grumpy kids

All I Needed Was a Smile


Truthfully, I didn’t realize how much I needed that smile. New places and new events can be overwhelming, especially if one is going it alone.

For eight years, my education took place inside a four-room school with 100 students. I knew every one of those students and their parents. For ninth grade, I moved to a high school with 800 students and two floors of classrooms.

Even though some of my old classmates joined me at the new high school, I didn’t have many classes with them. Everything was all so new, and I was overwhelmed as I had to find my way alone.

I still recall what happened to me as I was trying to find my school locker at the end of a day the first week of school at a new (to me) high school. For some reason, I thought my locker was on the second floor when it was really outside the door of my last-period first-floor classroom. Every day I fought the masses going upstairs to find that locker. Why I didn’t take the time to look at the map of the school or ask another classmate or teacher, I’ll never know.

So I struggled. Every day I fought the crowd going the opposite way of me. Every day I fought tears and frustration. Every day I never wanted to go back.


One day as I was being smashed against the wall again, I glanced up and saw a gal two years older than me who had been a former schoolmate. Our eyes met. She smiled and said, “Hi, Gertrude.”.

Did she see the frustration on my face? Did she glimpse the panic in my eyes? What made her notice me? I’ll never know. I do know this: that smile and recognition gave me the courage to find my way through the hallways.

Suddenly, I could figure out this maze. Suddenly, I was of worth and had value. Suddenly, the new strange school didn’t seem as overwhelming or as frustrating. I smiled back and felt my muscles relax.

That day, I took out the school map and figured out where my locker actually was. In time, I learned my way around the school and it no longer seemed overwhelming and monstrous.

Almost fifty years later, I still remember Kathy’s smile and recognition of me as a freshman. She was a junior and could have just ignored me. She didn’t. I could take you to the place on the stairwell of the school where our eyes met and I received validation.

It seems like such a small thing. No doubt if I told Kathy about the experience, she would never remember. I remember because the boost I needed that day came in the form of a friend with her greeting and her smile.


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