Lines of white plastic tables were set up. We stood in a line to check in, our parents towards the back of the hall. It was not large, maybe the size of two classrooms put together. We were assigned our seats, given enough space apart so we would not look on each other’s papers, and handed tests face-down along with two pencils and a pencil sharpener, mine was green. I was wearing my comfortable brown corduroy pants that felt smooth to the touch and calmed my nerves. They were offset by my bright blue The Winner II running shoes from Sears with the two white stripes on each side.
The man called for everyone to start, and I turned my paper over like the other kids. I read through the first question and thought about it. From the corners of my eyes, I could see the other kids lower their heads down furiously scribbling with their pencils. I started to panic because I did not know what I was supposed to be writing down. I just answered the question and moved on to the next one.
I had plenty of room on the paper to show my work, but it was not required for the test. Only the answers were required to be correct. I was relieved at that because I did not know how I would get any of these answers. I just kept reading the questions and answering. I read one about a horse and a mule carrying certain bales of hay where if one were given over, the horse would be carrying twice as much, but if in the other direction, they would be carrying the same. My mind would just flip numbers in and out of comparison until I had a pair that worked, and I wrote it down. On to the next problem.
This one had to do with a boy starting to collect a dime a day on the first of the month, and his sister starting to collect fifteen cents a day on the tenth of the month. On which date would they have the same amount of money. I am sure there was a formula for that, but I just mentally made a calendar and when the numbers got too hard, I drew dots on the page to help me keep track until I got the answer - problem solved.
When it was all over, I had finished the test except for one question. I thought for sure I had done poorly considering how intense all the other kids were. After they had named off fourth, third, and second place, I relaxed. I knew I was not going to have to go up now. I had stage fright anyways, and this exercise was not part of the school grade. When my name was announced in first place my mom yelped and my dad smiled. I did not understand. All these other kids were way ahead of me in mathematics. How was it possible for me to win? I did not have a single formula written on my paper. I received the prize from the announcer – get this, a calculator, from Radio Shack, which took a 9v battery, and a ribbon. I remember it being quite ironic even then that the math winner would get a calculator as a prize.