Lake Reflections: Earning a Gold Star

Photo by Jeannette Brodeur.
Photo by Jeannette Brodeur.

I thought getting a gold star was just for kids, but it turns out, now adults need them too.
Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, the U.S. Federal Government will require anyone boarding an airplane for domestic travel or entering certain federal buildings to have a “verified” driver’s license or ID card. A gold star in the top right corner of these cards indicates you have a verified ID. If someone doesn’t have a verified card, they must provide additional forms of ID. You can apply for the verified ID at the DMV. Going to the DMV to get a gold star is not as fun as when you earned a gold star as a kid.

When I was in first grade at Saints Peter & Paul School, my teacher, Miss Bigalin, would cheerfully hand out many papers with those cute little gold foil stars on them. You got them if you did well on an assignment. I worked so hard for those stars. They meant you were special, that you were…a star.

I garnered many of these stars by using every crayon in the box to make my coloring pages stand out from the rest of the class. Jesus might have a rainbow-colored robe one day or a magenta one the next day. I always depicted Mary with rosy red cheeks even if the particular scene wasn’t a cheery one. No apostles of mine were going to have raw umber-colored sandals. Nope. One would have periwinkle striped sandals and the other would have dots of melon on theirs. My black and white crayons always remained in pristine condition in my well-worn box of Crayolas. I was all in to get these stars.

One area I know I didn’t collect many stars in during my elementary school years was penmanship. Ugh. In that subject, you had to follow the lines and not break the rules. I hated it. And I was left-handed so it always seemed to add an extra degree of difficulty to achieve a perfect lowercase “g”. Having a very long name as I did, also was a challenge and you had to put your name on every single paper. No name on your paper meant no gold star. I was quite jealous of my classmates with shorter names like Lori and Lisa. They could write their names in record time. When I write my name, to this day, I can still hear my mother’s voice. She made a special cheer for me using the letters in my name so I could get my first library card. Over and over again, she would chant the letters of my name and I would laugh and chant along with her. If we had pompoms, my mom would’ve used them, but I think she used two dishtowels. I still have trouble filling in those small boxes for your first name but at least my last name, Brodeur, fits nicely in the last name box.

I know if Miss Bigalin was handing out stars for being quiet in class, I was not getting them. Oh, was I a talker! If you know me at all, this will not surprise you. One time during class, when she was reading a Dick and Jane reading book out loud, I kept giggling and talking to a classmate. Miss Bigalin had to stop reading and keep telling me not to talk. After the third time, she told me to take my chair and my copy of Dick and Jane and go read in the hallway inside the giant cardboard cutout of Noah’s Ark the class had made. I remember crying for quite a while before I settled down and began reading again. At least most of the rest of the students didn’t see me when they passed the giant ark in the hallway, but I could still look inside the glass part of my classroom’s door and see Miss Bigalin reading and not getting interrupted. That was a hard day, but Miss Bigalin was really, really nice and it probably hurt her as much as it hurt me. I bet she hugged me after class, but I only remember sitting all alone in the ark.

I don’t remember much about gold stars in second grade. I can’t even remember that teacher’s name, but I do remember my third-grade teacher when I transferred to Anderson School, the large brick public school in our neighborhood in Waterbury. That wonderful teacher was Miss Ditoto. She had a reward that was even better than a gold star. If you finished all of your work in class and there was extra time, she would let you pick an index card from a metal file box full of story ideas. You couldn’t choose the card you got. It was always a surprise. One day you could be writing about dragons and the next day about summertime. I raced through many assignments, even the dreaded arithmetic, just to get to pick a card and write a story. I suppose that was the beginning of my writing career.

Now, I don’t get any more gold stars for things like cleaning the toilet, doing laundry, or scrubbing a pan, but I do hear that there is such a thing on Etsy, a website that focuses on handmade or vintage items and crafts supplies. They have gold star keychains, t-shirts, and big vinyl stickers that say “You tried” and one that even says, “I survived 2020.” I think we should all get a gold star for that!

Jeannette Brodeur has been a journalist for more than 30 years and wrote a human interest column for the New Jersey Herald, the Naugatuck Daily News and the Citizen’s News for many years. She and her husband Todd have three adult children: Harley, Aaron and Jillian, as well as an aging rescue dog named Nelson and two rescue cats named Reeses (like the candy) and Clarence (like the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life”). They live on Highland Lake in Winchester/Winsted.

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