Janet Sheridan: Appreciating Bryce
May 4, 2017
When the fantasy of every girl at Spanish Fork High School said, "Hey, Janet, how can I help you?" I spluttered with surprise; I hadn't expected to see Bryce Benson behind the counter of Mel's Mercantile. So I replied, "Agghh."
As though accustomed to waiting on dumbfounded girls producing odd squawks, Bryce flashed a grin and said, "Having trouble deciding, huh? Why don't you look around while I check on Mr. Wilson. I'll be right back." As he walked away, the realization I would soon have to tell the man of my dreams about my feet put me back on the emotional roller coaster I'd ridden all day.
My self esteem began to seesaw before school when the drill-team president, Stella of perfect posture and propriety, beckoned me near and described the disgraceful downfall of a popular senior girl: "Irene couldn't stay out of the back seat of Kirk Jenkins '52 Chevy; so she got herself pregnant and that got her a dishonorable discharge from the drill team." Sniffing self-righteously, Stella then offered Irene's coveted spot on the high-stepping squad to me — a tearful first-alternate after tryouts.
I managed to hide my joyful exuberance and accepted with proper decorum.
As prim Stella departed, she told me to join the drill team in the girls' locker room during lunch to be measured for our flashy performance attire. As I ran off to share my exciting news with friends, I had no idea of the hell awaiting.
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Four hours later, after standing in line 20 minutes feeling like a giraffe in a parade of peacocks, I stepped up to be measured. The team's petite coach looked me over and simpered girlishly, "Oh, my, I'll have to stand on my little tippy toes to reach clear around you." As she measured my tall, well-fed frame, she bellowed my measurements to the drill-team secretary, who recorded them on a chalkboard; and every hair-sprayed head in the room swiveled to read each number.
Now I stood at the counter of a busy store, a giant girl with no voice and huge feet, clutching 30 rumpled dollars of hard-earned babysitting money, about to tell gorgeous Bryce Benson that I needed drill-team shoes in size 10… and a half.
All my life I hated my feet as much as I adored shoes. I longed to be able to buy fancy, strappy shoes guaranteed to attract the envy of every girl and the eyes of every boy. Instead, I heard "Sorry, we don't have those shoes in your size." So I wore old lady shoes in big sizes.
Lost in my bruised feelings, I didn't notice Bryce had returned until he interrupted my self-pitying thoughts, "So have you decided?" With wringing hands and writhing lips, I spewed out a confusion of words about the drill team, my membership and my need for drill-team shoes; then, in a desperate rush, I confessed they'd have to be size 10…and a half.
Without looking incredulous or glancing at my feet, Bryce selected a shoebox from the shelf behind him, saying, "Hey congratulations, Janet. That's great. We ordered longer sizes because the judges chose some tall, good-looking girls this year. You'll really show off those great outfits."
Bryce Benson: the auburn-haired, generous boy who never knew the impact of the words he said to me on a crisp fall day in 1961. I promised myself I would tell him someday, but never had the chance.
He died in Vietnam six years later.
But because Bryce altered forever the way I viewed my feet, my height and myself, he lives on in my mind as a 10….and a half.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the 1st and 15th of every month.
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