It wasn’t easy being the smallest in my first grade class. Was it my size that at six I felt the pressure to prove…what? that I was fearless? gutsy? spunky? not short?
Yes, all of the above. But mostly I wanted to show that I was willing to take a serious dare. I had no idea what a doubled dare meant other than one did not back down if one was to save face.
But first some back-story.
Mrs. Morris had warned us earlier on the very cold day that under no circumstances should we put our tongues on the iron railings that rimmed the school house steps. “It’s dangerous, children. Your tongues would freeze to the metal.”
Part of me was intrigued; I imagined what it would be like to be attached to the handrail under the admiring gaze of my classmates. But I was an obedient child, especially since I loved Mrs. Morris. If Mrs.Morris said, “Jump,” I would respond, “How high?”
Recess came. We sat on the still wet floor of the cloak room, tugged our overshoes on over our oxfords, and struggled with the buckles. Wool coats, mufflers, and hats came next. Finally mittens, still smelly and wet and from the morning’s snow ball fights, finished our ensembles.
These were the days of the segregated playground: the girls on the west side of the building, boys on the east. After 30 minutes of pom pom pullaway (not easy with all those layers of clothes), the first recess bell rang and we lined up to go inside.
I don’t remember who first issued the dare, but suddenly, there it was: a whispered “I double dog dare you to put your tongue on the railing.”
Mrs. Morris’ admonition faded as the image of adulation from my peers invaded my imagination.
Yup…I did it. And yup…I was stuck.
The second recess bell rang, the one that warned us we’d be marked tardy if we didn’t get inside. One by one my friends filed past me, looking at me with fear mixed with admiration. I heard their whispered advice. “Pull!”
“No, don’t!” I mumbled incoherently. “Get Mittuth Mowith!”
The look on that dear lady’s face told me I was in trouble. Big time.
“Mary Ellen, get the coffee cup from my desk and fill it with warm water.”
Five minutes later a cascade of water released me from my frozen bondage but not without considerable pain. Tiny spots of blood dotted my tongue. It was apparent that I’d not be taking part in the afternoon’s classroom Christmas party.
I gazed longingly at the trays of cookies and the pitcher of hot chocolate that awaited everyone except me.
I dragged myself home that afternoon…a painful 12 blocks…only to find once I got there that the school nurse had already phone my mom.
She didn’t have to say anything. I knew from the look in her eyes that she thought I was about the dumbest cluck on the block.
When we returned to school after Christmas vacation–and my the pain on my torn up tongue was long forgotten–I basked in the admiration of my classmates. Nonetheless, admiration was not enough incentive to take any more double-dog-dares. Ever.