming out of the top to make us all look like bunnies.
The day finally arrived. With my straw basket in hand, I was ready to set forth on my journey to become a Brownie. Class seemed to drag on forever, and for once, even recess was unusually slow. However, the moment arrived when the teacher made her weekly Tuesday pronouncement, “Brownies are dismissed for pickup.” Oh, how my heart soared at those words, and for once, I was the one gathering my things and looking back at the few girls remaining in class who wore the same pained expression that normally adorned my face on Tuesday afternoons.
After our dismissal from class, we raced past the 1st graders on our way to the playground. Feeling more like an interloper than part of the group, I let the girls in mocha take to the swings as I stood back and basked in their glory. When a swing finally opened up, I got in it and pumped my legs as hard as I could. I was so caught up in my triumph of being part of the group that I missed seeing the white van pull up; Mary Ellen had to yell at me to hurry up before I got left behind.
The van ride was short. In fact, we probably could have walked to our meeting place in less than ten minutes; however, none of this mattered because I was there. I was with them. For once in my life, I was a Brownie!
Upon entering the fellowship hall, I was overwhelmed: the entire place was decked out in Easter decorations. Two long tables with enough chairs to seat about forty girls filled the room. A small box sat atop each chair, and on the table in front of the chairs were placards with each Brownie member’s name. The adjacent chair had a placard with the word “Guest,” so I sat down next to Mary Ellen.
Once we had said the Pledge of Allegiance, had roll call, and completed introductions, the afternoon began to unwind in a whirl of activity. First, we opened our boxes, which contained the necessary items to make our bunny hats. The troop leader demonstrated how to make the hat; then she turned us loose to make our own. One of my ears turned out shorter than the other, though no one seemed to notice. After making our hats, we got in line to have our picture taken with the Easter Bunny. With this formality over, we ate our snacks before going on the egg hunt.
The egg hunt was the event of the day. The area behind the fellowship hall had multiple trees and bushes on a sloped hill, and from our vantage point atop the hill, we could see slips of dyed yellow and green eggs peeking out from the undergrowth. All forty girls stood behind the starting line as the troop leader counted down from 10. She hit 3, 2, 1, then yelled, “GO!” A flurry of brown and white ribbons flew past me! A couple of first graders got tangled up and rolled to the bottom of the hill. Normally, this would’ve set off wails and screams as scraped knees began to bleed, but these girls had no time for band-aids or sympathy. That could wait; the race was on!
I began grabbing eggs as fast as the other girls. I had three, then five, then ten. But as quickly as the hunt had started, it came to a screeching halt. The eggs were getting harder to find; it was then that the leader called out, “Who’s found the golden egg?”
This question sent us dashing back to the bushes! I ran to the nearest hedge, but there was no golden egg there. I darted behind a tree, still nothing. At this point, I caught a flash of gold twinkling above, so I looked up. In the tree closest to me, there was the golden egg nestled safely between two branches. Excitedly, I rushed towards the tree, but then I stopped. In all of the joy I had felt that day of being a Brownie, I had also still felt the keen awareness that I was not really part of the group. I was an outsider, and should someone who was not a real Brownie be the one to find the golden egg? No. Instead of running straight for the tree and pointing out the egg’s hiding place, I simply hung back. I poked around in some more bushes and waited for the inevitable to happen.
After what felt like an eternity, Mary Ellen espied the egg, and she sent up a terrific yelp as she ran towards the tree and pointed skyward. The troop leader applauded; the girls ran forward to see the prize. Mary Ellen opened the egg with care, and inside was a pair of silver earrings shaped like rabbits. A collective murmur of “oohs” and “aahs” went up from the crowd, but Mary Ellen faltered. She simply smiled, placed the earrings back into the egg, and said “thanks.” From where I was standing, I could see that her ears were not pierced; mine were.
The egg hunt marked the official end of the events, and now it was just a matter of waiting for our mothers to arrive. My mom was one of the first there, and as she walked down the hill to collect me, I ran to tell Mary Ellen thanks for the invitation and to tell the troop leader I was leaving. She nodded and handed me a piece of yellow paper telling me in the process to give it to my mom.
I glanced at the paper as I ran up the hill to meet my mom halfway; it listed dues for membership and prices for uniforms. I frowned when I saw the totals, and I shoved the paper to the bottom of my basket. My mom smiled as I took her outstretched hand, and asked me if I had enjoyed myself. I told her “yes,” but I said it wasn’t something that I wanted to do all the time. She seemed surprised but didn’t question me.
Already, I knew that asking to come again would be futile. We could not afford it, so what would be the point of even showing her the paper? I had enjoyed myself immensely, but the odds of my returning were slim to none. Still, the day had lived up to my expectations, and even though I knew that I was not destined to be a Brownie in the future, I had at least been a Brownie for a day!