Editor’s note: This column first published Sept. 13, 2020.
We were 7 years old and in the second grade. I was the new guy, having moved from one of the other elementary schools in town.
We lived in a big, two-story house that sat high on a hill overlooking the school. It was a beautiful house, one of the nicest in the area, and it must have seemed like we were rich.
We weren’t, but I wasn’t about to let my new classmates know that.
A couple of days after I enrolled at the new school, the teacher handed each student in the class one of those cheap boxes of crayons — the box that had eight crayons, four of them brown.
I was OK with that, until one of the kids in class — who really did have money — raised his hand and announced loudly he didn’t need “that little box of crayons” because he had his own.
His box, of course, was the 64-color box with the built-in sharpener in the back.
I looked around the room at my new classmates and saw a mix of jealousy and shame, and I admit I felt a little of both. I also didn’t like the smug look on the kid’s face, so when we went to the playground later that day I confronted him.
I told him he needed to either share his 64-box with everyone else or leave it at home and use the same crayons as the rest of his classmates. Or else.
The next day during coloring time, he broke out his 64-box of crayons and gave me the same smug look while the rest of us tried to make something pretty using four brown crayons, two black ones, a white one and a green one.
I was furious, so later that day I dotted the kid’s eye. Then, I went home, took all of the money out of the coffee can I used for a bank and begged my mom to take me to town so I could buy a 64-box of crayons.
When it came time to use the crayons again, I shared mine with the entire class, except for the rich kid who sat in the back of the room and glared at me with his one good eye.
My status as the class hero — the “rich” guy who defended the honor of his classmates and shared the wealth — didn’t last.
About a week later, the teacher handed out coloring sheets, and before I could distribute my 64-box of crayons to my new friends, the rich kid in the back of the room spoke up.
“Mrs. Griffin,” he said. “My mom got me these, and I would like to share with the rest of the class. Except for Jack.”
It was a huge box that included every color of magic marker imaginable.
My new friends disappeared faster than a case of Budweiser at a NASCAR race, and since I had spent all of my money, I couldn’t do anything to one-up the rich kid.
I wish I could tell you I learned my lesson right then, but it took me years to quit trying to be something I wasn’t and to realize true friends care about you and not what you can do for them.
I did apologize to the kid whose eye I blacked (Mrs. Griffin made me), and we actually became good friends later in life. Several years back I asked him if he remembered the crayon incident, and he said he did.
Turns out, the only reason he asked his mom for the 64-box of crayons was because I had shown up and was getting too much attention from his friends.
“Because they thought I was rich, right?” I asked.
“Heck no,” he said. “We were 7. No one cared about that. They liked you because you were funny and nice.”
Well, color me stupid.