The Trestle by Jicca Smith
Jicca is a sixth-generation South Islander, now living in Auckland after twenty years in London. Her career has been at the interface of legal research, teaching, libraries and information literacy. She loves being home re-connecting with family and sharing memories.
I am lifted up, up into the sun and planted on a wooden trestle table, my younger sister and several other equally surprised toddlers set down beside me. There’s a huge crowd of strange faces pressing towards us on all four sides. I stand fixed to the spot, scared, there is nothing behind me, watchful but also aware that as the oldest at age four, I have to behave.
My three year-old sister stands in front of me, equally resolute, staying close, eyeing the crowd. But the little ones in nappies are already crying, bleating loud distress calls to mothers who shush them, saying “stay there, stay there”. We two are dry-eyed. We know we are to stand still and show off our new togs, ruched at the top and ballooning out, then in again with wide pleats lined in white. An unusually expensive buy in heavy cotton, hers in yellow (my favourite colour) and mine in dark red.
It’s the Highfield School Fair 1962 and this is the Cutest Kid competition. Mum is watching and somewhere in the crowd my grandfather moves, silently recording us for his Cine Club showing later, his movie camera his pride and joy. I am oblivious to that. There’s so much happening on this shaky podium of tears and fear. Cardboard squares with large numbers on them are being handed out. The distressed children are being further cajoled not soothed. “Turn it around” “up the other way”. People laugh at their confusion. I feel immune to this as well. I might not know many numbers, but I know which way round they go and help my sister too.
But I am not immune to everything. Close by, big school boys are pushing forward in the crowd, banging on the trestle with rolled up comics, unrestrained and boisterous. They are looking right at me, my short brown hair pinned up in a topknot, my bright togs, my chubby child body. I am, at age four, already under the spotlight of the male gaze, however innocent.
A flash as large as a saucer explodes and the local newspaper has their photo for tomorrow. Beside it a column describing how small girl children in bathing suits, were assessed, ranked and judged. My shy blonde sister the winner, myself the runner-up.
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