From Chicken Soup for the Preteen Soul


When we begin to take our failures non-seriously, it means we are ceasing to be afraid of them. It is of immense importance to learn to laugh at ourselves.

Katherine Mansfield

Redsy was not only the class clown, he was the class terror because he was fearless. He was always in trouble with Miss Farley, our first-grade teacher. Miss Farley couldn’t punish him enough to change his behavior. He did whatever he wanted to do, no matter what. He was also the smartest kid you ever saw. We were at the beginning of our first year of school, and Redsy could already count all the way up to one hundred.

But Redsy had a little problem. He couldn’t say the th sound. He couldn’t say the word “three”—it came out as “free.” It drove Miss Farley crazy because she thought that he could do it right if he only tried harder. Every time Redsy would get caught doing something wrong, Miss Farley would keep him after school and make him practice his th’s.

One Friday afternoon, Miss Farley announced that we were all going to count up to one hundred the following Monday. Sure enough, when Monday rolled around, Redsy was the first one to be called on by Miss Farley to come to the front of the class and count.

As he passed her in the aisle, Miss Farley grabbed his sleeve and their eyes met. She was a mean old woman who strictly insisted on having things done her way. I remember not ever wanting to look her in the eye. We were all terrified of her, except for Redsy. He wasn’t afraid of anything.

Redsy started counting fast and furiously the instant he
reached the front. “One, two, FREE, four, five . . . ” The
class snickered and Miss Farley started to get red in the
face. Redsy got a little flustered too, because he realized
what he had just done. He had told us in the schoolyard,
before class, that he was going to do it right. On he went:
“Ten, eleven, twelve, FIRTEEN . . . ” The rest of us began to
giggle and stifled laughter broke out here and there. Miss
Farley stood up and glared at the class. We all stopped
and became quiet as Redsy flew on into the twenties.

Then the magic moment arrived. Redsy got to twenty-nine and when he did, the class held its collective breath in unison. Redsy met Miss Farley’s stare with utter disregard and cried out, “TWENTY N-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-NE . . . FIRDY!” Then Redsy flew on in a continuous, nonstop torrent, “Firdy-one, firdy-two, firdy-free . . . ” with a huge smile on his face. The entire class exploded in laughter. We were seeing Redsy at his best—he knew just exactly what he was doing! Our laughter was much more important to Redsy than was Miss Farley’s wrath. Miss Farley lunged at Redsy to get him to stop, but he dodged her as easily as a rabbit and continued, “Firdy-four, firdy-five . . .” to a rising din of uncontrolled laughter.

The laughter continued through the forties. When he reached the fifties, the laughter began to subside, and Redsy slowed his pace as he continued to dodge Miss Farley’s now-feeble attempts to grab him as he ran back and forth in front of the class. She finally gave up and sat down at her desk, and Redsy picked up the pace. As he flew past “Ninety-free . . . ” no one uttered a sound because we all were afraid of what would happen when he got to the end.

“Ninety N-I-I-I-I-NE . . . one hundred!” he bellowed. Then silence.

Miss Farley remained at her desk with her head lowered, her face in her hands. She was shaking uncontrollably and we became alarmed. After a long moment, she lifted her head and laughter burst out of her like the breaking of a dam. Then the entire class joined in, including Redsy.

Miss Farley finally agreed, for the first time in her long teaching career, that she had been had by the best.

Barry Fireman

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