PlazaJen: Passion Knit

Saturday, December 18, 2004

The Snow Queen

When I was in 4th grade, I already had a deep-seated need to be popular and "belong". That was going to be a challenge every day for the next eight years, given that I was being raised by non-religious, liberal, hippie-types in the wilds of rural Iowa, and my school was located in a conservative town with a population just over 700. Nothing says "You Ain't From 'Round Here" like not going to church, and moving in the year before meant I would never crack the social structure, because much like an ancient monarchy, the roles for all the players had already been cast. Thus, anyone new would be playing the role of "Outsider".
It took a long time to figure out how to play that role successfully and not commit hari kari in the locker room. But I am getting far too far ahead of myself. It is Christmas in a small town, and it is time to prepare for the Christmas Pageant. You know how those go - everyone loves the kindergartners, clutching their tummies, belting out "ho, ho HO" - and then there's usually a bunch of choral singing. Well, in 1977, we were going to have a PLAY. And not a play about Mary & Jesus, where I would certainly NOT be cast as Mary, the star, but more like a sheep, or enter-stage-left "Anonymous Townsperson", because on the first day of school in third grade, a member of each church surrounded my desk to determine what church we attended. With the brevity and naivete I continue to posses, I bluntly said, "We don't go." So I knew any religious-based play would never deign to have me in a starring role of any sort. But this was not the theme! This was a play about Winter & all the Seasons! How delightfully non-secular! And we were doing it with the fifth graders. But one, and only one, fourth grade girl would get to be the Snow Queen.
Ohhhhhh, I could see it already. A tiara. Sparkling and glinting in the light, as I tilted my benevolent Snow Queen head to my subjects. This was a role I was meant to play -nay, BORN to play. Surely the powers-that-be would see this and quickly maneuver to assign me the part.
In music class, our teacher announced we would vote to choose our snow queen. Anyone who wanted the part was to raise their hand. My hand shot up. So did three other girls'. She wrote our names on the chalkboard, and gave the class slips of paper. Peggy. Jennifer. Amy. Sherri. Write down one of these names, fold it, hand it in.
Are you kidding? Everyone could see this role was mine. I immediately scrawled my name down.
And then the tallying began.
Oh my goodness. I had no idea the votes would be tallied ON THE CHALKBOARD, with little lines underneath our names. One student read the names out loud, while our music teacher placed the hatch marks for all to see.
Wow. I had forgotten that Peggy's birthright was to be The Prettiest Girl in School. This was not a title to be shared. And up went the hatchmarks. Thirty-two students, thirty-two votes. Sherri got one. Her own. Amy, it turns out, voted for me. Thanks, Amy. You're already fucking noble in the fourth grade. I don't recall how many votes she got, because I was riveted in horror to see that I only got THREE VOTES. Mine, Amy's and my best friend Diana's. Peggy had the starring role in a landslide. I remember keeping my emotions in check in class, and sneaking a look at Sherri, who was a bit red and holding back tears. I wonder if she remembers all of this as vividly as I do. I've since looked back on that and shook my head, wondering, "What was she thinking?", putting all those votes up on the board. If I could remember her name, it would be on my list of people I'd like to kick in the shins.

When I got off the school bus and made my half-mile walk home to the geodesic dome home my father had built, I cried. Bitter, selfish tears. Sobbing. My father took one look at me and stopped his work (doing something outside in his woodworking studio), concerned, said, "What's the matter?"
And thus began the first of many conversations with my father, who thought of me as a 26-year old person, perhaps because of my accelerated reading level, and he tried to reason with me as a 26-year old might understand. "Why do you care what these people think? This is a stupid play! I don't even know what a Snow Queen is! You don't need to be the Snow Queen. Christmas pageants are stupid! STOP CRYING because I feel helpless when you cry and I can't stand to see you in pain!" Well, he only said the "Stop Crying" part, which really doesn't work when you're nine and the Snow Queen Tiara has been wrenched from your dreams.
I understand what he was trying to do, because I am not 9 years old now. But the logic was lost on me then.
I was to be a Snowflake. Part of the Queen's Court. Insult to Injury.
I do recall my entrance, because also true-to-form, I was late. Peggy was sitting on her throne, dressed in shimmery whites and glitter. With a crown. AND SCEPTER. The Snowflakes were to enter & toss their bits of copy paper around, for snow is a big part of Winter in Iowa. I, however, had gotten new shoes for this event, and had retreated into my own little world, admiring how nice they looked & had completely missed the cue to enter with the other snowflakes. Our music instructor hissed, "JENNIFER! SNOWFLAKES! GO!" and as I still do today, I clicked back into reality in a foggy sort of way, and galloped out, dispersing my snowflakes and grinning. My life has been spent since with an unnatural attachment to & enjoyment of material goods, I am embarrassed to say, and new shoes were definitely making me feel better about not having the starring role.
Peggy went on to be Homecoming Queen and Most Popular, and everything else you would expect for the role of Prettiest Girl. I would later have the chance to be a noble friend to Amy, supporting her unconditionally when, at the age of 16, she got pregnant & through the aftermath of her choices related to it. My father would continue to attempt to reason with me, comparing my high school melodramas to my Quest to Be the Snow Queen, and why I shouldn't care so much about it all. But it's hard to not want to belong, to not be embraced by others, and it's easier to cope with it when you're 33, as he was in 1977, than when you're 9, or 15.

Even at the age of 36, there are times I want that Snow Queen Tiara, so much it hurts. Sometimes I even buy some new shoes, or yarn, to feel better. But it's most fulfilling to go in my little fogbanks world & to look around at the wonderful life I have, and the people (and dogs!) in my life, and my eyes well with tears because my heart is so full. To love, to be loved. Each and every one of us is someone's Snow Queen. To me, that is my Spirit of Christmas. No voting necessary.
posted by PlazaJen, 8:34 AM