From 3rd to 7th grade, I was in a special program that, among other things, required us to write several research papers each year. I’ve never minded that sort of work, so at first I threw myself into the task. By 7th grade, though, the one thing I had truly learned was this: small town libraries are the enemy of research.
This was pre-internet, of course, when you had to look everything up on index cards and then go on a scavenger hunt to find the book you wanted amongst scattershot approaches to Dewey’s system. My little library seemed to be 70% fiction, 20% periodicals (kids, that’s shorthand for 20-year old magazines that nobody ever wanted to read but were not allowed to be thrown away because some poor schmoe had meticulously indexed them and didn’t want to waste his work), and 10% non-fiction. So it was a great place to find paperback novels, but if you were there looking up a topic you’d better hope it was covered in the encyclopedias.
So back to my research class … for my final year, the teacher told us to pick a historical figure to write about, someone who interested us. She spent a long time giving examples, but all I heard was, “someone easy to find.” We had two weeks to pick our topic, but I went with the first person who came to mind, someone who would be well documented in both books and old magazines. I was set.
The project went as smoothly as I’d hoped and I’d finished mine ages before the due date. I spent most of those classes reading Cracked magazine while the other poor suckers desperately looked for anything written about Clara Barton’s youth.
Then came the twist. Our class, being extra-curricular, was in danger of losing funding, so they decided to put us on display for the school board. They decided to do a “People Fair” in the evening – attendance was mandatory – so we could present our research directly to the adults who would be deciding whether to continue the program.
That would have been fine, but … Rather than having 30 kids drone on reading paper after paper (which only Bill and Ted could make cool), they got the idea of having us each dress up as our topic and spend the night answering questions in character.
I have no idea what anyone else’s reaction might have been to this; I was too busy staring at my desk thinking, “Oh no oh no oh no oh no.”
Amazingly, I was the only person in all the schools (this program spanned three districts) who had picked someone of the opposite gender, making me the only cross-dresser. I was not then the confident, easy-going chick I am today!
I wanted to fake a bout of small pox, but my mom convinced me it would be fun. She pulled together an outfit that even I had to admit was pretty impressive. And as a bonus, it was such a good disguise that if I kept my mouth shut people might not even recognize me.
Alas, they changed the game once again.
At the very last minute, someone changed the name from “People Fair” to “Heroes Fair.” This is an important distinction. No one had ever said we had to like the person, only that we needed to learn about him. They’d certainly never implied that we needed to idolize anybody.
So on the morning of the event, they put up posters around every school and notices in all the local papers inviting parents, teachers, and random townsfolk to meet the Heroes at the fair.
And that, dear friends, is how I ended up at the one and only Inter-School Heroes Fair dressed like this:
There’s a lesson in there somewhere about not taking the easy path, but it kind of gets lost behind the swastika.