First, let’s get the “Dickey” stuff out of the way. I grew up in Dickeyville, a former mill village on the banks of the Gwynn’s Falls, where the Dickey family had once run the mill. I went to Dickey Hill Elementary School. I’ve heard all the jokes, as have the kids from Cockeysville. Get over it.
When I was in second or third grade, the school started a spring book fair. A mimeographed sheet of titles would be distributed and students were expected to make a shopping list before they were admitted to the fair for 30 minutes of browsing and buying. I remember Mrs. Shapiro going over our lists and expressing disappointment that so many of us wanted to buy “Peanuts” or “Dennis the Menace” compilations. Grubby little pleaser that I was, I decided to spend the breathtaking amount of 95 cents on a book about a horse. It was awful. But then, I never much liked books about horses — not Walter Farley’s and, shock of shocks for a Maryland girl, not even “Misty of Chincoteague.”
One could win a gift certificate to buy more books by entering and winning the poster contest. For some reason, this contest became my Holy Grail. I sweated and slaved over my entries, but was usually bested by my best friend, Maggie Argent. Maggie was far more talented at art than I, a tidy and conscientious girl, yet also creative. In sixth grade, for our segment on marine biology, she embroidered a mural, three by six feet, showing an accurate view of ocean life.
Maybe that’s why she felt a little burned out when it came time for the poster contest. She contented herself with simply cutting out the letters DICKEY HILL BOOK FAIR and pasting them to tagboard. She used a freehand style that we had recently learned, one in which symmetrical letters could be formed by folding the paper just so.
My entry was operatic, busy, passionate. I believe it took “The Witch of Blackbird Pond” as its inspiration and had some sort of couplet in which I rhymed “ages” and “pages.” It was, in my humble opinion, magnificent.
Maggie won. I was devastated. To be beaten by someone who wasn’t even trying seemed a cruel fate indeed.
It was the last time that I really cared about the outcome of a contest. Just in case you’re wondering.