The 6th grade me was a true idealist.
Not an unconditional optimist — although I really did think we were going to save those whales! Not a stargazing pipe-dreamer. But a steadfast believer in noble principles.
I believed in the greater good, convinced that a better world was just a compassionate gesture away. All you needed was good intentions. A good heart.
And maybe a t-shirt that reflected your cause.
The activist t-shirts of the 80's and 90's brought politics and fashion together.
But my idealism went beyond embracing the liberal agendas of the time; I valued the content of one’s character beyond all else. I rejected the materialistic and the superficial.
I wouldn't even consider being a cheerleader at school because I considered it fake, shallow and demeaning to women.
Looking back, it's kinda sad that I took everything so dang serious. But as an adult, I wouldn't mind a little dose of that hope.
— • —
At the end of 6th grade, our teachers announced that each student would be honored with an end-of-year award. I was secretly excited to discover my greatest accomplishment of the 1991-1992 school year.
Our team crammed into a classroom, students sitting cross-legged on the floor, and the teachers began handing out the award certificates.
“Most Improved in Math!” they announced
That’s a good one, I thought as my friend collected his official document. I didn't deserve a math award, but I’d settle for Best Creative Writer or —
My name was called.
“The Earring Tree Award!”
I practically choked. The what?!..The Earring Tree Award?!
— • —
SIDEBAR: In case you didn't know, Earring Tree was the less successful predecessor of Claire’s Accessories. The store at the mall that sells cheap jewelry. They also sold tree-shaped earring organizers.
— • —
I hesitated to move from the floor.
Was I nothing more than a pair of ears from which an impressive variety of earrings dangled!? Did my brimming jewelry box overshadow any and all academic achievement?
I started to picture a trophy made of one of those tacky brass earring holders from the 80's. You know, the ones with all the punctured holes...
I collected my award without enthusiasm.
The teachers couldn’t have known that their cute observation meant so much to me by meaning so little, but I was genuinely insulted. Reduced to a person with a lot of earrings.
I threw the award in the garbage with disgust.
— • —
Twenty-five years later, I still support my reaction. But it looks like those teachers were on to something. I gotta give them credit 'cause here I am, making all sorts of sacrifices so I can hang a few more dangles on my earring tree. At least this time the designs are my own.
For the record, this is what my earring organizers looked like circa 1992.