All of the first grade girls at Converse Street School were gathered in the assembly hall for a special meeting with Mrs. Resnick, the P.E. teacher. Outside, the golden leaves lay soggy like cornflakes, stirred in their sidewalk bowls by autumn winds. Inside we sat on freshly polished oak floors, listening to Mrs. Resnick share her breathless news. This was looking like something important!
"Girls, the junior high will be performing the play, Jack and the Beanstalk, and five of our first grade girls will be chosen today to play the parts of Jack's magic beans. Now," she exhaled, "will all the girls who would like to be beans in the play - AND who have had ballet lessons - please stand."
"Well," I thought, "I definitely want to be a bean, and I haven't exactly had ballet lessons, but I have been thinking about taking ballet lessons, and I certainly know how to dance in my own bedroom in front of my mirror. I do that all the time!" So I stood with the other fifteen or so girls wearing nearly identical plaid dresses with petticoats that made our skirts stand out, white ankle socks, and sturdy Buster Brown strap shoes with scuffed toes. It was 1953 in the heart of New England, and we dressed as we were told, behaved as we were expected (all but one little girl who hadn't really had ballet lessons)."All right, girls, the rest of you will please watch and help me decide who will be the magic beans! I need to choose five fine dancers. Each girl with ballet training will now show us a few steps, and then we will vote on our favorites. The ones with the most votes will become magic beans!" She pressed her hands to her ample bosom, truly thrilled to be a part of such an honor.
This bit of news had taken a turn in my understanding of how one became a magic bean. I was going to dance in front of all my friends, and in front of kids I hadn’t even spoken to before? I wanted to rejoin those girls who were seated cross-legged on the oak floor before me. But I couldn't move. I was frozen in fear, but still wanting to be a magic bean. I decided to remain in place and somehow avoid my turn at dancing. Something would turn up in my favor, I was sure.
My next door neighbor and playmate, Carol, went first, showing us a few pirouettes with a lovely arabesque. I was impressed! These were moves I had not seen in my bedroom mirror at home, but cataloged as something to try when I had a chance later after school. Next Linda tippy-toed with arms
arched gracefully above her. "Also very nice," I thought. Then came Mary Ellen who was magnificent in her athletic ability, leaping as across the entire assembly hall, not once, but several times to great applause. "Very impressive," I thought. Betsy was shy but well trained, arching her back, chin high, and pointing her toes in various positions she called first, second, third,
fourth, and fifth. "Surely there must be more than just five!" I thought to myself.
Then I heard my own name. "Will MaryAnn please come forward?" And I did because I didn't know quite else what to do. My shoes made an echoed tapping sound as I walked to the center of the hall. There I stood silently, completely still, head down, eyes on the floor. So many colors were mixed into that golden oak wood. I wanted to disappear into their swirls and knots.
"Please, dear, show us a few steps of your ballet - perhaps a little dance you have learned." My eyes remained on the floor. "MaryAnn, are you ready? Just anything will do."
I looked up at Mrs. Resnick, noting droplets of perspiration sitting on her pink forehead and nose, her PE teacher dress looking tight across her front. There was chalk dust in a straight line across her thighs. She was smiling in a strange way, begging me to begin. I felt I had no choice but to talk my way out of this.
"I haven't been to my lessons for a long time. I don't remember anything right now," I said, convinced that this would end the issue.
"Just anything, dear. Please. Don't be afraid. Go on now. Begin, please!"
I could hear in her voice that I had no choice, none at all. I decided I must dance. "Well, I guess I do know this one little dance my teacher taught me, but it isn't very good," I lied, hoping that no one would blame me for what they were about to see.
"Anything, MaryAnn. Please begin. Just begin. There you go."
And I did begin. First with little steps and stiff arms, then adding a leap or two, then spinning, watching my skirt spread out beneath me with the force of my turns. I felt free and graceful. I added my own singing voice to inspire my moves, my arms beginning to find their way to express the dance I was making up as it grew in its intensity and daring. I felt good about how it must look to my audience, especially with my vocal accompaniment, and began to add a few hops and jumps which were noisier than I had expected, but still giving impact to my artistic expression.
"MaryAnn, Dear...MaryAnn! That will do!" Mrs. Resnick shouted above my singing, trying to get my attention. "Thank you. Please, dear. Please sit down!" I could just barely hear Mrs. Resnick's voice intrude upon my performance. I ended with a deep curtsey, feeling that I had discovered ballet at its most spectacular. I was pleased with my performance as I took my seat on the oak floor. I could see the faces of my friends smiling broadly. Were they dazzled or entertained? I was pleased as could be with my fine performance. Surely I would be chosen the queen of all the magic beans, if there was a queen.
The remaining girls auditioned their pliés and their arabesques, “None with singing or spinning skirt, but very nice indeed,” I assessed with all my new found ballet experience. Then they were done. It was time for the vote.
"Girls, I would like each and every one of you to put your heads down and close your eyes. Then I will ask you to vote for your very favorite ballet bean by raising your hand when I call that girls' name. The five beans with the most votes will be in the high school play this November. All right then, all eyes closed, let's begin."
All heads went down, eyes closed. No one peeked in 1953. And the tally began. When I heard my name, I raised my hand. I was my favorite and was not afraid to vote. Surely my hand would not be the only one raised in my favor. Finally, all of the voting was done and the count was made.
"You may open your eyes now," Mrs. Resnick instructed.
As we opened our eyes and rubbed away that blurred shadowy feeling, replacing it with the brightness of the assembly hall lights, we chattered and giggled and patted down our dresses over our bare legs crossed beneath us. My heart was thumping in anticipation. I listened and waited, hoping that I was a magic bean, believing I should be, but not really knowing if I would be. And would I be the queen bean? Afterall, I was the only dancer who sang!
"Very well, girls. Quiet down, now. My, but isn't this exciting? We have the results now. These five girls will be the magic beans chosen by all of you to appear in the fall junior high play, Jack and the Beanstalk. I must add that all of you were entirely wonderful. I am sure it was very difficult for you to choose just one favorite. Now, the results! Please come forward when your name is called."
"Linda, please come up here, dear. Yes, that's right. Stand right up here in front of all your friends." Linda beamed and stood straight, arms at her sides. "Yes, and now Betsy. Next to Linda, please. Now, Mary Ellen, Carol, MaryAnn."
"MaryAnn!" I thought, "that's me! I'm a bean!" I jumped up smiling and stood next to Carol. We held hands and smiled at each other, neighbors since kindergarten; our moms, best friends.
The assembly hall buzzed with excitement as Mrs. Resnick dismissed the rest of the girls, asking The Magic Beans to remain after for further information about performing as dancers in the play. There was no mention of a queen bean, but my thoughts were rapidly leaving that imagined magnificence behind as my attention danced after Mrs. Resnick's words and the discussion moved to ... COSTUMES!