Sunday, September 09, 2007

Start Wearing Purple

More tests and a date for surgery has been set and in the meantime life goes on. Last week I think we were all feeling a little melancholy and looking to happier times to help us through this limbo we are going through. My mother found herself sorting through old pictures and came across an old photo taken in front of 11 Belvedere Avenue, the house I grew up in. A young girl stands posing with a red brick background showing off her pretty pale blue dress and purple sash with “Miss Personality” written in pink letters.

“Channah I have scanned the picture onto Facebook. You remember when you were named Miss Personality?”

I remember the day well, partly from my own memories and partly from hearing the story over and over again throughout the years. It seems like a million years ago, but looking at the picture I see the fearless girl I was and I think back and remember the day I became Miss Personality.

It was the beginning of the summer and while my parents were at home, my grandfather and his girlfriend, Ray, took me and Rebecca to the school summer fair. I was in my first year of Brodetsky Primary school and the school fair was new and exciting to me. I rushed from stall to stall, trying to win a goldfish, guessing how many jelly beans were in the jar and as I peered over the book stall at the Topsy and Tim collection, I heard on the loud speaker an announcement that grabbed my attention.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, please make your way to the stage where the Miss Personality contest will begin.”

Growing up in Leeds we did not have the Beauty contests that are prevalent in cities throughout the States. In Leeds such contests where based on your talents; singing and dancing competitions, and in our school’s case Personality. I never realised at the time, but in order to partake in the competition, contestants had to fill our forms, partake in a grilling interview process and gain their parents’ permission prior to the event. For this reason although I was part of the school, I was still considered too young to apply, well if you cannot yet read or write well enough to fill out a form then how can you apply? Some of the girls waiting in line had been waiting for their moment for weeks, practising answering questions, and coveting the purple sash and silver trophy for the honour of Miss Personality 1984.

Little Miss Graham however, was blissfully unaware of this and on hearing the announcement let go of Ray’s hand and began to take off into the crowd towards the stage.

“Channah boo where are you going?”

I turned my head and called back to my Grandfather who was stood bewildered struggling with a large pram, “I know what I am doing!”

‘I know what I am doing.’ Every time the story is retold I laugh to myself how a four year old could say the words ‘I know what I am doing’. I am 28 years old now and I have little idea what exactly I am doing…

Anyway, back to the story. I think I had no comprehension of what a contest was because once I reached the stage, despite there being a line of girls waiting their turn while the first contestant was talking about her favourite foods, I walked up onto the stairs, smiled sweetly at the judges and declared my arrival.

I remember the commotion that was caused. The judges looked at one another bemused and as they shuffled through the application forms they had on stage one older gentleman asked me for my name and who I was here with. I thought the competition had already started.

“My name is Channah Ilana Graham. I am four years old, and I am here with my Grandpa Gerry, his girlfriend Ray and my sister Rebecca. She is the one in the pram over there.”

The man looked up and saw my Grandfather stood in shock wondering if he should apologise for his granddaughter’s Chutzpah or be proud of it. It turns out there was no need. As soon as he saw the look of amusement on the old gentleman’s face he knew that there was no need to feel anything but pride.

“So Miss Graham, would you mind answering a few questions for us as we seem to have er… misplaced your application form.”

“I would be delighted.”

“Delighted? Well in that case…”

Here followed a series of questions regarding my favourite foods, people and class at school. The man asked me who my heroes were and what my favourite cartoon characters were;

“Well I love Tom and Gerry. Gerry reminds me of my Grandpa and I love the fact that he is always cleverer than the silly Tom cat. I also like Speedy Gonzales and Mighty Mouse, but my brother says that Danger Mouse is the best mouse of them all, and all the rest are for babies.”

I remember seeing the judges laugh at my answers and I began to giggle along with them. The time flew by and I do not remember the girls before or after me, I remember answering my questions and then the Gentleman announcing me as the winner as one of the Female judges place the purple sash over my head and, as I was so small, lift me up so the people could see “Little Miss Graham is Miss Personality 1984”.

I now look at this picture and the face looks familiar, the person is still there, the hair, the chin, the eyes. I smile at the fearless little girl I was and realise that we are not that different. Yes I am a little wiser, a little stronger. Yes I have experienced more of life, have learnt from my life’s lessons and come out the other end reasonably unscathed. Yes I know that I am still confident in myself, I still have that tenacity to go for something when I really want it, but the fear… somehow as I got older I became more fearful. I think it is the demise of all adults. Compared to our young counterparts we are more fearful. We have experienced life and we know that if we jump from sofa to sofa at some stage we will fall through the crack and hurt ourselves. So we don’t jump on the sofa, we don’t climb the climbing frames, role down mountains or jump into unknown lakes. We are safe, we won’t get hurt, but at the same time we don’t get to role down mountains or jump into lakes.

I look at the picture of myself and think that in my quest to find Little Miss Graham I have jumped into a few unknown lakes, I have taken some risks and come out the better for it. Would it be so bad to jump in head first and risk cracking my head just for the thrill of jumping?

I imagine myself retelling the story of how Little Miss Graham became Miss Personality to my daughters and I think to myself, I need more stories, I need more adventures for my children. Now is the time for rolling down mountains.