“Ruuuuuuuuuun!!!” my father would scream from the chalked sidelines of the 100 yard dash (pre metric system days), the guttural, almost animalistic quality of his voice spurred my short little legs to turn over faster and faster until my chest hit the ribbon at the end. “Run THROUGH the ribbon he would say – never slow down until you have gone through that ribbon!”. He had already explained previously that races are lost in the final few feet of a race and you can never hold back….even for a second.

I was probably in grade 2 at the time, but already my type A over achieving personality was developing. I was also a people pleaser and the most important ‘people’ was my father so I was going to win each race or competition if it killed me!

Sports Day in a small town was a BIG deal back in the day. In our tiny community, parents took a break from farming so that they could attend Sports Day at The School. I say ‘The School’ because there was only one school and it housed every grade 1 through 12. I am not going to say that the torch of past rivalries were handed down to the children to carry like a anxiety ridden, emotional burden……but….let’s just say there might have been some sideline betting and perhaps some quiet parental pre-race whispers of “Did I tell you that I won this race when I went to school?”, followed with, “Just do your best”. Basically, my father was the 1972 version of a hype guy.

Sports Day was always an extremely hot, sunny day: Pre-global warming so no sunscreen tucked into a backpack (BACKPACK? What the heck was a backpack?). There were no cooling shelters, no hovering parents or teachers ensuring we were hydrated. There were hot dogs and full sugar pop and candy and SILKY, SOFT, BEAUTIFUL RIBBONS that were pinned to your chest that blew in the wind like little flags.

Dogs these days are more cared for than we were as children circa 1970’s.

Running long jump, standing long jump, 100-yard dash, ball throw and high jump were set up in the large field behind the school.

Field competition was big, but the track competition was the biggest. I had already won 1st place in every field competition and the ribbons were pinned to the front of my white t-shirt. There was no way that a blue ribbon would sully the beautiful sightline of the silky red ribbons – no second place ribbon for me and if I was somehow relegated to receiving a [gasp] white third place ribbon…well…..I cross that bridge when I came to it.

The racing happened at the end of the day – about an hour before the buses began lining up to take us all home. The uneven grassy surface had been measured and marked with lanes and as each heat was run, my chances for that coveted 1st place ribbon grew within reach.

I Usain Bolted the heats….barely breaking a sweat as I dispatched my fellow grade 2 students one by one. Until……it was the final race and I was standing shoulder to shoulder with Patty….my nemesis. Patty was tall and thin with long hair that hung straight down her back in its shiny glory. Patty was pretty like Susan Dey from the Patridge Family and we competed in everything. We both vied for the top spot at our small school. Need I remind you: we were both 7 years old.

Mr. Rampuri held the starter pistol high above his head and said the magic words, “Get Ready, Get Set……GO!!!” and go we went….running as fast as we could over the uneven, grassy field, never stopping….not for a moment until the familiar pressure of the tape against my chest indicated that I was the victor. Patty was only one step behind and took her loss in stride, seemingly bored with the entire proceedings, a demeanor that only popular, pretty girls can carry off.

This day I was the winner. This day I went home with 6 red ribbons, a sunburn and heat stroke. This day I ran to the bus and laid my hot face against the cool red vinyl of the bus seats and prayed that I didn’t throw up.

The importance of knowing how to win and lose graciously is not lost on me. Patty and I exchanged the winning laurels back and forth through elementary school until I moved away. As I grew older I realized that I didn’t have to win at something to enjoy it, but that I needed to always do my best and having competition inspired me to always do better.

Don’t let this new world we live in take away the gentle, but firm pressure of trying your hardest, doing your best and making improvements. We may only give out purple participant ribbons these days, but that doesn’t mean that you cannot still celebrate excellence and hard work.

(originally posted in the Alaska Highway News June 2017)


Sing like everyone is watching!

Fall has arrived! School is back in session and so are all of the extracurricular activities. Dance classes and figure skating and band practice…..where everyone gets an opportunity to do their best and shine their brightest. When disillusioned parents imagine their contemporary dancers being in the Sia music video and their little hockey players are the next Sidney Crosby. There will be dance recitals and band recitals; figure skating festivals and hockey games. There will also be talent shows………

There is nothing more endearing than the small town talent show where those with the gift of song can trill to a full audience and those with the gift of dance can tap to their little hearts content. Piano players and jugglers, flutists and sax players – all have the opportunity to shine their bright light upon a crowded auditorium.

Such was the case in my small town of Worsley. The school gymnasium was our auditorium; it could be a dance hall, a banquet room, a church for funerals, a farmers market or an election polling station. At one point during the long, cold winter, it also became the home of the local talent show.

I come from a musical family. My father plays a myriad of stringed instruments and we often sat in a semi-circle (a la the Andrew’s sisters) and sang along with Dad. He played many of the old favourites done originally by Cash(Johnny) and Snow (Hank) and occasionally threw in fun songs like:

“Bimbo, Bimbo, where ya gonna go-e-o
Bimbo, Bimbo, whatcha gonna do-e-o
Bimbo, Bimbo, does your mommy know
That you’re goin’ down the road to see a little girleo”

Dad is a good singer and his sense of musicality is enviously en pointe. Let’s just say that the apple(s) fell far from the tree and Jessie and I (come on Jessie…you have to admit you can’t sing either) were not blessed with the gift of music. June and Jaki – yes, Jessie and I – no.

That didn’t stop us from singing…..nope! We sang ‘Delta Dawn’ into our hairbrushes and recorded “One Tin Soldier” on our little tape recorder.

It was January, 1972 and I was eight years old. The school announced the community Talent Show would be held at the end of the month and everyone in the small community was invited. Let’s face it…..we were 60 miles from Fairview and in the grip of a cold winter, we took every opportunity to immerse ourselves in local cultural activities.

The gymnasium would be turned into the next “Worsley’s Got Talent” extravaganza and the entire community would be present and accounted for, as trucks idled in the parking lot for two hours in the -30 degree winter night.

I would sing! Yes! I would sing at the Talent Show. I met with my musical director (dad) and we decided on a little known Hank Snow song titled, “Nobody’s Child”. Dad sang it often and I loved the part where he would sing, “no mamma’s kisses and no-oo (his voice went up) daddy’s smiles”.

THIS was my song!

I practiced and practiced AND practiced. I sang the song over and over again, so scared that I would forget the words. Memorization of lyrics is my albatross – I cannot remember words to any song. To this day when I sing an Abba song that I have listened to hundreds of times, I sing, “Tonight the Super Duper…na na gonna find me…find me like the sun”

I was concerned.

I had reason to be concerned.

The night of the Talent Show finally arrived. Dressed in a dark green ,long-sleeved dress with ric-rac in red and white sewn sewn around the hem, short hair parted on the side – a barrette holding short bangs back from my eyes – an effort to inject some femininity into my boyish styling.

Irene Bass, teacher and evening M/C announced, “Please welcome Judy Stanley – accompanied on guitar by Edmund Stanley”.

We walked out to polite applause, the auditorium was dark and there were so many rows of chairs FILLED with people: My tummy began to churn, my tongue began to twist.

Dad sat in a chair behind me and I stood in front of the microphone. I heard him whisper, “1 -2 – 3” and he began to strum.

I stare through the darkness at the basketball hoop at the end of the gymnasium and I begin to sing.

“I was slowly passing an orphan’s home one day
And stop there for a moment just to watch the children play
Alone a boy was standing and when I asked him why
He turned with eyes that couldn’t see and he began to cry.

I could see my Auntie Evelyn in the front row. She appeared to be tearing up! So I sang the chorus:

I’m nobody’s child I’m no-o body’s child
I’m like a flower just growing wild
No mommy’s kisses and no daddy’s smiles
Nobody wants me I’m no-o body’s child.

Auntie was REALLY crying now and I had a “They like me! They really like me!” moment and I completely lost my focus and the words left my brain. OH MY GAWD – I have forgotten the words. So I sing:

“I was slowly passing an orphan’s home one day
And stop there for a moment just to watch the children play
Alone a boy was standing and when I asked him why
He turned with eyes that couldn’t see and he began to cry.

Dad knows that I am panicking and I can hear him whispering the proper words, but I was so freaked out I wasn’t listening to anyone and wanted to get off that stage before it swallowed me whole. I cranked up the internal volume and belted out the chorus again:

I’m nobody’s child I’m nobody’s child
I’m like a flower just growing wild
No mommy’s kisses and no daddy’s smiles
Nobody wants me I’m nobody’s child.

And then I stopped singing because for me, the song was over. I could not sing the same verse a third time. Dad sensed my panic and stopped playing almost simultaneously and he stood as the people in the huge gymnasium clapped politely and poor Auntie Evelyn cried herself into a puddle in the front row.

I walked off the stage vowing never to return. No… talent show days were over. I still sing, but no one ever hears me cuz I keep it to myself 🙂

For those of you who want to hear what Nobody’s Child was supposed to sound like – here you go!