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Writing Memoir – Ordinary Life

July 23, 2018

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Workshop 2 Page 60 – Ordinary Life

Write about an ordinary experience, one that many people may also have experienced. Focus on the particular details of what may have happened that day, rather than the event itself.

My ordinary experience was my first day of high school in 1966. During the summer holidays, after grade 6, most of my friends were looking forward to starting high school. I was not. I spent most of the holidays thinking about it and dreading it. I knew I would be out of my comfort zone and wasn’t looking forward to that feeling. There was no such thing as Orientation Day in those days, and until the first day of high school, I had never stepped inside those huge intimidating front gates.

The day arrived, far too quickly, and off I went in my starched summer uniform which I hated. From our first day of primary school, Mum always starched our uniforms to ‘stand alone stiffness’. I could accept that at primary school, but felt silly heading off to high school in a uniform that was so uncomfortable stiff. As well as being very stiff and uncomfortable, my uniform felt much too long for the fashions of 1966, and I felt dorky and awkward before I even arrived.

I was terrified of that first walk through the front gates, when I would be confronted by strangers, and would have no idea where to go.  The only thing I knew about this new unfamiliar school was the huge front gates. I had seen them many times, when out riding my bike with friends. I knew where the front gate was, but where to go first after entering them, was a mystery to me.  I have no memory of that information being given to us. Perhaps it was, but if so, I wasn’t paying attention.

The memory of walking through those gates, where older students were gathered makes me cringe, even today. I will never forget just how awkward and embarrassed I felt. Just ahead was a stairway that looked like it probably went somewhere important, so I decided to take that route. At the top of the stairs was a corridor filled with lockers… and many more students….and noise.  I was quite shy at the time, and wanted the ground to open up and swallow me.

The first class on that first day of high school was science. I have never forgotten that class or the teacher.  It’s not that I came to like science. If anything, science came to be my least favourite subject, as I expected. But that day, in that first science class, I learned something that I have never, ever forgotten in my lifetime.

Our teacher was Mr. Charlesworth. He seemed very pleasant and very casual, compared to our teachers at primary school. The lesson was about the planets and how they were aligned. I had no interest at all in learning about the planets and couldn’t see the point in learning about them. After all, what use would that information about the planets ever have in my daily life?

Very early in the lesson, Mr Charlesworth told us about the rhyme he had made up when he was a student, to make it easier for him to remember the order of the planets from the sun and working outwards.

For some reason that rhyme was chiselled into my brain on that day, and still is..

Rhyme:
Mr. VEM J. SUN & DOG

Mercury – Venus – Earth – Mars – Jupiter – Saturn – Uranus – Neptune and Pluto

Recently I had cause to use it at a Trivia night and everyone was shocked at my knowledge of the planets. On that dreaded first day of high school, there was no way that I could expect any information from that class about the planets, to be of any use to me 50 years later.

I often think that this little rhyme was the only thing I ever learned in Science, as I came to dread  seeing science on the timetable. But learning that small piece of information on a stressful first day of school, from a teacher, who knew how to engage his students, made me at least look forward to coming back the next day.

  • The writing exercises in this series are from Patti Miller’s book – Writing True Stories, published in 2017, by Allen & Unwin.
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From → Family stories

13 Comments
  1. What a lovely story! Memoir is such a great way of recollecting pieces of our past which otherwise might be forgotten in the march of time. I think having prompts, as you are from a book like Writing True Stories is a great way to ‘get things down’ and give you a body of work to craft into a memoir. Good luck with everything! #MLSTL

  2. Oh the “joys” of high school! I remember my first day too and how awkward I felt. It’s amazing how we adjust though and it becomes our new norm. Now I just have to remember your poem for any future quiz nights I might attend!
    Thanks for linking up with us at #MLSTL and I’ve shared this on my SM 🙂

    • I never came to enjoy high school Leanne. I’m loving joining in with #MLSTL So many great blogs there to read

  3. Kristin Alicia permalink

    Your story took me back to what it felt like going to a new school as a teen. I remember that hyper-selfconciousness. My son will be starting in a new high school next year and I know he’s already dreading it.

    Isn’t it amazing how rhymes or other wordplay can help us remember things? My kids were taught My Very Excellent Mom Just Served Us Nine Pizzas. Now that Pluto has been demoted, however, I guess they will have to come up with something new!

    • Kristin I’m loving hearing the different rhymes that were taught for the planets. Thanks so much for visiting

  4. You know for all of the angst of high school, I do not remember the first day…which was ten years after yours. But I do remember the angst that I felt a couple of days before.

    • I had never thought of my first day of high school until tackling this writing exercise. Thanks for visiting

  5. I’m loving your writing memoirs Jen and yes I was nervous going to High School because I had no self-confidence. I went to North Sydney Girls High School and only the top 3 girls in my class were chosen to go. I could never accept how I got there. Although I went on to become a prefect. I can’t remember my first class at all but like you Science was never my forte. I do remember we were taught to remember the planets with this: My Very Energetic Mother Just Saw Uncle Ned Pass. It is so funny what we remember isn’t it? Perhaps that would come in handy one day on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? LOL:) Thanks so much for being part of our #MLSTL community. 🙂

    • That word – confidence – Sue. Or lack of it. Causes so many problems. I love the rhyme you learned about the planets. Pleased you’re enjoying the series.

      • Yes I think many of us were behind the door when confidence was given out, Jen 🙂

  6. Molly Totoro permalink

    I am passionate about documenting my past – the good, bad, and ugly 🙂 I’ve read several books on memoir, but I am not familiar with Patti Miller’s work. I am definitely going to check it out. Thank you!

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