Michael J. Allen

Class of 2018 - 2019

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Car Wash


Leila Walker


9th Grade

Medford High

Gold Medal winning Essay


It was one of those silly little games that we played back when there was no homework and no sports practice, and our biggest fear was not being allowed to have dessert. Just me and my brother, letting our imaginations run wild. I was two years his senior, and he followed me around like a shadow. He was my little minion, there to do my bidding. He was my echo, repeating everything I said in the high-pitched squeak of a four-year-old. We must have played this game a hundred times, but one time stands out more clearly in my memory.

Mom was in the kitchen starting dinner, Dad was still at work, and we were getting restless. Motionless streams of soft afternoon sunlight were suspended in the air, illuminating a thousand floating dust particles. I sat on the couch, briefly mesmerized by these yet to be explained everyday wonders. Eyes still drawn to the light beams, a thought popped into my head. “Mike, let’s play carwash.” I said. It was more of a statement rather than a suggestion. “Yeah! Let’s play carwash!” repeated my brother, an octave higher. He was excitedly agreeing, but really he was just accepting. His mop of thick blond hair jumped with him as he ungracefully leapt off the couch and headed toward the stairs.

We ran up the sixteen worn, wooden steps that we had counted a thousand times and grabbed the plastic storage box from the endless abyss beneath my brother’s bed. We each took one side of the box that probably weighed at least half as much as Mike himself. With caution, we slowly walked down the stairs, and once we got to the bottom, we dragged it on the ground toward the red, patterned living room carpet. I clicked it open, and we beheld the treasure inside.

We were in our own little world. The battered box of mismatched matchbox cars came alive before us, and each time we picked up a car it was like we were discovering it for the first time. We giddily giggled in aching anticipation as the cars screamed wash me, wash me!

I don’t know how many of them were actually in there but back then it seemed as though there were millions of those matchbox cars, and they all needed a pretend carwash. We made an endless line that snaked all the way back up the stairs. The gray little toy carwash sat in the middle of the floor, awaiting a sea of sedans and school buses, minivans and monster trucks, racecars and one gleaming red double decker bus. Each car was special in its own way. Some had doors that opened or steering wheels that moved. Some had trunks that opened, and some of the trucks were perfect for storing little treasures like buttons, paperclips, thumbtacks, and scraps of brightly colored paper. Some were plain and some had sports team logos or names of real grocery stores. Our favorites were the ones that, if you drove them backwards then let go, they would shoot forward all by themselves.

I also loved to make up stories about who was in the cars. We laughed and laughed as I did the voice of the tough racecar driver, the family members in the minivan, the children in the school bus. Each car was like a blank page, and it was up to us to write its story. One by one, each car took its turn driving up the sticker adorned ramp, squeezing under the lemon colored sponge, going down the exit ramp, and crashing into the growing heap of “clean” cars. I was in charge of actually putting the cars through the car wash, and I assigned Mike the task of running up and down the row of cars and moving them towards their destination. My job was more important and more fun, but hey, I was the older one so it was my choice right? We were almost done with the cars, when the double decker bus was ready to be washed. “I wanna wash it!” exclaimed Mike.

“No, I’m going to.” I replied firmly.

Noooooooo!” He squealed, “I wanna, I wanna!”

“No!” I replied again.

No! No! No! I want to, I want to!”

By now, he was starting to get really upset but this had happened before and I had learned that if I said no enough times he would eventually back down, and I would get my way. I could just wear him down or bribe him. The beauty of bribing a four-year-old is that he would completely forget and I would never have to pay up. “No, Michael. No.” I said in my best grown-up voice. I only called him Michael when I was mad at him. I picked up the bus, ready to pull the I’ll-give-you-a-piece-of-my-candy card, but before I could put it on the car wash, he grabbed it. I pulled at it and snarled, “Mikey, give it back to me. Now.” He started to whimper, however, he still decided not follow this command and stubbornly stood his ground. This was very unusual. He was defying me. Standing up to his big sister. Refusing to give in. I was not used to this and it made me angry. How dare he? He was supposed to do whatever I told him to. I was the boss, I was in charge. Even so, I knew that I was bigger and stronger and I could have fought and taken the car. He would have cried and I would have been admonished, but I would have gotten my way. But for some unexplainable reason, I was able to take a figurative step back and think to myself C’mon Leila, you are the bigger one here, and he doesn’t know any better. Be nice. Let him have the bus. You don’t want to get yelled at. And you just know he is going to cry. C’mon, he’ll be happy and you will have been a good big sister. So I reluctantly let go of the bus and watched as my brother’s on-the-verge-of-tears look quickly evolved into a smile. I let him do the rest of the cars too. He let out a joyful “Yessssssss!” Then I tickled him because he was the most ticklish person in the world and I knew that would make him laugh. He tackled me with a hug and I smiled, marveling at how easy it had been to turn this situation from one that would have ended in tears, to one that ended in giggles. It made me feel older and more responsible. Victorious even. I realized that sometimes letting someone else have a chance could make me feel better than if I had gotten my way.

Like so many other games we played, I still can’t remember why exactly we thought this was so fun and exciting. Maybe it was how funny it was to see my father have to step over the cars as he opened the front door with a humored “Well what do we have here?” Perhaps it was the way we laughed as the racecar zoom-zoom-zoomed through the car wash or the way we made little voices for the children on the school bus. Maybe it was simply the joy of pretend. Whatever it was, for me that game stood out because it made me realize that I wasn’t always going to be able to make him do whatever I wanted. He was going to make his own choices, and I was going to have to let him.





Leila Walker

Period 6

An Afternoon at The Farmer’s Market

One warm, buttery August day while vacationing in the quiet Canadian countryside, my mother and I take a trip to the farmer’s market. We park on the side of the road and walk up to the small parking lot filled with tents of all shapes and sizes, streams of carefree customers lazily weaving in and out. An aura of contented commotion is present all over as we become part of the river of people. I can hear a mix of French and English floating through the air: regular customers speaking half and half trying to get the best deal, vendors conversing with each other in rapid French, and tourists attempting to figure out prices. The air around me is warm, dry and filled with the scent of fragrant flowers and freshly baked bread. Gentle rays of afternoon sun tickle my shoulders and warm my back. It is an ideal day to go searching for tasty treasures.

Oooh Leila, look at those! How beautiful!” exclaims my mother, pointing to a tent near where we are standing. A man with a sandy blond ponytail and a worn tie-dye t-shirt stands behind his white plastic table and eagerly makes a pitch for his product.

They’re totally organic, man, and I assemble them myself!” On his table are piles and piles of bouquets of miniature heads of garlic, with the stems, intertwined with small, brightly colored purple, pink, yellow, and orange flowers. The infinite layers of rippled, papery white skin set a contrasting backdrop for the bursts of color. The man beams down at his handiwork like they are his children.

We just have to get one don’t you think? They’re so pretty!”marvels my mother. One ends up turning in to three (“Don’t you think your aunt and grandmother would just love these?”), and because my mother is just that type of person, we embark on a lengthy discussion about where the garlic comes from, when it’s harvested, and the rest of the man’s life story until we finally move on.

Near the garlic man is a small, almost unnoticeable tent that from a distance appears to be unoccupied. As we walk up to it however, I notice a tiny, slouching, elderly woman whose head is barely visible over the small mountain of neatly wrapped homemade soaps and cheeses. I hear the click click click of knitting needles and notice a weathered, wrinkled hand rhythmically bobbing up and down. I open my mouth to say something but my mother has already begun picking some out. I run my fingers over the crisp white paper the soaps are wrapped in and pick one up. I hold it up to my nose and inhale the smell of rich goat’s milk, sweet honey, and soothing chamomile, oatmeal, and lavender. “Can I get this one?” I ask my mother quietly.

Mmmhmmm.” She replies, not glancing up as she carefully counts the small packages she has picked out. “We’ll take all of these,” she says to the woman, handing her money and showing her how many we have decided to purchase. Unlike the lively prattle of the garlic man, not a word escapes the woman as she gives my mother change. Instead, after we say thank you, she simply nods and goes back to her knitting.

On the edge of the market is an uncovered table occupied by a young man sporting a goatee. He is surrounded by stacks and stacks of Belgian waffles. As we draw closer, it hits me. The warm, tantalizing, sugary sweet, mouthwatering smell that is wafting from the tiny toaster oven that sits on the table next to the man. I look up at my mother with wide puppy dog eyes. “Please?” I innocently implore.

Of course!” my mother laughs as she rolls her eyes. “But you have to get it yourself,” she adds, raising her eyebrows. Uh oh. I’m ten years old, but I’m horribly shy around strangers and suddenly the few yards between the waffles and me seem like a few miles. I bite my lip and ponder that for a split second, but my stomach growls and I hold my hand out. “OK, fine.” I say firmly as she hands me some money. I walk up to the table and the man looks down at me with a friendly smile.

You would like a waffle eh?” he asks

Yes, please.” I reply, my eyes taking in the mass of waffles instead of looking the vendor in the eye.

Small or large?”

Um, small.” I look back at my mother who nods with approval.

Warm?” It’s summer, but obviously this waffle must be eaten warm.

Yes, please!” I quickly respond, my cheeks flushing as my voice cracks, and I hear people behind me chuckle. I pay for my waffle, and a few minutes later, legs shaking like jell-o, I am walking back to my mother while holding a wonderfully warm waffle. “Ooo, that looks yummy!” says my mother, getting an eye roll in return. I pause to admire my treat, and then I take a bite. It’s perfect. It’s hot and crunchy on the outside and warm and soft on the inside. It melts in my mouth, leaving a sweet maple aftertaste. I make it last, taking small, slow bites as we make our way to the next tent.

The next tent we come to is extremely popular, resulting in a large crowd of people clambering to get to the front, like they are trying to get someone’s autograph. Breads of all different shapes and sizes are piled on top of one another, their golden, flaky crusts reflecting the late summer sun. Some loaves are adorned with seeds or fancy, swirling designs. Others are dusted with a thin layer of flour, or decorated with oats. “Pardon moi,” says my mother to one of the multiple vendors to get their attention. She then speaks in the slow, well articulated French she learned in school, while pointing to several loaves. The vendor looks briefly stunned at the fact that this touristy-looking woman was speaking to her in French, but she quickly recovers and begins to put the selected loaves into crisp brown paper bags for us. My mother smiles to herself like a student who just proved the teacher wrong; obviously proud that she can still remember enough French to put it to good use. “Merci beaucoup.” says my mother, still smiling.

De rien Madame.” replies the flustered young woman.

Throughout the afternoon, we come across a multitude of different stalls. There are multiple stands selling a variety of homemade jams and preserves in glass mason jars, each claiming to be the best. Many sell maple products that attract the tourists like bees to honey. All around are farms boasting the freshest produce, organic eggs, and occasionally even meat or fish. As we begin to make our way back to the car, I turn around and take it all in for a minute: the energy, the colors, the smells. They find a nice, cozy spot in my memory and settle in forever.