Fourth grade to Junior Miss in a blink

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Other people's children grow up, too. That is something I tell myself every time I see a friend's child and realize he or she is at least a foot taller than the last time we met.

I know my own babies jumped from childhood to grownup with amazing speed, but somehow I expect friends' children to remain in the elementary-school stage forever.

That hit home recently when I picked up a paper and saw the smiling face in a picture in the lifestyles section.

"That child cannot be that old," I said to my empty living room. "I do not believe she is almost ready to graduate from high school."

I thought back to the first time I met her. Her mother and I worked together at the hospital, and it was only natural for her child to stop by for a visit. She was a cute little girl, and seemed so grown up for her age.

And she was smart. You knew this if you had a conversation with the child.

"She is sure mature for her age," I told her mother after one of those conversations.

Her mother nodded, a definite look of pride on her face.

Over the next few years, I watched the little girl grow and change. She liked words and writing, so that put her high on my list.

"I think the two of you understand each other," her mother told me once.

When she was in the fourth grade, she was involved with a newsletter her class produced. I followed the progress of the project through reports from her mother and saw copies of the newsletter.

I was impressed by the job the kids did.

Toward the end of the year, I was invited to the class for a visit. I don't recall all the circumstances surrounding the invitation, but I remember being introduced to the class by the child I knew through her visits to the hospital.

I stood in front of the room and read a poem I wrote about the imaginary things that are part of life when you are a child. I had a great time, and I remember my friend's child walking me to the door as I left.

It seemed like almost no time passed between that elementary school visit and hearing this little girl, now in middle school, was trying out for cheerleader. The first time I saw her in her uniform, I couldn't believe how much she had grown.

I changed jobs and lost day-to-day touch with my friend, but I saw her daughter a few times. Once it was in a newspaper picture with a group of students involved in some school activity. Then again when I took a picture of the national championship cheerleading squad, of which she was a member.

Now her photo was in the paper again. This time she was one of the participants in the Covington County Junior Miss program.

"That means she is a senior in high school," I said. "That doesn't seem possible."

The weekend of the Junior Miss program, I thought about this young woman, the one who went from fourth grade to high school in the blink of an eye. I hoped she enjoyed the experience. I knew she would give it her best because that is how she has done everything for as long as I've known her.

It was Monday morning before I learned who was chosen Junior Miss. When I heard the winner's name, I remembered a little girl sitting in her mother's office telling me, in a very grown up voice, about her school and her friends.

That child, Natalie Jo Franklin, is now the 2003 Covington County Junior Miss and will represent the local program at the state competition.

Yesterday she was a child filled with energy and laughter, one who bounced into her mother's office full of life and stories. Today, she is a beautiful young woman stepping out into the world.

Natalie it has been a delight to watch you grow up, even if it seems to have happened far too quickly.