In my childhood home, it was hard to be acknowledged as something special. Bringing home test papers marked “100%” or showing off a teacher’s delighted scribble of “A+++” on an English composition elicited, “Well, naturally. You’re my child.” And a quick change of subject.
I yearned for a distinctive talent, one that would truly impress my parents.
Every year Dad and I watched The Miss America contest together. He repeatedly declared, “You were the most beautiful baby anyone had ever seen. Why didn’t we enter you into a beautiful baby contest?” He promised I could be in the Miss America contest when I got older.
In the middle of this fantasy, he appeared flummoxed. “You’ve got to have a talent.”
I couldn’t play an instrument. My teacher was pretty sure I was tone deaf.
My father could draw clever cartoons and comics but my idea of art was a square house with four windows, a chimney belching smoke, a sun in the sky, a flower growing near the path to the house. Essentially, a vision unchanged since first grade. So, not Art.
“I’ll recite a poem I’ve written or sing a song?” Dad winced. He’d already voiced his opinion of my writing when I read him my comic western, Wild Dill Pickle Rides Again.”
“Look,” he’d said, “You’re not a real writer. A real writer gets up at 4 a.m. and writes every day. A real writer watches no TV. A real writer—” I got the idea.
Nevertheless, we continued to watch Miss America together though I was sick of hearing how I failed to measure up. One day Dad had a brainstorm. “Tuck your hair behind your ears and follow my lead.”
“They’re moving,” he whispered. “Hey kids,” he called out to my brothers. “Get in here. Bring your mother!”
With my family gathered round, I practiced in the mirror. My ears danced! And no one else in the family— outside of Dad—had inherited this particular talent. We had found my talent!
For the rest of my childhood I watched in vain for a Miss America candidate to demonstrate my aural dexterity. Ha! No way would I wiggle my ears on TV.
And by the way, I eventually discovered I was a real writer all along. Thanks, Dad (for that stubborn gene in your DNA).
Janet Garber may still be able to wiggle her ears