Summer in Palmerston North, 1958.
Westend Primary School.
The excitement builds as we prepare for the School Gala Day. Until then, I didn’t even know what a gala day was. It had to be explained to me. It sounded really exciting. Our teacher informed us also that we were all going to have an opportunity to win a prize in a flower arrangement competition. We all had to bring flowers to school, and arrange them artfully in a saucer of damp sand. They would be on display for all to see, and a panel of judges would choose the three for first, second and third prize.
I asked mum for flowers and after a hunt around the flats where we were living at the time, she gave me a couple of heads of hydrangea. She suggested helpfully that I could disassemble the flowers and arrange the florets in an attractive pattern.
This I did. Try as I might I could not make it look anything other than a hydrangea flower stuck in a saucer of wet sand. Never mind. I had given it a shot, and I was quite content and settled in my mind with the fact that though my effort was not going to win a prize, I had completed my first flower arrangement. Maybe someone would like it. My Grandmother liked everything I did.
Gala day arrived at last and I had sixpence to spend. Wealth. You could get a lot for 6d in 1958. The Gala proved to be just as exciting as expected. I looked around at all the amazing things I had never seen before in my short life, and filled with anticipation of how I might spend my pennies. The first thing, though, was to hurry to the room where the flower displays were set out on trestle tables. Just to see my work laid out for all to see, and maybe admire. There they all were; the three best marked “First Prize, Second Prize, Third Prize” and a few “Honourable Mentions”. The remainder were laid out along the table right down to a rather sorry effort of wilting daisies and dandelions arranged in concentric circles around a single nasturtium flower.
I circled the trestle several times looking for my own contribution. It should have been easy to spot, but I could not see it anywhere. Then I saw an empty saucer on the windowsill and with a chill presentiment I went to look in the waste basket near the door. There was a little pile of sand and some fading blue florets and petals. My arrangement.
Rejected. My work had not even been worthy of display. The only one of them all to have been considered so bad that it was summarily thrown away. The hurt lives with me still. You never forget your first put-down.
That is why I hate hydrangeas.