Betsy Ross’s Star Monday
Something funky was going on. Sure, to anyone else sitting in our third-grade social studies class, things seemed normal. But I could tell. They weren’t normal at all.
Mr. C was sitting on the edge of his desk, like usual.
His hair was messy. His suit a disaster. His bow tie sideways. All normal.
He’d been five minutes late to class, just like he was every Monday.
So what was the problem? It was the question he asked to start the period.
It was more like a nonquestion. It was a statement, really. He said, “Share something you know about Elizabeth Claypoole.” At our blank stares, he cleared his throat and said, “You know her by the name Betsy Ross.”
Most people wouldn’t think there is anything wrong with a teacher telling his class to share. But anyone who knows Mr. C and is really curious, like me, would be immediately suspicious. Mr. Caruthers always, and I mean always, starts class on Monday with a “what-if” question. Like, “What if Betsy Ross quit and never sewed the first American flag?”
I love Mr. C’s “what-if” questions. His questions are the best part of social studies. Today Mr. C didn’t ask “what-if” anything. That’s how I knew something freaky was going on.
I sit at a table with my three best friends, Jacob, Zack, and the new kid in school, Bo. Bo’s real name is Roberto, but no one ever calls him that.
I leaned over toward Zack, who was sitting right next to me. “What’s wrong with Mr. C?” I asked, nodding my head slightly toward our teacher.
“What are you talking about?” Zack whispered back. “What do you mean something’s wrong? What could be wrong? Are we in danger?”
I slapped myself on the forehead. I should have known better. Zack is a worrywart. He gets stressed out about everything. “What’s the matter with Mr. C?” He was going on and on. “Is he sick? Hurt? Do you think I should get the principal?”
The thing is, when Zack’s not worrying, he’s very funny. He tells jokes and acts silly. Even his clothes can make me laugh. Today he was wearing a T-shirt, inside out and backward, with a pair of jeans. I’m sure he got dressed in a hurry, and knowing Zack, he probably figured he’d simply pretend it was backward day instead of turning his shirt around.
“Abigail,” Zack whispered back to me. His voice sounded shaky and nervous. “What makes you think Mr. C has a problem?”
I decided not to stress him out further. “It’s just that . . .” I stalled. “Mr. C is so messy today.”
Zack’s face relaxed and he grinned. “It’s Monday,” he reminded me. “Mr. C is always messy on Mondays because we have History Club after school.” Then Zack winked at me.
“Oh, yeah,” I replied as if I was just remembering. “I almost forgot.”
Of course, the truth was I could never forget it was Monday or that we have History Club on Mondays. Like I already told you, History Club is my favorite thing on earth. And even though I pretended not to remember, I knew exactly why Mr. C was five minutes late and messy today.
I knew because of all the kids in our social studies class, Jacob, Bo, Zack, and I were specially chosen as Mr. C’s secret helpers.
On Mondays, Mr. C makes the time-travel cartridge for our History Club adventure. He never gives himself enough time to make the cartridge and get to class on time, too. There is also a huge explosion that screws up Mr. C’s clothes and hair. It happens when he puts the lid on the cartridge. Even though we’ve asked, Mr. C won’t tell us why he doesn’t just make the cartridge on Sundays. He’d have plenty of time. And he’d definitely be neater.
I turned to Bo. Certainly he’d know why Mr. C hadn’t asked us a “what-if” question. Bo knows everything about everything. He likes to read and remembers all the facts he’s ever read. Today Bo was wearing baggy pants and a T-shirt that said READING IS TO THE MIND WHAT EXERCISE IS TO THE BODY. Underneath it said that the quote was by some guy named Joseph Addison.
Bo was sitting tall in his chair, listening to the other kids in class share what they knew about Betsy Ross.
Matthew Abrams raised his hand and said he’d once read that George Washington came to Betsy Ross’s sewing shop in Philadelphia. Apparently George Washington hired her to make the flag for the new, independent American country.
Matthew hadn’t even finished speaking when I swear I heard Bo mutter, “That’s just a myth. Historians don’t even know for sure if George Washington was in Philadelphia at the time.” He said that so quietly, I wondered if I might have misunderstood his mumbling.
I took a long, careful look at Bo. He’s usually quiet and shy, but I’d never heard him mutter and mumble in class before.
Cindy Cho stopped biting her nails long enough to say she knew that Betsy Ross had created the American flag’s stars and stripes design.
Right after she said it, I definitely heard Bo mutter, “That’s not a fact. No one knows for sure if she designed it or not.”
After each kid in class told Mr. C what they knew about Betsy Ross, Bo would mutter about how it “wasn’t a fact” or “wasn’t proven,” or “was just another myth.”
It was the weirdest day in social studies ever.
“Jacob,” I whispered across the table, “have Mr. C and Bo both lost it?”
Jacob didn’t answer. He was doodling something on a piece of white paper. I looked down. It was a picture of our time-travel computer. Jacob loves computers. He’s president of the school computer club. When we go on adventures, he is always in charge of using the computer to send us back in time and to bring us home again.
I considered kicking him in the leg to get his attention, but Jacob was wearing new-looking blue pants and clean white tennies. I was wearing shorts with these awesome cowboy boots that used to belong to my teenage sister, CeCe. I decided not to dirty his clothes or shoes by kicking him with CeCe’s old boots.
I was going to have to ask Mr. C what was going on. I raised my hand, but Mr. C had already moved on. Oddly, though, Bo hadn’t stopped muttering “myth, myth, myth” under his breath.
I put one hand over my right ear to block out Bo’s grumbling and kept my left hand raised high in the air. After a while my hand got tired. Unless Mr. C grew eyes on the back of his head, he wouldn’t call on me. He was busy writing out a time line on the blackboard.
The time line said “Philadelphia” across the top, but didn’t list any actual events. It looked like this:
June 1776 May 1777 May 25, 1780 March 1870 Month unknown, 1925
Figuring I’d ask about the “what-if” question later, I lowered my hand and studied the blackboard instead.
When he was finished writing, Mr. C turned around to face our class. “Who can tell me the main reason Betsy Ross is so famous?”
He called on Shanika Washington. She said, “Betsy Ross is famous because she sewed the first American flag.” Just as Shanika finished saying the g in “flag,” Bo’s head exploded. No, not literally, but close.
“NOOOOO!” he cried out. In all the time I’ve known him, I’ve never heard Bo speak that loudly before. “IT’S A MYTH!” Bo roared. “There is NO proof that Betsy Ross ever sewed the first flag!”