One of my most treasured possessions is a little plastic dinosaur. It’s a triceratops, to be specific. It’s greenish in color and glows in the dark. It looks exactly like one you would get at a dollar store, or for 99 cents in some museum gift shop. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. Now, why do you suppose that this little dinosaur is special? What vast, emotional attachment do I have to this beat-up old toy that I hold on to it dearly? Well, it was the first token of affection given to me by a woman. Actually, it was given to me by four women. And, more to the point, they were girls. Hey, it all stems from that emotional turmoil that is known as the fifth grade.
Yes, the fifth grade was drawing to a close, and my class had been doing this pen-pal thing with a fifth grade class in the southern community of Drumheller. So, to end this whole exercise, there was a year-ending class trip to Drumheller to meet our pen-pals, explore the Badlands of Alberta, and check out some dinosaur bones. You see, Drumheller and the Alberta Badlands are some of the most dinosaur-fossil-rich lands in the world. So, naturally, in the middle of it all is the Tyrell Museum of Paleontology, one of the world’s foremost dinosaur institutions. It was to be a fun-filled week of hanging out with new friends, exploring lost canyons, and checking out dinosaurs.
As has also been scientifically verified, girls enter puberty at a much earlier age than boys, so most of the girls in my class were starting to have the hormonal fits that are usually reserved for junior high. Some of the boys were playing along, and beginning to have pseudo-hormonal fits. I was well on my way to becoming a geek, outsider, and Scarecrow. As such, I was oblivious to the gossip and goings-on of the various cliques.
So, the class trip began, and we were all having a lot of fun. Our campsite was the gym in our pen-pals’s school, with the boys on one side and girls on the other. The first couple of days went great, with visits to every little roadside attraction that was dinosaur-related and touring the general area. We were having our meals at the cafeteria in this school, and this was when I was first introduced to a scene that would be played out for many a day at my university. Get in line, grab your tray of grub, and ask the eternal question: “Which table shall I sit at?”
My mother was one of the chaperones on this trip, but I knew I couldn’t sit with my mother every night. I scanned the tables, trying to sort out who were still my friends and who was far enough along in puberty to start shunning the geek. The tables with the cool kids were already full, and it looked like I was going to be sitting by myself when, out of the corner of my eye, I spotted four girls from my class. Now, they were far enough along in puberty all right, but I wasn’t sure if they were shunning me yet or not. I knew that there was one way to find out, so I went and sat with them. At first, they were surprised that I was sitting with them, but soon, they warmed up to me, and we were just hanging out, enjoying our cafeteria food.
This soon became a scene that was played out at every meal. The five of us would sit and talk and eat. The cool kids (which were the majority of the class) would look at us oddly, but I just shrugged it off. We even soon began hanging out at the various dinosaur museums that littered Drumheller that the class was visiting every day. And, for some reason, these girls seemed appreciative of my company.
It wasn’t long before we reached the kingpin of all roadside attractions in Drumheller: the Tyrell Museum of Paleontology. I was somewhat familiar with it, having been down this way on a family camping trip the year before. I was walking through the displays in a somewhat detached manner, having seen most of it the previous year. But still, I was young enough to be enthralled when we hit the dinosaur displays. I still have a fascination with dinosaurs. They’re just so…big. As I was staring at them, with my mouth hanging open in astonishment, one of the girls turned to me and asked, “So, what’s your favorite dinosaur?” I just looked at her and said, “Oh, the triceratops.” And it still is. I don’t know why, but something about the triceratops just makes it cool. The girl just took in this information and nodded.
When our day at the Tyrell Museum was done, we spent a few minutes at the gift shop. I wasn’t really in the mood to buy anything, as I had my fill of Tyrell souvenirs from the year before. But still, I had just begun my postcard collection, so I thought I’d grab a few postcards. Another of the girls saw me eyeing the postcard rack, and I told her that I had begun collecting postcards. Again, this information was just taken in, and she nodded. When we were all done spending our allowances and the money our folks gave us for this trip, we were on our way.
Since my Mom was one of the chaperones, one of the vehicles being used on this trip was my family’s big, old green Ford van, lovingly called “Henry.” I had claimed ownership privileges and was riding shotgun. Our convoy of vans that was carrying all these students was in need of fuel, so we stopped at a service station to fill up. I had the window rolled down, and was just feeling kind of lazy. The trip to the museum had worn me out, so I was just gazing at the sunset in a semi-conscious stupor. But soon, a brown paper bag was tossed through my window, and when it hit my lap, I was brought back to reality.
I looked out the window to see no one. Apparently, whoever had tossed it had already made themselves scarce. I figured I may as well see what was tossed my way. I opened up the paper bag, and I found a little plastic dinosaur. A triceratops, to be specific. I took a look at it and thought it was cool. I reached back into the bag to find a postcard. It was of one of the many murals that line the walls of the Tyrell Museum. I turned it over to find that all four of those girls had signed it, and covered with little love messages. Well, the word “love” wasn’t used. This was the fifth grade, after all, so it was limited to things like “We like you!” and “You rock!” It was my turn to be taken aback. Yeah, I mean, they were nice and everything, but what did I do to them to deserve such…gratitude?
Naturally, as we sat together that night to have supper, I thanked them for the gift, but felt I had to ask what I did to deserve it. That’s when I found out. A few days earlier, those girls were sitting by themselves because there were rumors going around about them. Junior high hormones were beginning to creep into their lives. Somehow, this clique had fallen on the outs with the rest of the class, and with all these rumors going around, they were surprised that anyone would hang out with them.
Now, the sad truth was, I was well on my way to being an outsider/geek, so I was completely oblivious to the gossip. I hadn’t heard anything. I just sat with them because I needed a place to sit. But, puberty had hit me enough to know that if simply by sitting with them I had won the favor of four girls…. So, I kept my mouth shut. All I did was repeat my thank you for their gift.
Of course, that was a long time ago now, and I have gotten other gifts from women. But, they have been nothing but “just friend” gifts from “just friends.” I treasure them all, but not as much as that little plastic dinosaur. You know, it was the first. And I got it simply because I was being myself. I didn’t do anything spectacular. I just sat down with those who no one would sit with. So, yeah. That dinosaur will always be a reminder of that trip, and the virtue of simply being kind.
Well, and the fifth grader in me always looks at that dinosaur and says, “Dude! I (practically) scored with four girls!”