When I was in elementary school, there was a school-wide contest for Valentine's King and Queen. And unlike most schools which would turn such an event into a painful popularity contest, my school decided to use it as the opportunity to make bank with an equally painful money collecting contest.
It was about pennies, you see. The boy and girl who collected the most pennies won the whole shebang. So off we went! Door to door, for weeks on end with our jars clinking and clanging, collecting pennies with hopes of the crown. I remember how mortified I was and I hated knocking on doors in the Winter cold, explaining to people why I needed their pennies while the heat escaped their homes, warming my cheeks as it passed. I also remember briefly thinking that I was a shoe-in because my Grandfather who was already royalty (the King of Yard Sales) had given me several rolls of pennies that he had stockpiled for his next sale. Until I learned the truth.
The truth was that one of the girls who was competing had a Dad who owned a convenience store. The other contestants and I found this highly unfair for two reasons. The first being that any kid lucky enough to have a convenience store in her family was already royalty. Why, in our minds, she was being greedy by even entering the contest when she lived such a plush life. We imagined that she went to the store every day after school and picked out any snack that she wanted - or maybe even dozens of snacks. In imagination bubbles over our heads, we could see her smirking with her mouth under the cherry ICEE dispenser and eating bags of chips for dinner without her parents even caring.
And in the interest of full disclosure: Since she was the girl with such luck, even though we were jealous, we still all wanted to be her friends. Oh yes, before we are old enough to seek status, we seek snacks. The only time that her position in society wavered was during the Summer when an equally royal kid's family uncovered the neighborhood's only backyard swimming pool for the season.
The second reason that we cried foul? A giant pickle jar. Her Dad placed an enormous pickle jar on the counter next to the cash register with a photo of his daughter, encouraging customers to put their spare pennies in. And they sure did. Her Dad even had to replace the jar at one point. Up, up, up it filled. And as it did, the hopes of the rest of the young female contestants went down, down, down. I also remember some of the parents talking about how wrong it was because none of the other kids were lucky enough to have such a windfall opportunity as a pickle jar with their photo on it.
In the end, I don't remember most of us girls walking up on that stage thinking that we stood a chance. I wish that I could come in now with a heroic beating-the-odds ending to this story where the little people without giant pickle jars and thousands of snack selections prevailed - but alas, she swept the contest. I'm pretty sure that I learned something about connections that day but was still too young to fully understand.
And I also got to wear the awesome dress that my Mom made for me. It was actually a repeat selection from my Uncle's wedding the previous year. Here's a shot of me wearing it with my Dad in his killer ruffled tuxedo shirt circa 1977.
And wow, I still haven't changed my hair to this very day.
I can't even remember who won King that day and I haven't heard anything about the Valentine Queen in many years. I'm going to have to do what our generation does and look her up on Facebook to see how her life turned out. My guess is that she inherited the convenience store and also has a swimming pool, and most likely doesn't even remember the contest. And unlike me, she can probably look at a penny without thinking about how many more it might take to fill a giant pickle jar to the top.
Until next time,
x's and o's,