This is, and I'm not too ashamed to admit it, nearly entirely true. Names have been changed, a few details may have been stretched or omitted to enliven the narrative, and some other details may have been obliterated over the passage of time. But it's mostly all true. (All the bits about my mum were taken from a real conversation we'd had.) ^^

A Portrait of the Author as a Young Thespian
by Rb

Second grade was my favorite school year ever. The teacher was kind and let us play games and read fun books. The girls, for the last time ever, were securely united against the cootie-ridden menace that were boys. Most important of all, in my opinion, the class play was my own personal ticket to Broadway.
In my old elementary school, each grade put on a holiday class play each year. My second-grade year, we were assigned Flag Day. Every kid in the class had to get a part, whether it was leading the audience in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, thanking the parent helpers, or the main part, the leading player, the one with the most lines, the one without whom there could be no Flag Day play whatsoever – Betsy Ross.

I wanted to be Betsy Ross.

That's not a strong enough word. I craved the role of Betsy Ross. I yearned to be Betsy Ross. I desired the part more than I had ever desired anything in my entire life. Even with my natural inclination towards the stage (a kind way of admitting I was a major stage hog), my passion for the part went beyond reason. I can't say why I wanted it so badly; I suppose I'd read a book about Betsy Ross, one of those 100 page Young American Reader books. Even though historians doubt the Betsy Ross mythos ever actually occurred, at the time I didn't know that books could lie. Besides, the truth didn't make a good enough play.

I didn't care who knew about how much I lusted after the role of Betsy. My family knew it. My classmates knew it. Complete strangers knew it. The concept of "subtlety", much like "inside voices", was beyond my comprehension. I wanted the part. Enough said.


My mother and I have recently become enamored with the art of reminiscing. Nearly every aspect of my childhood, from my birth (her first words after giving birth were "is she really a girl?") to my "teenage rebellion" of two months ago when I cut and highlighted my hair have been discussed in minuscule detail, so she was obviously the best one to go to when asking about outside recollections of the Betsy Ross play.

"Oh, sure I remember that," she says. "Your teachers fixed it so that you got the biggest part."

My eyes widen. "What? I always thought I got the part of Betsy Ross by picking it out of a hat!"

"Nope." She shakes her head. "They fixed it."

"I've been thinking that I picked the part of Betsy Ross by chance for eight and a half years and no one bothered to tell me it was fixed?!"


I suppose it was a little too coincidental that I got the part I'd been boasting about wanting in a "random selection". Me, the best reader in the class, me, the loudest and the best projector, me, the one with the infamous flair for the dramatic, me, definitely the least humble in the class – who else could it have been? At the time, however (and for several years afterwards), I was simply too happy to notice.


The second-grade play was one of those sweet moral things typical of any grade-school play. I was to be Betsy Ross, a humble flag-maker who was asked by General Washington to sew a flag for the new republic. The task was to prove too much for me, but my plucky young friend Dolly (played by Marta Jones, one of my two best friends) would save the day by making the stars for me. The remaining classmates would wave little flags around, deliver one-line parts, and lisp along to "The Star-Spangled Banner", "You're a Grand Old Flag", and "God Bless America."

I think Betsy Ross was the part I was born to play. In hindsight, I was singularly gifted for the role – my high-pitched voice could carry throughout the entire auditorium, and my exceptional cranial capacity could be trusted to remember all twenty-one lines. I worked harder on those lines than I have ever worked past, present, or future on any sort of schoolwork, even to the point of calling Marta on the phone to run lines -- surely a sign of my complete and utter devotion to this play.


The big day came. I was decked out in a dress I thought was cute and colonial and pretty at the time but now remember as being itchy and excruciatingly hot for June. My hair was done by Susan Fallon, mother of my other best friend Etana, in an elaborately ornate style ("It was TEASED," my mother groans. "It was so full of hairspray.") The introductory part went off without a hitch, and the first few lines were traded without incident. General Washington entered stage right and asked me if I could possibly, in the name of the Republic, create a flag.

My moment had come. I opened my mouth – and stopped. My mind was a complete blank. I had no idea what my next line was supposed to be.


When my mother retells this story, she always shakes her head. "I knew then that this was going to be a very long play."


Surprisingly enough, no one made a big deal about my missed line. My dad (with my brother seconding him) consoled me, saying "it looked like you were just thinking over your response." Now, when I try to defend myself using that excuse, my mother snorts. "Everyone knew you missed your line. You had to be prompted. Everyone knew it."

To give credit where credit is due, I was spot-on with every other line. I remembered twenty out of twenty-one lines. But that one missed line has haunted my entire recollection of the play. Possibly because my brother (and my classmates) teased me for years about the missed line; could be because for the first time in my seven and a half years of life, I'd screwed up so majorly in public; maybe because it was a major trauma hich would result in my shunning the stage for years, getting post-traumatic flashbacks every time I stepped into the auditorium...nah, doesn't seem likely (mostly because I got the largest part, once again, the year afterwards.)..


A month or so ago, I found a tape of the Betsy Ross play, and watched it until its death. Each time, I marveled at my youth, at my shortness, at the dynamics of my voice. At how people seemed to love it. As my younger self shrills "It is not POSSIBLE to make a flag in only three days! Oh what am I to do?" my cynical mind has to wonder what the poor audience were thinking.

I know it's not fair to do that. For a second grade play, it was done well, and was even mildly amusing at times. My second-grade self would have been amazed to see how wonderful she was, even though she definitely knew she was wonderful at the time.

My mom likes rewatching it as well, and lets me complain to my heart's delight. After the tape is done, she always hugs me and reminds me how proud of me she is.

Give credit where credit is due. I was just as cute as I remembered myself to be.