It was the first of March and Teresa knew what that meant. Her father would get out the yard stick and hold it down flat on top of her head. The he would carefully make a mark on the door jam in the bedroom. They would both turn around and examine the mark to see how much Teresa had grown during the past year.
Then her father would always point out the same marks to her. The lowest mark was made on her second birthday when she was 35 inches, the next one, about two and a half inches higher, was when she turned three. At four years old, Teresa was 40 inches tall. Now, on her ninth birthday, Teresa and her dad measured from the floor up to the newest mark. She was now forty nine and one half inches. That was more than four feet!
"Pretty soon, I'll be as tall as you," Teresa said.
"But I'll never be as smart," she added.
"Well aren't you kind," replied her dad.
"I'll be smarter. Way smarter!" Teresa exclaimed.
"AH, you tricked me again!" her father answered, making a fake hurt look on his face.
Teresa was very smart. She always received high marks on academic subjects when report card time came. The two areas where didn't get such high marks in were in "works well with others" and "neatness."
Teresa was not the neatest person. As a matter of fact, sometimes her desk was so messy that she couldn't find anything. And she could be a little bossy. Sometimes she had tantrums when she didn't get her way.
It would seem that since her teacher Ms. Smith knew about her bossiness problem, she wouldn't assign her to work on a group project with perhaps the most annoying boy in her class. But that was what happened.
His name was Isaac. When Teresa was told she would be working with him on an Earth Day poster project, she tried to explain the situation to Ms. Smith. She suggested that Ms Smith change her partner.
"It might be better if maybe I could work with another one of the smart kids in the class, like William for example," Teresa explained, trying to be as polite as possible.
Ms. Smith said no; that no changes would be made and of course Isaac did not think what Teresa said about wanting to work with someone smarter was very polite at all.
So when they met together as a team, Isaac was not happy. When Teresa asked if he had any ideas for their poster, Isaac growled at her like a dog instead of answering.
Teresa just ignored him and went on.
"Great deeds start from small seeds," said Teresa.
Then she suggested that they could draw an acorn being planted in the ground and then the tall oak tree that grew up decades later.
Then she had another idea. They could use the slogan inch by inch, life's a cinch, then draw an egg on a leaf, a caterpillar, a chrysalis and then a beautiful butterfly.
"Except, of course, we might have to find pictures in magazines, because actually I really don't know how to draw very well," explained Teresa.
This time, Isaac didn't growl. He just looked at Teresa blankly and didn't say anything. Then he got up and walked back to his desk.
At recess time, Teresa noticed that Isaac stayed at his desk, doodling on some paper. She thought maybe he was in trouble for some reason. Then after lunch, and again after school when everyone else was leaving, Isaac stayed at his desk, still drawing.
Friday was the next day the pairs were supposed to meet about the project. Teresa was not looking forward to sitting there coming up with brilliant ideas and have Isaac growling at her again.
Isaac had something with him, rolled up inside of a tube. He carefully unrolled it on the desks between them. Teresa could not believe her eyes!
It was a green leaf with a tiny egg, a chrysalis and the most beautiful butterfly Teresa had ever seen. Underneath the drawing, Isaac had carefully lettered "Inch by inch, life's a cinch. Please do your part to take care of the earth."
On the back of the poster, Isaac had written both of their names.
The week before Earth Day, there was a big school assembly to announce the winners of the poster contest. There was to be a winner from each grade level and then a grand prize for the best poster in the school. Teresa felt a little funny that she had not really worked on the poster that her name was on. She secretly hoped that it would not win anything and she felt relieved when William and Sally were announced as the third grade winners.
Then it came time to announce the grand prize. Ms. Duran announced with pride that this year's grand prize had come from one of the lower grades. Then she announced that Teresa and Isaac were the big winners. They each received a $50 gift certificate from a local music store.
Teresa smiled, shook Ms. Duran's hand and looked around the auditorium. She could see her father standing up and clapping.
Teresa knew she should be happy, but she didn't feel that happy inside. When Principal Duran handed her the gift certificate, she felt sort of like she was stealing something.
So that is when Teresa surprised everyone, even herself. After everyone was finished applauding, she walked right to the microphone and started talking.
"Excuse me, but there has been a mistake. Isaac put my name on the back of the poster, but I didn't really help with it. I was mean and said bad things about him, but he was still nice to me. I don't deserve this award and I am giving it to Isaac."
Teresa walked straight over to Isaac, handed him the certificate and started walking back towards her classroom. She was trying not to cry. Then she heard a familiar voice behind her. It was her father calling her. He caught up with her, picked her up in the air and gave her a big hug.
Teresa told her father she was sorry for what she did.
"What you did today was a very good thing. Most people would not be brave enough to tell the truth. Remember how we made a mark on your birthday to show how much you grew? That was how much your body grew. Today, I think you grew on the inside." her father replied.
Copyright Dale Emmert 2011
Dale lives in New Mexico, USA.
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