I am in fifth grade, and I have just changed schools. This is where I will first form my belief that some schools are just not meant for some children, because I come from a place where no one likes me and I am the least popular kid in my class. We eat hot lunch every day in the high school cafeteria, and I always have soup and a roll, but because I am tiny and we are in a high school lunch line, I have to ask the taller girls to hand me a roll, and after awhile, they simply sneer and refuse. And so I come from a million tiny experiences like this to a school where everyone likes me, where people compliment the new dress my grandmother made me when I wear it to free dress day, where I am voted some kind of fall princess or mary princess or something a few weeks after I arrive. This is a school where I feel liked, because I am liked. It is a wonderful feeling. It feels like taking a deep breath after years of being horrified by my own existence.
In fifth grade at my new school we all take speech class, and one of the first ones we learn is the demonstration speech. My mother delights in this, and she is thrilled when she hears that someone did a speech on how to eat an oreo cookie and someone else did a speech on how to make a peanut butter and pickle sandwich. I can only assume her competitive nature kicks in or maybe she just thought it would be a good idea, but she “suggests” that I do my demonstration speech on how to check the oil in a car.
I am amenable to this, it seems like fun, and I am proud of my mother’s car, a brand new red and tan Toyota Tercel. And I do know how to check the oil, and my whole class will get to go outside, and besides, I have other things to worry about, because despite my new found popularity and the accepting nature of my fifth grade compatriots, there are some things that the market simply will not bear, and so I spend all my spare time and the time before I fall asleep figuring out and practicing and scheming. I need a plan, because more than anything, I know it is of utmost importance that I do not, under any circumstances, use the word “dipstick” in front of my entire fifth grade class.
The day arrives, my mother drives the car to school, and we all troop outside. I am ready with my paper towels and my plan and I prop up the hood of the car and I go through all the steps and wipe and recheck and then my pulse quickens as I near the end because things are working out perfectly, and then I am done, and I cannot believe it but I have pulled it off. I have made it through the whole speech and the oil has been checked and I even got a laugh when I told everyone not to use cooking oil in a pinch and there has been nary a mention of dips or sticks.
AND THEN. And then. A voice pipes up from the back, loud and clear, and it MY MOTHER, of course. Of course. And then she is saying “Now Elizabeth. What is it called, what you use to check the oil?” and she is saying this in the loudest voice history has ever known, and right in front of my whole entire fifth grade class which might as well be the assembled masses of the free world, I have no choice. I can think of no other recourse. Probably I should have just run, but instead I grit my teeth and I say it. I say “This. is. called. the. dipstick.”
It may surprise you to learn that life did move one, but I can’t lie, a part of me will always be in that moment, almost done, almost pulling it off, and then my mother opening her mouth, and me knowing, in that instant, somehow, just what she’s going to say, and I have forgiven my mother for many many things, but I can tell you with much honesty, I may never let this go. I may never forgive her for the dipstick. And you know what? I kind of don’t think I should.
P.S. Katherine will be doing her fifth grade demonstration speech on how to eat an Oreo cookie, obviously.
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