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Close Encounters with Science: Picks

Origin of the Species by Sherwood Hines

In my small hometown, only once did I ever do a science project for my school’s annual Science Fair.

I was in Grade Six. It was 1971. And I had just discovered paleoanthropology.

”Who are we?”  I often wondered as I watched my schoolmates pound on each other’s heads at recess. “Where did we come from?

My project was placed in natural sciences, and there was only one other kid there with me.

”I’ll at least come in second,” I said to my mother.

”That’s the spirit” she said, looking at me with a smirk.

The other boy’s project had something to do with plants. He had taped bristle board together and covered it in poor handwriting, and bad crayon drawings. His display kept tumbling off the table and onto the floor, dragging the plants with it. There was sand everywhere.
 
My display was mounted on plywood. My aunt got me the wood from the lumber yard where she worked.

My illustrations of Australopithecus and Homo Erectus were traced to exactness. I moulded replicas of skulls, and built a model village. I drove my mom insane working until one in the morning for two weeks straight.

My mother came to the fair, proud as punch. I remember looking at her with a start, because she suddenly swore under her breath. A rare occurrence.

She said a polite hello to the man who was to judge my project. She then stepped aside and left me to answer his questions.

I could soon tell he didn’t like any of my answers.

Apparently I had done something awfully wrong. But I had no clue what it was.

The man finally looked down on me, his voice full of exasperation.

”Do you believe in God?”  he asked me.
 
I was eleven-years-old. Of course I believed in God.

”Have you read the Bible?”

I was eleven! Of course I hadn’t read the Bible.

”Your project is an insult to Christian values” he said, glaring at my mother, before walking away in a huff.

I had no idea what he was talking about.

Later that afternoon they gathered us to announce the winners. When they came to my category, it was proclaimed that the other boy would be awarded Second Place.

I had won!

I was deliriously happy.

But then the announcer immediately went on to the Grade 7’s and that was that. I didn’t win anything. Not even an honourable mention.

”They forgot about me,” I said to my mother, my eyes watering. “We have to tell them that I was in that category.”

”They didn’t forget,” she said after some silence. “Father O’Reilly is a just a small-minded man. Why they’d ask a priest to judge a science fair is beyond me. Come on,” she said. “Let’s go home.”

It would take me a few years after that day, before I finally understood why it was that an eleven-year-old boy couldn't teach evolution to a small-town Catholic Priest.

It was my last science fair.


Sherwood Hines is from Halifax, NS.

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