Let's travel back in time, shall we, to the days when Val was Little Val, attending school in an old brick building with creaky wooden floors, transoms above the doors, hissing radiators, cloakrooms, slate blackboards, heavy one-piece brown metal desks with built-in metal chairs that swiveled, and wooden desktops that raised for storing books and Big Chief tablets, with a grooved tray for fat wooden pencils.
When the highlight of the school day was running at breakneck speed over the crumbly asphalt playground surrounded by a granite chunk fence with mortar chipping away, capped by curved concrete, with a thick metal pipe skewered through the pillars, worn smooth by so many kid butts. Like this fence, though the original Little Val fence is long gone.
When nobody cared if we played red rover, slammed each other on the teeter-totter, swung so high on those black rubber swing seats that the chains went slack, picked up Maple tree whirligigs off the ground to stuff in our mouths and make screeching sounds, or lined up for captains' pick for kickball.
Back then, Little Val was what one might call smart as a whip, sharp as a tack, bright as a button. She was fraught with success. Her mind was to academic 'A's like Midas's finger to gold. Little Val was not shy about volunteering answers. It irked her, in fact, when the teacher would pointedly overlook her frantically-waving arm and choose another child to enlighten the class. But Little Val was brought up well. She did not show her displeasure, but only waved more frantically the next time. Because surely, it must have been a lack of attention by the teacher. A mere oversight.
So Little Val did not hold back that day her third-grade teacher, Mrs. Elvins, in her cat's-eye glasses, asked who could tell the class the name of the 13th President of the United States. It did not matter that Little Val, in her own cat's-eye glasses, had been absent the day before, due to an unfortunate orthopedic injury resulting from an evening of cautious roller-skating around her next-door grandpa's sidewalk, where the outside bump of the chimney proved that Little Val was not so accomplished at changing direction on wheels. A slow-motion fall from her strap-on, adjustable-length, metal roller skates that inflicted a greenstick fracture upon Little Val's left forearm, and garnered her a hard white cast from thumb to mid-humerus, held at an upright angle by a cloth sling that looked very much like her mother's dish towel.
Mrs. Elvins whipped the class into a frenzy. Somebody must remember the 13th President of the United States! Somebody...somebody... She even gave a little clue: "I know you remember! His name was Millard...Millard..." One by one, classmates were called upon, voicing reasonable answers, though incorrect. Little Val was on her knees in her chair, right arm flagging back-and-forth, to show Mrs. Elvins that indeed, SOMEBODY did know the name of the 13th President of the United States! Mrs. Elvins looked and looked. No more hands waved. Except that of Little Val.
"Oh, I'll bet Little Val can tell us the 13th President of the United States, can't you, Little Val?" Little Val nodded, still on her knees, still waving her good arm. "Tell everyone, then, Little Val! The 13th President of the United States was Millard..."
It sounded so right as it leapt from Little Val's lips. So right. Yet so wrong. Mrs. Elvins was speechless. The rest of the class hee-hawed and whooped and hollered, a couple of the rowdier boys even falling from their seats.
And that, by blog friends, was the moment Little Val realized that people found her hilarious.
Thanks to blog buddy Joe H for the inspiration.