It is grainy and gray, faded and fragile to the touch, a newspaper clipping from 1966. I am bent over it with a combination of amusement and incredulity. The caption says that it is a photograph of Girl Scout Troop 370 on a field trip to the Statesboro Herald. It identifies the 20 or so girls, row by row. There in the middle is my name.
I don't remember the visit to the newspaper. I don't remember Mr. Coleman showing us the printing press. I recognize very few of the faces in the photo. That is the incredulity. The amusement arises from the smile — the goofy, tight-lipped grin — on the face of the little girl that was Kathy Bradley. I can't help laughing out loud.
And I can't help staring.
Ten years old. That would be fifth grade. Mrs. Trapnell's class at Mattie Lively. That was the year my friend, Gail, got rheumatic fever, the year I got so good playing marbles with the boys at recess, the year I got my long ponytail cut. It was the year I went to Mrs. Russell's classroom for reading, was the narrator of the end-of-school program and spent a week in June at Camp Safety Patrol.
I remember all that, but I don't remember this imp, this scamp, this child who might just burst at any moment from the sheer volume of joy that has risen up through her chest and into her face. What has made her so cheerful? Is it the jaunty green felt beret? Is it the excitement of the field trip? Or is it just being 10 years old?
"The great thing about getting older," Madeleine L'Engle, the writer best known for her children's fantasy books, once told the New York Times, "is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been." The quote comes to mind later as I find myself contemplating the little girl with the silly smile. If I have not lost her, where is she?
Certainly she remains in my still-strong penchant for the cookies she sold, but I am not certain that I can detect her features in the face I see in the mirror each morning. I cannot swear that her curiosity or self-confidence or insouciance lingers in the posture I feel compelled to maintain most days. And I am absolutely sure she is not racing me to bed on the nights when life's inevitable blows leave me spent in body and spirit.
It wasn't so many days later that I saw a couple of Girl Scouts camped out at a grocery store entrance, card table covered in cookie pyramids of Thin Mints, Trefoils, Tagalongs and Samoas. I watched from a distance, listened to their sing-song voices call out, "Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?" I was stopped cold.
The words, the timbre, the chill in the air became the shaped notes of a song I knew by heart, its sheet music locked in a bottom drawer of my memory. Right then, right there, the 10-year-old me showed up from wherever she'd been hiding, vacationing, held ransom.
She dropped a cool, slick marble in my hand and my thumb bent to shoot it. She handed me a Blue Horse notebook and I spread the pages open across its spiral wire to see fat, loopy cursive vocabulary words. She offered me a pair of stark white Keds with a blue rubber label on the heel and I tightened the laces to go outside to play dodge ball.
I looked down to straighten my badge sash and when I looked back up, she was gone. Except, of course, she wasn't. She was exactly where she'd always been. With me. Inside me. Me.
I will always be 10 years old. And 15. And 30. And 40. I just may need to be reminded.