Build Your Leaders

Postcard from Asheville, NC

February 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

This Valentine's Day, I wanted to share an adaptation of an article I wrote some time back and posted more than once.

I hope you enjoy it.



Rex Harrison, Valentine's Day, and Me

I bet Rex Harrison's valentine box wouldn't have been nearly empty, but then Rex Harrison wasn't in the fifth grade at The Westminster Schools either.

Rex Harrison became my fifth grade role model after I saw him perform in the traveling show of My Fair Lady at Atlanta's "Theatre Under the Stars."

In My Fair Lady, Harrison played the role of Professor Higgins, a confirmed bachelor who transformed a cockney flower girl into an elegant duchess by teaching her to talk and dress like a lady. I wanted to be Professor Higgins.

The day following the play, I made an entrance into Mrs. Whitehead's homeroom wearing a gray wool cardigan, red felt vest with brass buttons, and bright blue polyester dickey. I thought I looked just like Rex Harrison's Professor Higgins. My fellow students were amused.

"What a sissy!" Jim Hudson whooped as the rest of the classed howled.

Let them laugh, I thought, fighting back the tears. I had more class than all of them put together.

Professor Higgins was different, too, I rationalized. And what's so bad about being different? Little did I know my question would be answered all too soon.

Valentine's Day was less than a week away, and in preparation Mrs. Whitehead asked us to bring a shoebox to school; we would be making valentine boxes.

The following day we decorated our boxes. Mine was wrapped in red construction paper with two interlinked white paper doily hearts. I proudly placed my valentine box on my desk.

That weekend, my mother and I went to Woolworth's and bought a giant bag of Peanuts valentines. Sunday was spent addressing cards to each of my classmates.

On Monday, I placed the individually addressed cards into each classmate's box praying some of them would reciprocate, if nothing else than out of a sense of obligation.

On Tuesday afternoon my box was empty except for one card from Marshall Simpson. Marshall was even less popular than me.

On Wednesday, the day before "V Day," Lila Sue Jackson, the most popular girl in the class, began bragging that her box was crammed full of cards. I shook mine; it barely rattled.

When Thursday morning arrived, I bravely put on my gray cardigan, red vest, and blue dickey and got ready for school. At homeroom, Mrs. Whitehead told us we would have to wait until after lunch to open our boxes. As my classmates groaned with impatience, my sense of doom deepened.

At the appointed time, Mrs. Whitehead gave the signal, and the classroom exploded in excitement as my eager classmates tore open their boxes. Chuck Lee's shrill voice pierced through the commotion. "Look at all these cards!" he yelped as he poured what seemed like hundreds of cards onto the tiny wooden desk.

Looking from side to side to ensure no one was looking, I quietly slid the top to one side and peeked in. My heart stopped. One, two, three, four... only seven cards!

On the long ride home from school I was silent. At ten, I was reevaluating my life. That night before I went to bed, I retired the gray cardigan, red vest, and blue dickey. Fitting in had become more important than self-expression.

Some childhood lessons are harder to unlearn than others. It was not until I turned 39 that I learned being who you really are outweighs fitting in. Today is Valentine's Day, and my valentine box is overflowing. I am blessed with a group of friends who accept and love me as I am -- gray cardigan, red vest, blue dickey, and all.