When I was at home in Iowa last week, my mother called up the stairs: “Mary? I have something funny to give you!” I am always interested in getting funny things, so I immediately put down my book and went downstairs.
“Katy gave these to me,” Mom said, handing me two certificates on heavy cardstock. “She found them going through some boxes. I guess Mrs. Esser asked Katy to give them to you but she forgot. Isn’t that funny? They’re from 1996!”
Katy is my second mom in Winterset; she taught in the school system there for many years. Mrs. Esser was my high school speech and drama coach. Both are extremely responsible women, fully invested in the well-being of every last one of their students, so it’s funny that the certificates never got to me. I don’t remember being frantic about not getting them, so Katy coming across them was indeed amusing and gave me a chance to reflect on my footloose n’ fancy-free days competing in high school speech contests.
Little known fact: I was on the cheerleading squad heading into my freshman year. I knew I was lying to myself and everyone else about this cheerleading business, but I was barely fourteen; how could I know my life? How did I even know how to read at that point? But on the second day of school I saw a flyer: “FALL PLAY AUDITIONS.” My heart raced. The very next day, I left cheerleading practice early, tried out, got a part, and put up my pom-poms forever. I was in love. Leaving cheerleading for The Stage (!) is possibly the only decision in my life I can point to and say “That was unequivocally the right decision.” Everything after that is debatable.
I was hooked, but outside the fall play and the spring musical, the only other outlet for saying stuff to an audience was debate (check) and speech contest; there was no drama club, no community theater in town. So along with some beautiful, geeky, awkward, brilliant friends, I competed in the statewide speech/drama competitions in categories like acting, group ensemble, poetry recitation, extemporaneous speaking, improv, radio announcing, etc.
Our group would travel with Mrs. Esser around the state to Creston or Valley or Roosevelt High along with hundreds of other students and their coaches. The schools would camp out on the gym floor and eat Twizzlers and drink Mt. Dew while each student went to do her or his bouts throughout the day. We’d all wait in physical pain until the clerks came and posted the scores. If you got three 1’s, you went to All-State. I went to All-State a bunch of times and I’m pretty sure I got awards there, too, but obviously the certificates or distinctions were not of lasting importance. What those competitions did was give me a sense of self, a feeling that I had something worth cultivating, a reason to keep reading books, to keep writing poems, to keep learning lines by heart. To keep trying my best, I think, is something I learned doing that for four years.
I threw both of these long-lost certificates away once I scanned the one here into my computer. I’ve lived this long without them and I’ve been all right. Besides, with all these pictures of me on the 1993 J.V. Winterset Huskies cheerleading squad, there’s just no room on the wall…
POST SCRIPT FROM THE EDITORS: The elegant and shrewd Ms. Joan Millman Schnadig pointed out to me that this certificate is exactly twenty years old to the day. June 3rd, 1996 is the date on the certificate — and it’s June 3rd, 2016. I actually wrote this last night, but if you account for the orbit of the Earth and entropy and all, this award was signed exactly twenty years ago today. Fabulous!