By Laurel Hermanson.
I was five years old. It was a white hot summer in upstate New York and I was playing with a neighbor kid, Maureen Hammill. We crouched on the curb of my family’s big corner lot and poked at the tar bubbling up in the street. Our fathers talked about the Dutch elm disease that was taking the trees in the neighborhood, block by block. I sat back on the grass and crisscrossed my skinny legs and tried to wipe tar off my white sneakers. Mr. Hammill looked down at me and said, “Well, aren’t you pretty!” I had never thought of myself as pretty or ugly or anything in between, but I smiled like crazy at that compliment.