The Hardest Lesson I Learned As a Child

by Kara LaReau
Originally Published: 

Do you remember the first time you won something? For me, it was probably when I was awarded second place in the sixth grade science fair. Of course, everyone in my class got either a first, second, or third place ribbon, so I wouldn’t consider the moment a biggie.

My science fair topic was static electricity. I chose this topic myself, and I have no idea why. It may be because I saw a photo in either my Ranger Rick or Dynamite magazine of something called a Van de Graaff generator, one of those spherical inventions that creates a charge that literally makes your hair stand on end when you touch it. It seemed like a potential crowd-pleaser. The only thing was, how was I going to get my hands on one?

Enter my genius grandfather, who could make or fix anything. I showed him the magazine photo, and he was more than up for the challenge. A few weeks later, he showed up at our house with an exact miniature replica of the generator. It was uncanny, really, with just one notable exception.

“Why doesn’t it work?” I asked, turning the little hand crank on the side and expecting my hair to shock itself straight.

Though my grandfather was probably hugely insulted by my reaction, it was really a testament to my utter faith in him. I truly believed that just by showing him that one photo, he could build me an electrostatic generator. In my eyes, he was that awesome. At the same time, I had a science fair to win, and I was hoping he’d deliver a little more shock value.

For some stupid reason, I decided not to include the faux generator in my presentation, so my science fair entry was ultimately pretty pathetic. On the front of my designated card table, I affixed a sign I’d painted with silver spray paint, on which I wrote the words STATIC ELECTRICITY!! framed by lightning bolts. And I had a basket filled with inflated balloons and different fabrics, which I invited the judges to rub together and shock themselves. The only real shock of the day was that I even managed a second-place ribbon.

I know what you’re thinking: I got what I deserved, for expecting my grandfather to do my work for me. I haven’t forgotten that lesson. Though I also haven’t forgotten that two of the first place winners that day were

1. A guy who chose the topic “surgical staples.” Convenient, as his dad was a surgeon. More convenient, he dressed in his dad’s scrubs and had his dad’s videotape of a surgical staple demo running on a TV behind him, and

2. A guy who chose the topic “video games,” and merely set up his Atari. Talk about a crowd-pleaser.

Another lesson? Nothing in life is fair, people. We all just do what we can (and can get others to do for us) to get by.

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