Sometimes it takes us a while to find out what we’re really good at. For baby boomer Janet Garber of New York City, what she found was not just something that she could do, but that few others could.
In my childhood home, it was hard to be acknowledged as something special. Bringing home test papers marked “100%” or showing off a teacher’s delighted scribble of “A+++” on an English composition elicited, “Well, naturally. You’re my child.” And a quick change of subject.
I yearned for a distinctive talent, one that would truly impress my parents.
Every year Dad and I watched the Miss America contest together on TV. He repeatedly declared, “You were the most beautiful baby anyone had ever seen. Why didn’t we enter you into a beautiful baby contest?” At any rate, he promised I could be in the Miss America contest when I got older.
But he’d stop himself in the middle of this fantasy when he’d admit to being flummoxed. “What’s your talent? You’ve got to have a talent.”
I couldn’t play an instrument. Violin lessons had lasted only three months. I refused to practice on that screechy instrument. Anyway, my teacher was pretty sure I was tone deaf. So music was out.
My father could draw clever cartoons and comics but my idea of art was a square house with four windows, a chimney belching smoke, a sun in the sky, a flower growing near the path to the house. Essentially a view that hadn’t changed since first grade. So, not art either.
“I could recite a poem I’ve written,” I offered. “Or sing a song?” Dad winced. He’d already voiced his opinion of my writing when in ninth grade I’d read him my comic western, Wild Dill Pickle Rides Again.”
“Look,” he’d said, “You’re not a real writer. A real writer gets up at 4 a.m. and writes every day. A real writer watches no TV. A real writer…” I got the idea.
Nevertheless we continued to watch Miss America together, a bonding exercise, up until I reached my teen years. At that point I was getting rather sick of hearing how I failed to measure up. However, one day Dad had a brainstorm. “Tuck your hair behind your ears,” he ordered. “Follow my lead.”
I tried hard and concentrated. “They’re moving,” he whispered. “Hey kids,” he called out to my brothers. “Get in here. Bring your mother!”
With my family gathered ‘round, I practiced in the mirror. My ears definitely knew how to dance. And, even better, no one else in the family— outside of Dad—had inherited this particular talent. For a brief moment, I was recognized as someone special, someone talented.
For the rest of my childhood though I watched in vain for a Miss America candidate to demonstrate my aural dexterity. Never happened. So I had a talent, but now what? No way was I demonstrating ear wiggling in front of a TV audience.
To this day I possess this quirky ability. I prefer to keep it a secret unless I’m babysitting for a small child without preconceived ideas of what constitutes a talent, a child who just wants to laugh with me, a child who will accept me as I am. One who tunes into the music in my words, moves her feet to my dancing rhythms, thrills to the colors in my sketches.
And by the way, I eventually discovered I was a real writer all along.
Janet’s award-winning satiric novel is Dream Job: Wacky Adventures of an HR Manager.