“The Backward, Upside-Down Girl,” Friend, Oct. 1989, 42
The little girl’s black hair was as shiny as patent leather, and her bright ebony eyes seemed to hardly ever blink. She was always so busy examining something, turning it upside down or inside out, that blinking seemed a waste of time.
Lynette Wood was her name, but she preferred being called Ettenyl. People laughed and nodded tolerantly at one another. And her mother humored her when she remembered to, which wasn’t very often. “What’s that you said your name was?” she would ask. Why couldn’t they remember? Lynette wondered, then decided that there was nothing to be done except to answer to both names. Once in a while even Lynette forgot, especially when she was involved with turning something inside out.
“Lynette! Lynette! I’ve called you to supper five times! If I have to call again, I’m going to give your share to the dog!” her mother threatened.
“You didn’t call me by my name,” Ettenyl muttered, but she hurried inside, anyway.
The little girl was usually happy. Her mother let her take clocks apart, and she laughed when Ettenyl made sand buckets into hats. When she built towers that tottered on one small block with six across the top, her father said that she was smart. Every time she turned around to look, the shapes of things changed. If she walked backward and watched, the trees changed colors and got smaller.
When the leaves grew scarlet and her mother said, “Lynette, it’s time for you to go to school,” Ettenyl was excited and a little scared.
Her teacher, Miss Morris, had beautiful, flowing, golden hair. It fell across her eyes, and great blue circles peered through like discs on a magic screen. Ettenyl was so enchanted that she forgot to answer a question that the teacher had asked her. The teacher frowned and pushed away the golden curtain. Her voice slashed at the little girl. Ettenyl’s stomach tightened up and tried to run away inside her body. She caught her stomach and sat very still with her hands pressed against it.
The next day Ettenyl was determined to do better. She labored hard over the paper, printing her name. Try as she might, she could not get the pencil to make the lovely round circles. Finally she got all the letters copied. She was the last one to finish, but her last letter was the best circle that she had ever made.
“That’s very good, Lynette,” her teacher said, “but this last letter isn’t quite right. Your last name is Wood.” The teacher pointed to Ettenyl’s “perfect” little circle and said, “You have written Woob.” She corrected it with a big, red mark.
Ettenyl’s stomach revolted. She sat still and tight.
The teacher held out a pencil and said, “Please write the d correctly at the end of your name.”
Ettenyl couldn’t move; her hands were stiff from holding her stomach.
“Lynette, please take the pencil.”
She took the pencil and drew a straight line.
“Good. Now put the circle on it.”
Ettenyl bit her lip, and she managed to draw a squarish circle.
“No, Lynette. That’s a b. Your name ends with a d, like this.” The teacher demonstrated.
Ettenyl spent the rest of the week trying to do it right. But each time that she tried, Miss Morris looked so disappointed that Ettenyl started to cry, and the children teased her about it on the playground.
The following week Miss Morris asked Ettenyl’s mother to come to school for a conference after classes were over.
“Don’t look like that, Lynette,” her mother said. “I’m just going to talk with her. Lots of parents visit with their children’s teachers at school.”
Ettenyl went home and waited and waited. Just when she thought that she couldn’t stand it any longer, she noticed the rocket plane that she had made the day before. She had tossed it into the air to make it fly, and now it leaned at a rakish angle against the table leg. Suddenly she had an idea. If she removed the tips of the wings, turned the body on end, and stuck the wings on the bottom, it would be a robot. She was so engrossed with her project that she didn’t notice when her mother came home.
Every night after that, Ettenyl’s mother helped her read and write. Sometimes it took so long that her mother bit her lip angrily. Ettenyl’s stomach hurt, and she hated going to school. The letters floated like the noodles in her alphabet soup. She burst into tears.
“Lynette! Stop crying! You can’t do anything if you cry!” Her mother was cross. Ettenyl cried louder. “Why are you crying?”
“I can’t read. I’m stupid!” she blubbered soggily.
“Oh, Lynette, you’re not stupid. Reading is very hard work,” her mother comforted her.
“You’re mad at me.”
“I’m impatient. Being patient is hard work for me just like reading is hard work for you.”
Ettenyl had an idea. “If you have to help me read, then I can help you to be patient,” she offered.
“That’s a good idea!” her mother agreed.
They worked and worked and worked, and finally Ettenyl put the letters in the right order, even though she knew that there were other ways to see them. After reading, Ettenyl turned her toys inside out. She learned to make one toy into a helicopter, a boat, and even a funny-looking person.
“That’s wonderful!” her mother laughed. “What is it?”
“It’s a ‘twistup.’ I can twist it all up—see?”
As Ettenyl grew up, she invented more twistups, and she became a famous toy maker by turning things inside out and upside down for happy children. Grown-up Ettenyl called herself Lynette and almost forgot her old name. Eventually she married and had a fine son, Kevin, who had shiny black hair and bright eyes that almost never blinked. She read him stories and turned him upside down until he squealed with delight. One day she took Kevin river-rafting. They loved bouncing and swirling in the rushing water, but no matter how she tried, they always went through the biggest rapids backward.
“I can’t see where we’re going,” Kevin complained.
“That’s the way Ettenyl would do it,” his mother answered.
“Who?” he asked.
She just smiled mysteriously and said, “Wasn’t it fun that way? Hold on tight!”
They laughed together as they swooshed backward through another wall of foamy water.