Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

Giraffes Can Too Make a Sound

John Brazell

A problem with the Internet is you learn a lot of things you'd just as soon not know.  It's a curse owed collectively to Al Gore, Bill Gates, and U. Will Google.  Take the time a banner popped up, "Cool Whip Looks Harmless But Isn't" and my index finger reflexively clicked the mouse.  Trust me, I didn't want to do it -- I love Cool Whip.
Then yesterday, in a cyber second, I discovered the horrible truth.  My fifteen minutes of fame as a rural Southern boy, my moment of triumph, my time of lifting the team to victory more than a half-century ago was a mistake.  All these years I'd been living a lie. I was a fraud.  I was Jimmy Swaggart and Elliot Spitzer rolled into one. 
I was first in my class at Sowers Elementary, which wasn't a big deal until I came in second on the annual achievement test.  I couldn't beat the new kid, Joe David.  It was a changing of the guard, hasta le vista, and curtains for the teacher's pet, moi.  In the fourth grade and barely in double digits, my life was headed downhill, fast.
Ours was one of twenty or so rural schools within Dallas County, all outside the city limits of an incorporated town.  It was standard fare for the times in the South -- three rooms for six grades, fingernail-screeching chalk boards and dusty aerodynamic erasers.  Teachers had buns (on their heads), bells on their desks and paddles inside them.  At recess, Annie-Over, Red Rover, and Torment the Girls were the best games going.  There was no nonsense in the classroom; there were peanut butter sandwiches in the cloakroom. To get relief you made the trip out back. To get permission you stuck up your hand, pressed your knees together, grimaced and held on.
This day I carried the fateful note home from school - "Johnny and one other fourth grader have been chosen to represent the school in a competition."
It was scheduled for a meeting hall in Big D, fifty times larger than the biggest building I'd ever been inside, Jimmy Wayne's grandpa's barn.  My teammate was, of course, Joe David. Mom dressed me in my best JC Penney pants and shirt. I scrubbed up my face, put on my Sunday shoes, and we were off.  Knees knocking and stomach queasy, I got out of the family Chevy and with someone pushing me along, made it to center stage.
Kids were separated into two groups, those from the northern part of the county and those from the south.  We were the Yankees and the Rebels just like in the war that will never end. For the first and only time in my life, I was a Yankee, adding even more to the stress.  How dare they?
Questions were tossed at students in order of their seating and thus began the pilot for "Are You Smarter than a Fourth Grader" which missed by a year. "What are barnacles? Is the Chinese language read vertically or horizontally? Name a hero at the Alamo. In the biblical story who was Cain's brother . . .?"
A combination of fate and poetic justice buried itself into all my seventy-five squirming pounds. The final question to determine the winning team came and it was mine. "What animal cannot make a sound?"  I blurted, "A giraffe."
I was the hero that day, at least in my mind. I had answered two questions correctly and my friend and fellow classmate had answered only one. Redemption was sweet, notwithstanding the Yankees had won again.
Joe and I attended a recent high school reunion and we talked about a lot of water that had flowed under the rusty, creaking old bridge. I brought up the fourth grade competition and to my surprise he didn't remember it. But then neither of us could remember a lot of things, like where we were sitting, and to wipe the dessert off our chins.
I clicked the link that appeared uninvited on my computer, "Giraffes Can Make a Sound." When did they discover this, I silently groaned? The information was authoritative and documented and the ten-year-old in me sank to the floor.  Somewhere there was an old Southern guy or gal who remembers sitting on that same stage that day, saying, "Aha, we didn't lose after all, the Gall Darn Yankees stole it again."

There are some valuable life lessons hidden in all this.  You're never too old to learn something new though it might not always be pleasant to know.  And like freckles across a turned-up nose, a straw hat on a hot summer day, and butter swimming in a bowl of grits -- a dose of humility is becoming.



John Brazell is a native Texan and resides in the beautiful Hill Country near Austin, Texas. He's a retired corporate executive. A humorist by nature and avocation, he got his start in creative writing at age eight when he was required to write on the blackboard, "I will not talk in class" fifty times. He wrote, "I will not talk in class fifty times" and sat down. John is a member of and has been published in several ezines and local newsletters and community publications.

© John Brazell

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2008