Here is the beautiful and moving compilation of responses to last week’s prompt for bite size memoir.
Thank you to everyone who has helped me get this off the ground, joined in the discussion and especially those who have found time to give a flavour of themselves in these beautiful little bites.
School at Seven
My best friend – We sat side-by-side at the front of Mrs B’s classroom. Together we learnt cross-stitch and joined-up writing, drank stove-warmed milk from a squat glass bottle through a paper straw. Together we held out trembling hands as our teacher progressed from child to child, brandishing a wooden ruler. Together we progressed from Blue Book 1 all the way to Blue Book 6.
On Saturday afternoons I’d ride over to his house to watch Batman and Robin dispatch the villains of Gotham city on his black-and-white TV. On Sunday mornings we’d seek each other out at church.
I thought we’d be best friends forever, until the day he biked round to my house with another bunch of friends. Boys, every one of them. I stayed in my garden, watching till they rode away.
The teacher gave me a new reading book and I thought ‘I can’t read that’ but it turned out I could. Christmas cards were delivered in the classroom and I remember my ‘boyfriend’ standing up and shouting “I got one from Tracey!”
I was Debbie’s best friend. The teacher stood me on a table and I sang ‘My Bonny lies over the Ocean’ to the class and I remember writing a poem about the dinner ladies and reciting it in the playground.
I remember Gregory the lollipop man. It wasn’t his real name, I named him that. We walked up the street in a crocodile to the school dining hall and we were given an oven-hardened crust of bread or a piece of apple after our dinner and once I gave mine to Gregory.
It was awkward telling my friends what I got for Christmas. I never knew the latest pop-stars because we didn’t get comics.
In 1964, Mrs G taught me; I liked her – she gave us sweets instead of merit points and taught us Scottish dancing. She told us about the General Election; it would be exciting because no one knew who would win – there were three parties and two might get together and gang up on the third, she said. I expect it was only an example when she said the Conservatives might join with the Liberals to defeat Labour, but we took it to heart. All the boys found out who their dads voted for and next day we lined up as we had been taught and had a grand battle. The coalition had Labour on the run when the headmaster stopped us. Several parents complained about Mrs G trying to find out how they voted and then Labour won the actual thing. Political disillusionment set in early for me.
I remember standing outside Miss Foley’s classroom – the outside door – waiting to see her, my first grade teacher. I prayed and wished and hoped but nothing prepared me for the wonder who was Miss Foley.
I remember our little girl sized lockers. Part of the way through the year I started sharing with Nancy Davis.
I remember Dick Sanford offering me his flashcards as a token of his admiration of me thus making us a first grade supercouple.
I remember Miss Foley wore a wig every once in a while to give her short, Twiggy style hair.
I remember checking out those red playground balls with that specific smell, like medicine balls.
I remember playing a game that involved getting all tangled up in a big mass of first graders and
I remember Miss Foley played it. She laughed as much as we did.
I remember getting in trouble for drawing on the chalkboard when I wasn’t supposed to be drawing on the chalk board.
I remember being chosen to participate in a ceremony for Mrs. Shannon, our retiring principal, where a student from each class got to put a piece of the plaque puzzle onto a poster replicating the future plaque.
I am surprised I don’t remember the dress I wore on the first day of school or my shoes or much of anything outside of school. Those were clearly the most important (or memorable!) parts of my day.
I remember we had our own bathrooms built right into our classrooms, which were part of an addition on the Linden Avenue School campus.
Second grade was dancing and singing, pretending to be a cat and wearing pink tights. I was gregarious and scored high on tests. Then for third grade I moved schools. Webster. Before my first day I had a nightmare, that strangely involved shellfish.
I sat on the swings, surrounded by the other girls hateful stares. They called me “Medusa” because of my long blonde hair. I withstood their abuse and ate lunch by myself every single day.
Mom and I sat in the principal’s office. The principal wouldn’t let me switch classrooms, because my teacher was black and the other teacher was white.
I befriended the only other white girl, even though we had nothing in common, aside from exile. We hung upside down on the jungle gym and she told me she wanted to start a girl gang that stole comic books.
I remember learning words in phonetic groups; cat, sat, hat, mat and numbers by ones, twos and fours.
I remember standing at Miss Nancy’s desk proving I could count and add together the shiny, polished stones she held in her palm correctly.
I remember too, the slow sounding out of words by her side; painfully slow, too slowly for my age.
I remember being able to form the letters with an always stubby pencil but not string them together into anything useful.
I remember watching my friends move forward through the books on the reading shelf.
I remember trying to guess the story from the pictures, desperate to connect them to the words.
I remember waiting in the hall with my parents for the teacher conference.
I remember hearing Miss Nancy explain how far behind I was, how other kids like me had learning disabilities, that they went to special ed classes.
I remember her pausing, looking at me, deciding my fate, and finally saying, “She’s smart. She can do math. I think she’s just waiting for something. Let’s give her another year.”
I remember, one year later, walking down the hall each day for reading class in the room three grades above mine, no longer waiting.
All it stood for
Once thought important
It has been
By the numbers
Simon – born 1964 – UK
I remember my mineral collection being unappreciated by kids on the bus.
I remember the leftie teacher being anti American – “how can you trust a country that has a nuclear navy where the admiral has a hat with ‘SKIP’ on it”.
I remember JP and kissing her under the arches.
I remember sitting on the classroom steps not talking to anyone for weeks.
I remember my legs ‘not working properly’ and not being able to do sports for months – I got a sports day medal for holding the finishing tape and went to JD’s for tea.
I remember putting loads of pepper on my food and CB eating peas one or two at a time off the back of her fork – too posh and thin for me.
I remember trying to join the choir and being advised not to!
I remember the beautiful girl with the delicate gums who would stroke my hair at story-time.
I remember doing headstands for as long as possible
I remember the ‘push you off the wall’ game
I remember my long blue flowered dress with the gathered bodice.
I remember swinging higher than my best friend.
I remember hearing the f-word from ginger-haired Tommy Something.
I remember creating Barbie towns and using our shoes as cars.
I remember recess and the large expanse of black asphalt, the kickball zone, the sandpit.
I remember sitting in rows, alphabetically.
I remember the green chalkboard and waiting for my turn to clap dusty black erasers on the pavement outside after school.
I remember waiting for my big brother and little sister at the chain-link fence.
I remember walking home and not taking candy from strangers and worrying about strangers and slow moving cars.
And I remember wanting to be 8 because that would be better than being 7.
I turned seven in 1963 and my school year had several momentous occasions. Firstly I fell in love. My teacher that year was one of the only male teachers at the school and I was smitten. I worked a little harder to impress him in my effort to become teacher’s pet. It didn’t work but my school work possibly was better than it otherwise would have been. We also had a total eclipse of the sun in 1963 and we spent a deal of time in preparation for viewing it. We were all taken out into the playground on the day and using our paper with pin holes we viewed it, none of us looking directly at the sun as fear of blindness had been a lesson well learnt. Almost as exciting were the dust storms that year. Red dust covered everything and the days were dulled as the dust almost totally obliterated the sun’s rays.
Morning, and it’s the last day of school at Sunnyslope. Not for the year. Just for me. My parents bought a store and a pink house near Lake Tahoe.
Mrs. Vineyard says I can build snowmen at recess where I’m going. It doesn’t snow in Hollister where apricots grow, planted by great-grandpa Bumpa who lives at the place smelling like hospitals.
I like Bumpa and bingo and horses. Not doctors.
Papa, drives slowly down the steep hill overlooking turkey barns and old scrap. We don’t talk about the other grandfather or why my parents are moving. It feels like it’s my fault, and misery squats on my shoulders the way blackbirds roost in eucalyptus trees. Papa stops the car. He leans over and offers me a choice of three candies. Big bars of chocolate. I choose the Baby Ruth.
Seven was not a sweet year, but I remember that clemency.
I entered the grade two class of Miss Dari at St. Paul Elementary School in 1968. Her classroom was on the east side of the “old grey school”, the single story wing attached to a brand new two story wing for the older kids. The “older kids” were grade four and five. My Mom was up there too, teaching grade five.
I have few memories of particular activities and lessons in the classroom. However, strangely enough, I have a very vivid recollection of the very first word list lesson in the little hardcover Macmillan spelling text book. The first words we had to know how to spell that year were: the, is, not, cat, cow, car. And they were in that exact order. I would challenge any psychotherapist or neuropsychologist to explain to me why that spelling list remains embedded in my memory to this very day.
Oliver- born 1952 – UK
School in Northumberland is cold and dark.
The classroom stinks. I realise it’s not the teacher. It’s the coke boiler. When I stand by the boiler I am hot and cold at the same time. My legs sting all the time from pulling up woolly socks.
The plasticine – brown lumps in a bucket that stink too. Why is it full of hair that sticks in your teeth? Smelly Crayons that write just brown.
The slush is melted then frozen to wet puddles of gritty salt tarmac. Brown strap sandals with punched hole patterns in the toes , no treads on the soles. The bell goes and I run – and the world spins and my knee is pushed into the icy grit and salt. It is skinned and full of rock salt and black gravel and terrible pain.
I can remember when it was summer and I was home.
Hard Measles – Paula Moyer
Which came first, fever or blotches? I don’t remember. I remember waking up to them both, and the light hurting my eyes. “Paula has measles,” I heard Mother tell someone. My fever was 105. In 1959 there was no measles vaccine.
Grandmother Winnie appeared and spent every day at our house until I got better, five days later. I quit keeping track of my blotches and slept. Mother drew the Venetian blinds down and the curtains to so that they wouldn’t hurt my eyes. In a fevered delirium, I asked Grandmother Winnie to “please tell those people to be quiet.” There were no people in the house, just chattering in my head.
When the fever broke, Mother brought my homework from school. I started at the lessons that made no sense. When I came back to class, none of my classmates asked. Now I know. They had been sick, too.
I remember learning words I kept in Nan’s old tobacco tin.
I remember playtime and British Bulldogs, hopscotch and skipping.
I remember the roughly tarmacked playground and picking gravel out of my knees.
I remember 1/3 pint bottles of milk and drinking the cream off the top with a red straw.
I remember a pot-bellied stove in the classroom and hot water pipes big enough to sit on – or as one kid did – shit on.
I remember going home to tea at A’s and having butterscotch Angel Delight which we never had at home.
I remember the poor kids who smelled and Mum telling me to be nice to them because ‘god only knows..’
I remember reading books at home and Dad teaching me sums because we did a lot of art at school.
I remember my brand new Start-right shoes and those poor kids ill-fitting hand-me-downs.
And I remember wondering why the grown-ups couldn’t fix things for them.
The next prompt is out on Friday 9th May, 2pm (BST)
I’d love you to give it a go