Juju was standing in the main hall of Harrison Lane Elementary with 10 boys and girls in front and about the same behind her. At the end of the hall, sat the school nurse, all 300 pounds of her at a card table. Her name was Nurse Jackson and she was stuffed into a white polyester uniform that had fit her nicely five years earlier. She had a clip board and was jotting down the height and weight of each student. It was that day…one of the days Juju dreaded every year….HEALTH DAY.
One of the secretaries from the front office was manning the scale and measuring the heights of all the sixth graders. She stood approximately 3 feet from Nurse Jackson, but nonetheless shouted out the statistics like she was Howard Cosell. Good grief Juju thought, she is fat, not deaf! 87 pounds for Smith, Robert L.!! 90 pounds for Johnson, Allison A!! An eruption of giggles started at the front and rolled down the line…90 pounds!!?? A red-faced Allison turned on her Mary Jane’s and ran back to class, scarred for a lifetime…destined for nights alone watching TV and eating Haagen Dazs out of the carton.
78 pounds for Williams, Carl W!! The line in front of Juju was dwindling, she was thankful the weigh-in was before lunch…she had skipped breakfast in anticipation…surely that would yield a one pound loss. Juju was also secretly wishing the scale in the bathroom at home was broken….it couldn’t be right!! What is going to happen when the secretary yells those three digits?? Juju’s thighs were sweating as Louis, the biggest boy in class approached the scale.
Please, please, please she thought to herself, let his number be higher. 108 pounds for Jacobs, Louis D!! The boy behind Juju tapped her on the back and said, “Wow, Louis is big!!” And I am enormous Juju thought, fighting the urge to hurl in the main hall. She thought back with nostalgia to first grade where puking was her biggest problem. It would be a way to lose a quick pound, right in this line…she could even turn around and puke on the kid behind her! 70 pounds for Sanders, Mary L!! 70 pounds?? Juju weighed 70 pounds in 3rd grade, this wasn’t going to be pretty. Maybe she could take her shoes off, were the other kids doing that??
At last it was Juju’s time up to bat. She looked in the direction of Nurse Jackson…longing for a Kumbaya moment…does she feel my pain, she wondered? The secretary motioned for Juju to step on the scale and she obliged. A hush fell over the line as all remaining members of Mrs. Parish’s sixth grade class, for once in their life, shut their mouths.
Juju looked straight ahead as the weights were pushed to the right, then turned to see the secretary scream the digits. Was it just Juju or did she seem to take glee in shouting out the new high number? It isn’t a contest Juju thought, not one she cared to win!! 117 Billhymer, Juju!!! “Did you say 116?” Nurse Jackson asked. “No, 117!!!” the secretary retorted. The ultimate humiliation was complete and its victim was only 12 years old. Whoops and hollering could be heard echoing down the vast hallway as the lottery winner walked back to the classroom. Juju knew she was the victor, there wasn’t a pudgy or tall kid left in line.
Juju tried to mentally spin positive by thinking that it was just another category where she was number one. Tallest girl? Check. Smartest girl? Check. Fattest kid? Oh hell, Check!! She had heard on TV that Rachel Welch weighed 110 pounds!! Juju was in sixth grade and had her beat too!! Her mother had told her that the women in the family were all “big-boned.” Juju looked at her arms and hands…they didn’t look that big she thought. Was that true? Would she look like a freak if x-rayed?
Mrs. Parish, a woman of about 65 years old and in her last year before retirement, stood at the front of the classroom. Boys and girls today in the cafeteria they are serving…. (she always announced the menu an hour before the lunch bell so we could sit in anticipation of some mystery meat that was fashioned into a shape resembling a pork chop)
They are serving today pizza, green beans, salad, and strawberry Jello. Mrs. Parish was originally from West Germany and when she said the word “pizza” it came out sounding like piss-za. They always served it on Fridays, so Juju and her classmates always looked forward to Mrs. Parish uttering what they believed to be a dirty word. She never understood why she drew a chuckle on Fridays, announcing the main course that looked like a piece of cardboard, with ketchup-like sauce and fake cheese….shaped like a pork chop.
Mrs. Parish was a large woman too, shaped like a pear. You know the type, size 6 on top and 22 down below. She wore June Cleaver like dresses everyday, in muted colors. Mrs. Parish noticed that Juju looked down and called her up to her desk when the lunch bell sounded.
Inquiring what was the problem, Juju admitted the 3 digits yelled in the hallway were making her feel miserable. Mrs. Parish said, “yes, I noticed you didn’t even laugh when I said piss-za.” (she knew!!)
Mrs. Parish told Juju that she was 5’10” tall and that the size of her frame demanded more weight. She continued that she was never ashamed of her size and Juju should walk with her head held high. Mrs. Parish told Juju that she would look ill at her height if she weighed just 70 pounds like little, petite Mary. She is kind of small, Juju agreed. By the time Mrs. Parish had finished with the pep talk, Juju was beginning to feel somewhat better…and by golly, a little hungry!
Juju exited the class and walked down to the cafeteria. She took her place in line and retrieved the 55 cents from her jean pocket to pay for her lunch. She was so famished, having skipped breakfast, that the ketchup pizza actually smelled good.
Juju reached to take the plate from the cafeteria lady and Steven, a boy in her class, yelled out. Don’t give Juju pizza, she is the fattest kid in our class, she weighs 117!! The obese cafeteria lady yelled at Steven to be quiet, responding, “she’s not fat, she is big-boned!!” Juju chomped down on the pizza chop, it really isn’t that half bad, she thought. And Jello, there is always room for Jello! Girl with biggest bones in sixth grade? Check!