From the very first day Ellen had seen the cameo ring in the display case at Mr. Henry’s general store, she could think of little else. Even while at the Oklahoma homestead, where she lived with her grandparents, she could close her eyes and picture every detail: Tendrils of hair curled down its neck, a half-smile graced its lips, and a bead necklace was carved around the dainty throat. It was mounted on a coral base and enclosed by an oval of gold; its fancy ring box was lined with crimson velvet. The ten-dollar price, however, was more than Ellen thought that she would ever have.
Still, she mused, like Gram always says, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Dreams cost nothing.”
Ellen’s daydreaming was interrupted as Gramp reined in the plow horses in front of the livery stable. As soon as the wagon stopped, the gangling girl was off and running, her flaxen braids streaming out from under her white sunbonnet, and her calico skirt whipping around her long legs. She skittered to a stop at the general store.
The ring box was still there! She knew that the day might come when the ring would be gone. I just have to find a way to buy it, she thought. She straightened her shoulders determinedly, then turned reluctantly from her heart’s desire to the shopping list that Gram had given her. As Mr. Henry filled the order, Ellen wandered around the store. It was a fascinating place. Blue-speckled enamel pots and pans hung from wires attached to large hooks in the wooden ceiling. Kerosene lamps of different sizes and jars of lemon drops and licorice sticks took up much of the counter space. A pickle barrel stood under a black-and-white cardboard sign announcing the events for the town’s annual picnic.
As Ellen slowly read what it said, she realized that it could be the answer to her prayers! A footrace for ten-to-twelve-year-olds had been added this year, and first prize was a ten-dollar gold piece! She turned to Mr. Henry and said, “Please enter me in the race.”
Figuring that it would be hard beating boys, especially the older ones, Ellen knew that she would have to train hard. The one-room school that she attended was about a mile down the hardpan path from home, so she decided to use it as her training track. And she’d run it barefoot so that she could run the race that way and not be slowed down by heavy shoes.
“Gram,” she said one afternoon while catching her breath on the wooden steps to the cabin, “sometimes I wish that I were a boy!”
“What on earth for? Gramps and I are glad that you’re a girl. Just you wait and see, someday you will be too.”
“Oh, I’m glad to be a girl most times. It’s just that boys get to wear trousers. They aren’t bothered with skirts when they run. I could run a lot faster if I didn’t have to wear an old skirt!”
As her speed increased over the next three weeks, so did Ellen’s determination. When the prairie wind whipped the bonnet from her head the day before the race, she yelled defiantly, “These dumb skirts won’t stop me from doing mybest!”
That evening she sat on the step by Gramp’s rocker. In the distance they heard a coyote’s mournful howl. The moon was huge and golden, bathing the dirt yard with soft light.
“That’s a beautiful harvest moon,” remarked Gramps. He cleared his throat and tweaked Ellen’s braids. “Lass, I know that you’re all het up about tomorrow. Gram and I want you to know that even if you don’t win, we’re mighty proud of you for trying. Being the only girl in the race is a courageous thing to do.”
Ellen was about to answer, when she heard Gram calling her from inside the cabin. Gram was in her bedroom, putting the finishing stitches in a piece of denim. When she held it up, Ellen could only stare.
It was a skirt, her size, but it had legs!
“It’s the kind of divided skirt that they make for riding horses these days,” Gram said with a big smile. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
The day of the race dawned bright and crisp. As Ellen joined the boys at the starting line, she bowed her head in a silent prayer. “Thank you, Heavenly Father, for all Thy blessings. And especially for Gram and Gramps.”
“On your mark!” the starter shouted. “Get set!”
The pistol shot cracked.
Ellen scarcely noticed the cheers as the onlookers chose their favorites. Her long gangly legs soon left most of the runners behind. Only three were ahead of her. You can do it! she told herself as she approached the halfway mark. She passed one of the runners—then the second. Only one to go! Every breath hurt now, and her arms and legs felt like lead weights. Just as she passed the last boy, she felt the finish-line ribbon snap across her body.
Ellen collapsed in a heap, tears of joy and exertion running down her face. Mr. Henry brought the prize ribbon and the ten-dollar gold piece to her. She whispered something in his ear, and he straightened, smiling broadly, and rushed off.
Her grandparents hurried over to help her up. They were still excitedly congratulating her when the store-keeper returned and pressed something into her hand. She gazed up at him with thankful blue eyes, then turned to her grandmother and said simply, “Gram, this is for you.”
As the surprised woman opened the velvet-lined box, her brown eyes shimmered with tears. She lifted the cameo ring and eased it gently onto her finger.