First Grade Play



I don’t remember the actual snapshot being snapped though I do have clear memories, my own and some gleaned from family lore, of the night it was taken. I didn’t like being photographed. Mom probably insisted. I imagine her coaxing me.

“You’re so pretty. Smile. Just once.” I probably cried, instead. I sense someone said or did something silly, then smile, snap, and here we are, Mom and me.

I’m six years old, shy, uncomfortable around people.  Dressed like a porcelain doll in a light blue sateen, long dress with matching hat, I’m to perform with my first-grade class. A special night for Mom. She wears a stylish polka-dot cowl-collared, dark-colored dress and a silver necklace with matching earrings. At twenty-four with four children she couldn’t often dress up and go out. Earlier in the day she accomplished a hair miracle for both of us by transforming her jet black and my golden kinky hair into soft, trendy styles. She’d trained as a beautician during her teens. She enjoyed fussing with her three daughters, hair. Every day we were brushed, combed, braided, curled, and snipped. That afternoon, she inspected her handiwork and gave me no chance to mess it up.

“You cannot go out and play.”

Mom was excited, proud, talkative as she dressed us both. She insisted I needed make-up.


“You need make-up so you’ll show up on stage.”


“You’re so fair-skinned. The audience won’t see you.”

“I don’t want them to see me.” I cried in protest. She dried my eyes. “Just a little.” I acquiesced.  She applied face powder, eyebrow pencil, and pink lipstick. “That’s better.” She reviewed her creation, pointed to her bedroom chair, then did her own make-up.  I licked the lipstick from my mouth while I sat. When Mom finished, our struggle over the photo ensued.

Mom walked me to school, told me she’d be in the front of the auditorium where I could see her. She kissed me and left me at my classroom door. Inside the classroom, Sister Bernadette Marie, my teacher, sorted her chattering class into couples. We lined up in twos. She walked up and down the line inspecting us–hats on girls secure, neckties on boys correct, shoes buckled and tied, no candy or gum in our mouths. This was an important night. My partner and I were third in line. Show dolls, we would share first row center stage with another couple. As I came under her scrupulous eye Sister said, “Oh no, Joann,” then reached into her sleeve, pulled out a red lipstick, lifted my chin with one hand, applied the lipstick with the other.

“That’s better. Now the audience will see you.” She finished her review then marched us to the auditorium where we took our places on a semi-dark stage.

The curtain rose. Lights lit up our class. The audience was dark. Where was Mom? Panic. The piano struck the intro. We sang, “In my sweet little Alice Blue Gown….” and danced a few slow steps holding hands, boys guiding girls on tiptoe around them. I forgot to tiptoe, tripped over the hem of my dress and started to fall. The audience gasped. I regained my balance. The audience quieted. We finished our routine. Applause.

And the audience saw me.














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