Monday, January 30, 2006

Cocktail Hour

More on what my kid's been up to.

Girl Reporter

It’s been a good week for us writers. An anthology that contains a story of mine came out this week, and got a nice review in a national publication. The child is happy for me. Happy that I’m happy, happy that a magazine has my actual name in it, happy that—as she put it -- I got an A on my story.

She, in the meantime, has entered the literary pantheon of Jackson Elementary School.

When she comes home, she isn’t jumping up and down, or running in the door shouting at the top of her lungs. She just walks in the door, put her books on the table, gets a juice box out of the refrigerator, then stands in the middle of the kitchen, vibrating.

I give her about twenty seconds to see if any sounds are going to accompany the vibrations, but none do. She just stands there, looking at me and humming with so much energy that I’m afraid she might achieve escape velocity and take off.

“How was your day?” I finally ask. “Anything interesting happen?”

“Do you remember my homework from two weeks ago?”

“Not specifically.”

“We had to write about something that was really happening? And I wrote about when we met that famous baseball guy? Remember?”

“Oh, yeah. I thought that was a good story.”

She beams. “Well, my teacher liked it too. I got an A on it, just like your story. And she said if it was a picture, she’d put it on the bulletin board, but it’s kind of too long, so she didn’t. Then I thought she was going to give it back, I mean she did, but she also asked me if it was okay if she xeroxed it too. And I said okay, ‘cause I figure she has to keep files and stuff on account of it’s fourth grade and not just little kid classes anymore.” She pauses for breath and a long slug of Cran-Grape.

“But today she told me that she’d taken my story to the teacher’s meeting—“ She stops to see if I am appreciating the awesome significance of this. I am.

“And the teachers voted that when we go back after Christmas, for the whole rest of the year, I get to be the editor of the fourth grade page in the school paper. With my name on the page—every month! I thought you should know.”

“That is so great!” I give her a big hug.

“I know. I get to be a girl reporter!”

This has been her dream for a couple of months. Not to get on the school paper specifically, but to be a girl reporter. She has a crush on Dorothy Kilgallen, who has been dead for almost 35 years. The child may be the only nine-year-old on the planet who’s even heard of Dorothy Kilgallen, much less adopted her as a role model, but there you go.

It’s my fault. I love old game shows, and a few months ago I discovered that the Game Show Network devotes Sunday afternoons exclusively to rerunning the black-and-white panel shows I watched in the ‘50s and ‘60s. My idea of heaven. I guess it’s a genetic marker. My mother loved them, my daughter loves them.

Sometimes we watch them “live,” but mostly I tape them and we’ll watch one or two between dinner and bedtime on weeknights. I’ve always been partial to Betsy Palmer on I’ve Got a Secret. But the child loves What’s My Line?, and Dorothy Kilgallen—“whose popular column, ‘The Voice of Broadway’ is read coast-to-coast”—is her idol.

After two tapes, the child started to ask questions: Who was she in real life? What did she do when she weren’t being a smart person on TV? So I did a little digging, and discovered that Dorothy Kilgallen had been a crackerjack girl reporter in the ‘30s, had flown around the world on a Nellie Bly–topping stunt.

This fascinated the child even more. We spent an afternoon in the big main library, looking up everything we could find about Dorothy. In a 1937 Life magazine, the child found her own personal grail: an ad featuring “intrepid girl reporter” you-know-who. It took me two months of searching on eBay and the web to locate a copy of that ad; I had it framed and gave it to her for Christmas.

Some people’s kids have Spice Girls posters on their walls; mine has a picture of Dorothy Kilgallen proclaiming that “Camels are mild and soothing to my throat.” I hate the message, but it’s the child’s most treasured possession.

“So, girl reporter. When do you start?”

“Well, tomorrow I have a meeting with Ms. Meadows. She’s in charge of the whole paper. She teaches sixth grade, so I don’t know her. I’ve just seen her in the hall. She’s black and her hair is in about a million of those dread things. She looks really cool. And then Friday, after school, there’s a party for all the reporters from the first half of the year, so we can meet them and stuff.”

“Who’s the fourth grade reporter now?”

She makes a face. “Rachel Rosenberg. She goes to Lonny’s synagogue, except like every Saturday. I don’t hate her or anything, but she never laughs at my jokes. She’s always real serious and thinks she know everything. She’s an okay writer, but I’ll probably be better.”

I don’t laugh. I don’t tell her not to brag. Both of those urges flit through my head, but I bite my tongue and just let her savor the moment. “Do you want to do something to celebrate?”

“Well, now that I’m a girl reporter, I thought we could maybe have cocktails and then get take-out Chinese.”

“Cocktails? Just what kind of cocktails did you have in mind?” I am reeling, just a little, just enough that I’d like time out to make a quick phone call to the Committee for Ethical Parenting and find out what the protocols are.

“I thought a martini,” she says, and then notices the even-more stunned look on my face. “Not a real one. But I want a green olive—the kind with the little red thingy?—in a martini glass. With fizz water, I guess, because it’s supposed to be clear and 7-Up and olives taste icky together.”

I bet they do. No protocols. I’m on my own. “Okay. It’s your party. I’ll just have a beer. Should I call the Chinese place now, or do you want to do that while I make the drinks?”

She thinks for a minute. “I’ll call,” she says. “It’ll be good practice. Reporters have to be on the phone a lot, you know.” She reaches for the pink take-out menu.

“Order me the walnut prawns,” I say, and open the cupboard to dust off a martini glass.

Copyright ©2006 Ellen Klages


At 10:35 PM, Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

I'm dearly fond of a kid who fixes on Dorothy Kilgallen. Of course my older kid has been heard to observe that she wants to be Katharine Hepburn when she grows up. Hell, so do I. It just hasn't happened yet.

At 4:19 PM, Blogger Beta e Dju said...

What a precious thing!! Congratulations for her ant to you too!!!
And I want a 7up martini too! :P

At 1:20 AM, Blogger john_m_burt said...

This reminds me of how I used to startle adults with references to Wendell Willkie and gasoline ration "A" cards -- gleaned from Bugs Bunny cartoons.

In fact, I think you could make a really great middle-school history curriculum based on topical referneces in old cartoons, movies, comic strips, &c.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Scorpio said...

If you use the images choice in Google you get a lot of Kilgallen pictures. I didn't realize she was murdered 8 days after interviewing Jack Ruby.

Girl reporters need to use caution!


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