Jangle All the Way

“Can you say your little poem for me?” Grandma Ranscht, Grandma Jenkins, Aunt Sis, and Aunt Dorrie at least twice each. In the last hour.

Of course I could say my little poem for them. Did they think I was stupid? Hadn’t I been saying my little poem on command for the last week? Just because I was only two-and-a-half, didn’t mean I didn’t know what was at stake here.

My Aunt Sis, the beloved Sunday School teacher of the pre-school set, had chosen me to deliver the quatrain that would open the Christmas Eve Pageant at The Church. It was an honor I felt I deserved. She loved me, I loved her, she knew I could do it, I knew I could do it, and we both knew I wouldn’t let anybody down.

From where I currently sit on the timeline of my life, trusting a toddler to recite anything on command in front of a room full of strangers carries the same level of risk as jumping from a perfectly good airplane in flight without being absolutely certain there’s a chute in your pack.

I’m sure Sis thought cuteness overload at the beginning guaranteed a warm audience willing to cheer for anything that followed. Not that there would be cheering — we were in The Church, after all. But it was gonna be a great opener as long as the very tiny cute person could carry it off.

Moment of Truth. I walked alone from my seat in the front pew next to Sis, across the very wide space leading to the dais, and up the three steps to the edge of The Stage. I turned to face the congregation. I stood up straight, my fancy-shiny Christmas dress, its gathered skirt and petticoat with just the right amount of bounce, sparkling like the little star I was. Sis caught my eye and nodded. I looked out over the crowd, and in a sure voice loud enough to carry to the back pew with heartfelt expression, delivered my little poem perfectly!

I was supposed to wait till they applauded, give a little bow, and return to my seat to watch the rest of the festivities. I was already aglow with success. A beat of silence, and then…

They laughed.

They were laughing at me and their laughter crushed my insides. Had I said it wrong? Tears burned my eyes, embarrassment burned my face. As uncertain as I felt in that moment, I was sure I wanted to disappear in a blink, never to be seen again. I ran down the stairs and straight to Sis to jump up in her lap and have her hide me from the world.

But what was this? Sis had tears in her eyes, too — and she was laughing just as hard as everybody else.

I felt betrayed, which is a pretty big feeling the first time a little person has it. It fills you up and almost pushes out the humiliation. But not quite. Alone in the world, I stared at her while my tears flowed.

“It’s all right. It was funny. They were supposed to laugh.” Sis the Betrayer, She Who Fails to Share Vital Information

In that instant, I became what is commonly referred to as “painfully shy”. Fearful of being judged. Insecure. Withdrawn. No more little poem recitations. No sharing little songs I learned. I would watch. And hope no one expected anything of me but my presence. Better yet, I hoped no one would even notice I was there.

Over the years, I left most of that behind, but I carried an important parental lesson forward: Tell little children not only what’s going to happen, but what it means. They don’t understand nearly as much as you assume they do, but their emotions work just the same as yours.

“Explain as you would a child.” Sarris, Evil Alien in Galaxy Quest, World’s Best Dad on his home planet.


Author: Sue Ranscht

I am a writer. Let me tell you a story...

15 thoughts on “Jangle All the Way”

  1. Dear Sue, quite incredible that you are able to remember with such clarity and recall such early years. I am staggered by the detail of your memories! I cannot remember much under the age of ten, and then, in fragment, and possibly not accurate. Mostly impressions. I am envious of your total recall and I think I have read that the more a person can recall of their earliest years the healthier they are – mentally I suppose – and of course it means you have an excellent memory. What a touching story it is as if the past has become the present again you are vivid in your descriptions and allow us to share with you this time. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dear Candice,

      I think it must be the doing of that little almond-shaped amygdala, so carefully cushioned in the center of the brain. Every sense feeds into it infusing themselves into our most emotional memories, creating physical associations that wake them up. (The smell of vinegar brings back all the times Mom sat with us to color Easter eggs. I like the smell of vinegar. It makes me feel safe and creative. Peaceful.)

      But if the little almond’s shell cracks — from trauma or disease — the memories leak out, or perhaps they just become inaccessible. No one knows for sure if they are gone forever. Alzheimer’s seems to suggest they might be, but then there are cases where hearing music from a patient’s past stimulates sudden remarkable and repeatable improvement. When the memories seem beyond recall because of trauma, there is evidence hypnotherapy or visualizations guided by someone well-trained in a reputable technique might help recall them. But you probably already know these things from your own education.

      Am I mentally healthy? I think so. I feel mentally healthy, with what I think might be an exaggerated sense of fairness, which I can trace back to an event that happened when I was four. Who knows? Maybe fairness is ingrained in our DNA, and it just has to be flipped on by something that offends it. But that’s another story for another time. lol. Conventional wisdom seems to indicate that I “should” want a partner, but maybe I’m wrong about conventional wisdom. Maybe it’s evolved further than I give it credit for. I seem to be able to see from perspectives many people don’t notice until I suggest them. (I lived for a year, many decades ago, with my extraordinary friend and her 9-year old daughter. My friend was ill-equipped to provide the emotional support her child craved, and although we all have grown together and they love each other far more now than they did way back then, there were times they both allowed me to intervene and suggest to the daughter, “Look at it this way…” She has told me several times in recent years just how much that helped her survive her childhood without becoming completely unmanageable.)

      I suspect I’ve gone on longer than I needed to, my friend. Thank you for reading one of my life-defining memories, and thank you for sharing your gracious thoughts. I’m glad you found some enjoyment in it. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m glad SOMEONE has an exaggerated sense of fairness (great phrase!) because many appear to have the opposite. I know I sound hopelessly jaded but it’s true so therefore, just realistic, to admit, many simply do not care what happens to others. Of course some do, but when someone almost apologizes for having a trait I admire deeply I must smile and say I am glad they have that exaggerated sense of fairness because it’s that very trait could save us from ourselves. Now I wonder why not only do so many NOT possess it, but why those who do, do? I suppose I’m navel-gazing but I am curious to find out what makes a person especially empathetic? Is it the way they grow up? Their experiences? Their DNA? Both my parents I would be fair in saying, are not empathetic and they do not really, if being honest, care much for the welfare of others. They are not bad people they are however, not terribly interested in how others fare. Is that the norm? I don’t know, I have met both sides. I often wondered why I differed from them. It is just a source of curiosity to see how a person evolves and becomes whatever they become. For example the ageing thing, we are told people typically get more conservative as they age. This has not been the case with me. I do have some fiscal conservativism and an occasional retributional one (not yet sure if in some cases such as extreme murder of children, a death penalty just makes more sense) but for the most part I am fairly socialist in theory at least. Anyway point being, why do some go one way, (the majority) whilst others go the other? I was once told I liked to be contrary but you know what? I really don’t like it! You get too much attention! I don’t like attention! I do however, have an inability to follow blindly or to not have an opinion and my favorite question is WHY? 🙂 So I totally get what you’re saying here and your post. A life-defining moment indeed, and part of your incredible journey. Your experiences are really interesting to me and I love your responses, thank you so much for them.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes you are right! Experience is so wonderful. I am getting mine now. At times I feel like I’m fumbling through. 🙂 so it is nice to get a few pointers. Thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m surprised when you recited the little poem in front of Sis, Dorrie and the grandma’s, that they didn’t laugh. They must have reacted and you didn’t notice. Well of course, you were only 2 1/2.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No. They didn’t laugh. No one had ever laughed. They knew it by heart, too, and it wasn’t funny to them. They were just checking to make sure I remembered the words. They weren’t looking for the entertainment value.


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