This last day of February brings to mind my Great Third Grade Comeuppance. I was certainly the most over-eager student in Mrs. Goode’s classroom. Somehow, I had single-handedly captured the title of “Class Smarty-pants, Know-it-all Weisenheimer.” Granted, I was of the “If You Know It, Flaunt It” school of knowledge (graduating summa cum loudly, of course). Small wonder, huh, that at age eight I was already on my way to a career as a university professor?
My class nemesis was a girl as demure as I was obtrusive, as unassuming as I was always assuming that I was Teacher’s Pet. But was she ever quietly brilliant. She did indeed hide her light under a bushel; I hid mine under a generator. We shall call her, for the moment, Margaret (especially since she was fond of saying “My friends call me ‘Peggy’”).
Friday mornings were “Hands Up Friday” in Mrs. Goode’s class. We began the day with a drill where she’d call out general knowledge questions, and the first student with a hand in the air snagging her attention and giving the right answer received a gold star. The student with the most stars each month received a little book from Mrs. Goode’s personal home library. With my amazing whole-arm waving technique (think windshield wiper gone wild), I could usually count on being the hands down Hands Up winner.
But then there was that awful Friday that Mrs. G tossed out such a simple question: “Which month has 28 days?” Every hand shot up — but my wiper was first. “FEBRUARY!!” I called out — my answers were always delivered in ALL CAPS and with several exclamation marks. And then, to my horror, she responded: “Any other guesses?” All other hands shot down as quickly as they had shot up.
Silence. And then from the back of the room, Margaret raised her little arm unobtrusively and yet with as much authority as the crossing guard stopping traffic for us at the school entrance road.
“all months have twenty-eight days,” she breathed in all lower-case letters.
“VERY good, Margaret!” Mrs. Goode exclaimed as I saw my coveted gold star depart for Margaret’s galaxy.
Let the brooding begin. As adroit as I was as a show-off, I could also retreat and out-mope any kid in my age category. The following Monday, Mrs. Goode’s personal book choice was presented to Margaret, who had out-starred me that month by just one tiny, gilded, five-pointed beauty. The book she gave her was Charlotte’s Web, published just four years before. Oh, no! Wilber, the story’s rambunctious and emotional pig, was my hero and role model. How I would have loved to own Mrs. G’s copy.
But by Wednesday I’d forgotten my misfortune and was back to being my exuberant self. And on Friday, as I headed out to recess, Margaret stopped me in the coat closet.
“here, I want you to have this,” she said with her eyes looking at the floor as she handed me her Charlotte’s Web.
I was stunned. “why?” I whispered, for the first time in my life speaking as quietly as Margaret.
“my grandma gave me this for my birthday last month. i only need one.”
“but why give it to me?”
“because you were right, too. february does have twenty-eight days.”
I already knew Margaret possessed the rare gift of brilliance. But now, even as young as I was, I grasped that she had two even finer ones — decency and kindness. This weisenheimer was at a loss for words. “I don’t know what to say except thank you very, very much, Margaret.”
“my friends call me ‘PEGGY,’” she almost enthused and actually smiled.
And that is, of course, how I addressed her, my best friend, in my email to her last night—these sixty-six years later.