Scenes from My Memoir: The Hamburger Helper Hand Gives 7th Graders the Bird.

I describe the junior high years as an odd combination. In some ways, you feel grown up and adult-like, wanting to try out make up and check out the dating scene. In other ways, you still (secretly) want to build things with Play-Doh or occasionally play on the playground at a park. Thus the paradox of the middle school brain – you’re caught in the middle.

I remember my fondest junior high memories involved this dichotomy, namely the junior high Halloween competition. Every year at Halloween, we could dress up in costumes for school. We would have an assembly at lunch time, involving a judge (usually a representative from the local paper), and a Halloween parade through the junior high gym. The winners received enormous bags of mixed chocolate, plus the bragging rights – big deal in junior high.

So one year, my friend Cynthia decided she wanted me and another friend, Melissa, to enter the group competition. Her idea? We could be Chef Boyardee, The Hamburger Helper Hand, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy. We thought the idea was original and funny – enough to win the coveted bag of treats. The problem was making the costumes. How were we going to transform Cynthia into a giant talking oven mitt?

My junior high years were pre-internet buying. So much ingenuity would have been lost for a mere $49.99.

Enter my mom. 

My mom has a tendency to be the most weirdly creative and talented person I know. Proof: 1) She once died fabric needed to match a beige shirt by staining a white T-shirt in a bowl of tea. 2) She can fold a fitted sheet. (I swear, she has magic sheet-folding powers. I try to fold a fitted sheet, and it’s just a wadded ball.) Naturally, Mom did not hesitate with this costume challenge. She almost immediately said, “I think we can do that.”

I, as Chef Boyardee, would be the easiest. She made an apron and chef’s hat for me. Melissa’s Pillsbury Dough Boy costume consisted of a white shirt and pants with a large white trash bag taped around her body. Then, we stuffed it with newspaper. This worked great, until all of the paper would settle down at the bottom, causing Melissa to waddle, clown-like throughout the halls until we fluffed her back up. The trickiest costume would need all of my mom’s magical powers.

How do you make a giant oven mitt – a giant oven mitt with only four fingers?

First, Mom drew a glove-ish figure around Cynthia on the floor. She stitched and hemmed the fabric together. Then, with a box of Hamburger Helper as a model, we drew and colored on the face. Next, Mom dunked the fabric into a bucket of liquid starch. We let it dry for approximately 800 hundred hours or so. The struggle became keeping the fingers from flopping around. My mom rigged a helmet of sorts for Cynthia to put the middle finger on her head, and we cut a hole in the costume for her face. We tied elastic around her waist to attach a pillow and stuff in the thumb.

When she tried the whole contraption on, the two side fingers kept flopping over, giving all of us the biggest flipping off ever. 

My mom arranged some shoulder pads to stick on Cynthia’s shoulders. Those didn’t work either. Finally, around midnight of the night before the competition, my mom just made my friend stand in a Y position (think Village People) at all times.

The next day, Cynthia walked around the halls with her hands ready to sing a never-ending chorus of the “YMCA” while her big, fat thumb pummeled each passerby right in the crotch. I had to carry all of her books for her. Occasionally, she would get tired, and flip off all of the 7th graders. But, in the end the tired arms and the bird-giving paid off because we won!

  1. #1 by Lauren@The Housework Can Wait on May 25, 2012 - 8:38 am

    Ohhh, I have so many thoughts right now.

    1. I know how to fold a fitted sheet. I worked in a hotel. It was part of my job. So you can consider me a professional fitted sheet folder. Greg always brags about this to strangers as one of my main talents. Ummm….

    2. I can imagine this and it is amazing.

    3. All of your memoir stories so far involve food, school, and humiliation. Coincidence?

    4. I also entered a costume competition with my friends (although mine was in high school) and we were significant overachievers. We dressed up like the Addams Family. I was Wednesday. I went the ENTIRE DAY without cracking a smile. It. Was. Hard. And we lost to the New Kids on the Block, who dressed in ripped jeans and white T-shirts, because they danced. The teachers felt we were slighted (it was a student-vote competition) and created an impromptu teacher-vote category so that we could win too.

    5. Did your friend Cynthia grow up to be THIS PERSON? Because that would be awesome. (I doubt it. But it WOULD be awesome).

  2. #2 by kellywiggains on May 25, 2012 - 9:06 am

    1. When I describe my mom, I ALWAYS mention that she can fold a fitted sheet. It’s a thing of wonder.

    2. Thanks. That’s my goal. =)

    3. I didn’t start out trying to only mention food/school/humiliation. Anne Lamott in her book Bird by Bird says that if you need a starting place with writing, start with your childhood. One of her exercises is to describe school lunches because they are original and universal at the same time. So, in working up my writing chops, I think these three things just occurred frequently together so often in my childhood that I developed an accidental recurring theme.

    4. I love it! Addams family totally trumps NKOTB in the categories of costume design and theme song.

    5. Cynthia married her childhood sweetheart, Jason. In fact, I think they might have just started “dating” when this Halloween competition occurred. They have 3 kids, and she’s the coolest softball, football, volleyball, baseball, cheerleading mom in Texas.

  3. #3 by Bryan Jobe on May 25, 2012 - 9:33 am

    We had a similar problem, but we were trying to create a hand that was flipping everyone off only to struggle with the other fingers always sticking up. If only we could have somehow combined our powers for good!! 😉 (Only part of that is true…everyone knows that when Jobie and Kelly put their minds together good things happen)

  4. #4 by Andy Dunham on May 25, 2012 - 2:20 pm

    Your story was believable until you said your mom could fold a fitted sheet. Can’t be done. The combined powers of the Avengers and the Justice League could not accomplish such a feat.

  5. #5 by kellywiggains on May 25, 2012 - 9:29 pm

    Andy, I’ve seen it. It’s real. I can’t replicate it, but I know it’s not just a myth. And Jobes, of COURSE you tried to create an actual flipping off hand. haha. Gosh, I missing see you guys on a daily basis.

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