January 26, 2008

Vase final

"...A poorer, sadder version of myself."


by M. Maiden


Some of my strongest memories from my youth have to do with that brief time I attended school at St. Albert’s in South Milwaukee. I was only there through first grade, which is long enough to know that what they called a playground was a fallacy (it was actually the parking lot they used for church on Sundays) and that I never had a nun for a teacher (but the principal was a nun, and she would refill your Elmer’s Glue bottle for a quarter).

Before I was pulled from this bastion of academia, I knew a girl named Leslie Stakowski. Leslie was like a poorer, sadder version of myself. Whereas my mom just made me wear enormously thick glasses to correct my lazy eye, Leslie had to wear the glasses AND the patch to correct hers. Whereas my school uniform was definitely used, hers was threadbare. Her last name was alphabetically similar to mine, so we often had to stand next to each other: lunch line, on the way to gym, assemblies, Halloween costume parade (I was a die, as in “too poor for the pair of dice”, she was a ghost or something equally pitiful). Despite these similarities, I don’t remember getting to know her much. Rising above my economic disadvantages, I still hung out with the girls whom had twirly earrings and fancy scrunchies, and Leslie was not a fancy scrunchie girl.

However, because of our Christmas pageant, Leslie will forever remain in my memory. Our pageants were nothing more than all of the parents crammed into the same cafeteria that we had our pancake dinners in and singing Christmas songs, grade by grade. I believe I wore a velvet dress, white tights and black shoes (no plaid jumpers for us!) and, of course, I was standing next to the similarly last-named Leslie. As we filed in, I could smell the unmistakable aroma of French’s Yellow Mustard.

I was not a mustard eater by any means. I have always had an extreme love of hot dogs; despite never being quite sure which part of the animal they come from, I can eat hot dogs any time, any place. One of my first memories is of cruising around my grandmother’s kitchen in my Walk’n’Go with a chopped up hot dog on the tray in front of me. However, I never ate them with mustard, since I was—and will forever be—known as a ketchup girl. But I knew that yellow smell, and that day it was pungent.


As we filed in and stood on the carpeted risers, the smell grew stronger. Our music started, probably "The Little Drummer Boy", and I looked around to see when to start singing, and I caught a glimpse of Leslie: brown corduroy jumper, coke bottle glasses (no patch tonight, her parents took mercy on her) and there, caked around the corners of her mouth, was yellow mustard. Not just a bit, but enough to look like she’d eaten three hot dogs right before walking on stage, without access to a napkin or wet-nap. And I just stared. And inhaled. And wanted to die.

My mother retains sole ownership of the video from this particular concert and you can clearly see me staring at Leslie in disbelief; me, barely singing, her belting out the lyrics and loudly clearing her throat (no doubt it was probably so caked in mustard she was having trouble breathing). As an adult, I can finally eat and enjoy honey mustard (it is the new ranch), but the smell of French’s Yellow Mustard will always make me want to retch.


1 comment:

clifton said...

I'm not sure I understand why you wanted to retch and die because of Leslie's mustard face, Maiden. Was it "The Little Drummer Boy" bellowing out of her smelly hotdog hole?