Sunday, October 25, 2009

ESSAY #3 CONTRAST ESSAY: Revised (Assigned 10-23-2009)

Carolyn and Mary have been best friends since Kindergarten. Typically, Carolyn will spend every Friday night at her friend's house, so early the next morning, they can walk to the Auburndale Playground together. Mary's backyard abuts the park and this Saturday morning around 7:45 AM, the girls walk beside their bicycles down a dirt path which meanders through a stand of tall pine trees to the Playground by the Charles River.

Both girls are excited today. It is the Open House for their Summer Day Camp which will officially begin the following Monday. Earlier that morning, they each stuffed their brown leather saddlebags with what they thought they would need for the day. The necessities include: a camera, a bag lunch, a hair brush (the camp is co-ed), a roll of pennies, a signed pink permission slip allowing them to participate in the field trip to the Boston Museum of Science on Wednesday and the yellow registration forms containing personal information and eligibility requirements including the stipulation of one having to be 11 by September 1st. Carolyn turned 11 three months earlier but Mary satisfied that requirement by just one day.

In many ways, the girls are very much alike. They both enjoy riding their bicycles, cookouts, and swimming in the summertime. But their differences in: personality, what they like to eat, and how each plans to spend their allowance is clearly evident.

Mary’s personality is outgoing and can appear to be forward at times. At any playground event or school function, Mary has no reservations about approaching someone (older, younger, girl or boy); she has never met before and immediately initiate a conversation. On the plus side, she usually learns they have a relative in common; a mutual friend somewhere, or they have visited the same landmarks around the state. Carolyn, on the other hand, is more reserved, shy, and may be misunderstood as being a bit snobbish. To her, if she has not been formally introduced to someone by a teacher, older sister, or another adult, they are all “strangers”. And Carolyn does not speak to strangers.

Mary and Carolyn also have their individual preferences as to how they like their food prepared. Mary’s parents own a café in town and serve authentic Italian cuisine. Mary likes her food all mixed together, heavily seasoned and puts garlic on just about everything. Carolyn has acquired a nickname of “Plain Jane” at this residence because she prefers her food …well, plain.

Today, while the girls watch Mary’s Dad cook the hot dogs, sausages, and two hamburgers on the grill, Mary’s Mom brings a warm platter from the kitchen and sets it down beside them. She is quick to comment she will be right back. She returns with a tray from the refrigerator and places it next to Carolyn. It has sliced, vine-ripened, juicy, red, tomatoes, freshly chopped onions, sliced cucumbers, iceberg lettuce, two, crisp Kosher Dill pickles, three whole radishes, two dry, pitted black olives, two slices of Kraft Yellow, American Cheese, and two, plain hamburger buns.

Mary reaches for the first platter. She takes a hearty serving of the antipasto made with warm, buttery, stuffed mushrooms, roasted garlic, assorted sautéed pickles, steaming artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, pickled onions, and ricotta cheese. Mary’s Dad places a Sweet Italian sausage and a Kayem hot dog on two slices of bruschetta and hands it to his daughter.

Carolyn, on the other hand, holds her plate up while Mary’s Dad places a well-done hamburger and a hot dog on each bun. The girls each reach for a Shasta Orange Soda from the cooler and go sit on the blanket beside an above ground pool. The girls banter as to how certain foods each taste best when served warm or cold. Neither will concede.

Food is not the only thing the girls cannot agree upon. Mary and Carolyn have strong opposing opinions about spending or saving money too. Each now receives an allowance for chores they do around the house. As they wade in the pool after supper, they each speak their mind.

Mary believes money is to be spent. She compares it to air and breathing. Carolyn’s eyes open wide in disbelief as she listens to her friend state her case: “You take some in, and then you let some out”, Mary says. “It is called an economy, if everyone suddenly stopped spending, stopped breathing, the economy would deflate and collapse. It would just stop.“ Carolyn shakes her head in bewilderment. “You’ve got to plan on saving up for something, maybe even something big, Mary, or worse yet, a rainy day,” Carolyn explains.

Carolyn tries to solicit the idea of a budget, similar to the one her parents suggested to her but to no avail. The Good Humor Truck is making its nightly route through the Playground parking lot and Mary has already motioned him to pull over. Mary rides her bicycle to the end of the driveway, opens her leather saddle bag and hands the vendor her roll of pennies. He hands her back one grape Popsicle and no change.

Pleased with her purchase, Mary returns smiling and places the Popsicle on the edge of the picnic table and gives it a quick, firm snap. It splits unevenly, and Mary gives the larger half to Carolyn.

Watching Mary and Carolyn grow up together, I imagine where you have two extremes, there is enough allowance to pull a little to either side without ever crossing the line that defines each. There is no need nor place for competition. Just a constant, even, strength that keeps the balance in check.


  1. Can I copy and use this in the future? When I get wannabe good writers complaining that the five-graf format is limited, narrow, mechanical, forced, and artificial, I'd love to show them this: smooth, natural, easy, sweet, organic.

    Only thing I'd suggest: shame to give us an unevenly split popsicle in the next to last graf and then talk in the last graf about pulling to this side or the other and not pull in that very same popsicle, somehow.

  2. John, glad you liked this essay. Yes, ofcourse, you may use this, if you like. I almost put this last paragraph in but thought it might be getting too long here and/or too meloncoly. Your thoughts?

    Mary and Carolyn shared many popsicles together that summer and for many more summers after that. Someyears,those popsicles seemed to split perfectly even down the center and each had an equal half. Other times, it split erratically from side to side, the frozen ice barely clinging to its wooden stick. Such is Life. None the less, when each one would extend their portion forward and place them side by side, like the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, it would be made whole once again.

  3. Well, damn, yes! That's exactly the graf I wanted! But I'm worried that you discarded it--good writing, poor judgment!

    Your job is to do the writing and see where it goes: long, short, melancholy, chipper....

  4. John,
    I revised the last graf on the 26th, don't think you saw that one yet? Comments show "0".

    When I reread the last graf (shown above here), the day after I wrote it, it almost sounded as though there could have been tiffs between Mary and I over the years. I did not want to mislead the reader in that direction. It has been anything but.

    The erratic splits were referring to life events. Mary lost both parents and only sibling to cancers, her divorce, etc. My spouse was deployed twice to Vietnam, my child needed an organ transplant, etc.

    Your thoughts on which one I should we keep?