Tag Archives: Creativity

Monday Memories – The New Kid (Again)

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

North Carolina

My daughter will graduate from high school next month, the second high school she has attended.  She has a great circle of friends in both places, great academics, work she loves and memories of being the new kid. Although the change has been great, the learning experience that “being the new kid” provides will be most beneficial throughout her life. I know. I was the “new kid” five times in three years. That’s a lot of introductions, cracking the social codes and making friends for a young teenager. I learned how to start over, condense my life story to a paragraph and enter a room full of strangers without committing a social faux pas. It was a “great experience” I could pass along to my children.

My high schools were large, small, private and public. There were Americans in each of them, every race, religion and nationality. In one, English was the second language, in another, military rank created the social order. I rode buses to several schools, walked to another and lived in several dorms for a year. Each school presented its own social obstacles, academic emphasis and “new kid” hazing.  Each new school presented the classic “first day” nervousness and stress. The perceived benefits were few while I attended and like many experiences became more valuable as life unfolded. I learned that roots are important and yet you carry them with you. I learned you can have friends close by and maintain friendships with hundreds of miles separating you. I learned that academics can center on the same subjects with vastly different curriculums. But most important, I learned how being the “new kid” doesn’t last long because at some point, everybody is the “new kid.”

Paris

We moved from Paris, France to Stuttgart, Germany after a brief six months in France. I had learned to navigate the multi-building campus at Paris American High School with ease. I knew where the cafeteria was, the menu for each week and where the locker room was in the huge gym. I had friends who shared slumber parties, lunch tables and homework assignments. We giggled a lot and shared hopes and dreams of the American teenager of the ’60’s. They taught me readiness. Fathers of military dependents get transferred frequently. New orders give brief adjustment time and often, the father left before the family, who followed after packing their belongings and saying goodbye. Although friendships would survive with distance, they were ready to move and start over at a moment’s notice.

I was fortunate with the move from France to Germany. Most of my new friends in Paris moved to the same area in Germany. Attending a new school was easier because there were friends from Paris to share the experience. We compared notes when we met on the weekends. Three of us attended different schools in Germany yet managed to find time for roller skating, swimming and hiking German trails on the weekend. We still shared slumber parties, we still giggled a lot and we all made new friends. They helped me realize friendships can continue despite the miles between friends. Reunited in yet another school, we shared homerooms, English assignments and Home Ec. We went to the local “gasthaus” and Oktober Fest with older siblings, went to movies and the AYA (American Youth Association) dances. We rode buses to school and gossiped about the latest Beatles trivia. Those friends taught me to savor the moment, to live fully today and enjoy the present. Tomorrow may bring change, but we were together today and we made each day count.

Institute auf dem Rosenberg

I had a different experience when I changed to my fourth high school. This time there were no familiar friends or even family to ease my transition. This new school was in a different country, away from all of them. I was on my own, living at a boarding school where German was spoken at every meal and kids from all continents shared rooms down the hall. Whether privilege or punishment, this change in schools presented new challenges I hadn’t dreamed about when I wished to “live away” at age 13. Suddenly, I learned I could live in a house with 40 teenaged girls who spoke different languages than mine. I learned I could succeed academically without my parents’ reminders to finish homework. I learned I could be accepted in an international social group, sharing experiences that would make my mother cringe had she known. They taught me that change was possible and positive, that there was another world outside of America and that teenagers shared similar concerns everywhere in the world. I learned I could be separate from family and through trial and error, I could make good decisions on my own.

Chatham High School

The “new kid” status changed at my last school. I returned to my hometown after three years away. I was a “new kid” with my former classmates and friends, back “home” in the US. I returned a different girl, to a group who had no idea of who I was, where I had been or what I had experienced. They were different, too. Older, more confident, more knowledgeable about social issues, and more experienced in life in the US.  Most had lived in the same town since elementary school and knew all the faces in their small high school. Friendships were cement solid, grown together throughout their early high school years. Although they looked familiar, lived in their same house, they were as different from the person they had been at 13 as I was. It was a time of wary reconnection. I went to the same church, library and grocery store yet it seemed different from the town I had left. My school was American, I had the same teachers that my siblings had and we lived in the same house we had left three years earlier. I learned that you never “return” home. Different experiences, places lived and new histories prevent you from “picking up where you left off.” I did make new friends, I reconnected with former classmates and I earned my diploma. I shared confidences and dreams and developed friendships that continue today. I recognize many names on Facebook but have no memory of many of their recollections, I wasn’t there at the time. But, I learned that moving on is better for me, to be a “new kid” is easier than being “the returned” and that you have to look ahead for your future rather than dwell on the past.

I know we are the “new kid” throughout our lives, the new employee, the new roommate, the new neighbor, the new  student. I know what my daughter experienced and the confidence given her for the next move, when she is the “new kid” once again. I hope she carries her friendships with her as she looks forward to her future. I hope she recognizes the value of being the “new kid” and shares her positive experiences with the “new kids” in her life.

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Friday Friends – Joyce Norman, Writer, Teacher, Friend

I am fortunate to share “friendships” with people I have never met. Through the power of technology and the internet, I have shared many wonderful moments with Joyce Norman, although we have never met. Introduced through a mutual friend on Facebook, Joyce and I have shared a love of writing, books, literature and life. I learn something new every time we speak on Skype or message through email or Facebook. My writing has been inspired through the magic of her editing and reading her stories inspires my own recollections. Her editing is renowned in our circles, a former journalist and teacher, Joyce spends hours reading and working through the manuscripts sent to her. I gladly call her friend.

Joyce has been advisor, teacher and mentor to the many students who attend her classes, join her workshops and follow her Monday Morning Writing Chain. With a brief prompt on a Monday morning, Joyce sets our imaginations free to complete a story with other writers. No other impetus is provided but a few sentences to set a scene or a picture to prompt our story. The co-creation is sometimes filled with great writing, dialogue that flows from characters created by a distant author. Sometimes we hear Joyce attempting to reel us in, as she reminds us of the details of writing, maintaining scene, character’s names and the dialogue written previously.

Joyce’s editing skills have allowed many beginning writers to be published in an anthology, It Was A Dark and Stormy Night. Encouraging her students and colleagues to produce short essays, stories and including a few Morning Chain entries, Joyce compiled the anthology and edited our entries for readers to enjoy. No entries were denied.

Joyce’s own work, Coming Together, published in 2009 with Joy Collins, is a novel filled with foreign intrigue, the love story of a mother in search of her son and a fascinating story of a film maker. Set in Brazil, a place Joyce visited repeatedly, the story uses many of Joyce’s own experiences to engage the reader in the action. Currently, Joyce is writing a fascinating story of her travels throughout the world. Looking back at her past without becoming mired in reminiscing Joyce leads us to tropical islands, a look at other cultures and how experience can be the best teacher.

I am honored and grateful as a writer to know Joyce and to benefit from her skills as a writer, teacher and journalist. Her positive attitude and encouragement has assisted many writers through the dark waters of their first publishing efforts. Her classes and workshops are always filled at the local university and online. I hope you will seek out this talented woman, a woman who seeks to lead by example, skill and experience. You will be encouraged to continue on your path.

 

 

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Fiction at 13

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960’s.

Desireeis_paris_burning  I was a reader in transition when I landed in Paris. As a young middle school student, I had been introduced to American authors like O’Henry, Hawthorne, Mark Twain and Esther Forbes. My library card was well-worn from weekly forays into the fictional world of the Young Adult section. When we moved to Paris, there was no longer a willing librarian to recommend new authors or the proper reading material for a young girl. I was on my own, reading newspapers, American magazines and anything I could find written in English. (My French never did allow me to visit the “bibliotheque.”)  During that first summer, I was limited to the books my father brought home from the office, the books circulating among the wives of his colleagues. Since cereal boxes were boring and I needed something more than solitaire to entertain me, I shared the books with my parents. I found more than entertainment, I discovered fascinating history, romance, intrigue and a little known genre called historical fiction. I was addicted.

A recent reference to the Bernadotte family reminded me of those first lonely months in Paris and the book that introduced me to European history. The book, Desiree by Annemarie Selinko, is the story of a young woman in love with Napolean, her adventures in Paris and her later transformation to become Queen of Sweden. Desiree became Queen of Sweden when her husband, Jean Baptiste Bernadotte, became King Charles XIV John. They founded the Bernadotte dynasty that produced the modern love story of Prince Bertil and Princess Lilian. A love story for the 21st century. No wonder I was so intrigued. Thirteen years old, a French love story that was “real” for the reader. I was hooked.

The second book that influenced my present and my future was Is Paris Burning? by Larry Collins and Dominique LaPierre. Real history set in the city where I lived. The very buildings I walked past in my Sunday visits to Paris were described in the book, brought to life in details by historical authors. The pockmarks I saw, the landmarks I visited were each described in detail from the days of the Nazi occupation. I lived in the history of the city, ready for the bursts of bombs over Paris, the American troops riding in tanks to liberate the French and the various intertwining histories of the people I met walking along the Seine. How exciting to pass under the very bridge where the Resistance officers traded secrets with the Allies. The book was so descriptive of the moments leading to the liberation, I almost expected to meet Charles De Gaulle en route to a meeting when I turned the corner in the 5th Arrondissement. Living amidst the historical sites, I learned that history and the present intersect on every street corner.

I wasn’t lonely anymore. I was in the middle of history, meeting with Resistance officers, reading telegrams from Berlin. I was living in Paris but each page of the book placed me in the 1940’s rather than the turbulent 1960’s of my present.  I had found a new path, a new way to look into the past and find the present. While my friends at home in the States were talking of “Grotto dances” and “The Rock” I was living amidst the pages of a book, living the history of the ancient city, verifying facts and visiting the buildings with their war plaques and pockmarked facades.

My view of history was forever changed by the realism of my present connected with the living proof of the past. These two book made history come alive, transported me to an age unknown previously and introduced me to a living history I would pursue throughout my life. The authors wrote, described, and set a scene so real that I was allowed to live among the pages of history, right before my teenaged eyes. A history so real that years later, I wondered if I had lived the dream of Desiree, young, in Paris and eager to experience the excitement of a future filled with mystery and romance.

I learned that Paris was not burning nor did young Desiree marry Napoleon but in those months before I started high school, I learned that history is made in each day we live and can be found within the pages of a book. Two books can change a life.

 

 

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Daily Bread

Early each morning children and housewives visit the Boulangerie to purchase baguettes, the long loaves of bread, we associate with French cuisine. The loaves poke from the string bag used by all to carry purchases from the market. Perhaps other treats are purchased from the Patisserie, the pastry shop, but a necessity in every French town is its Boulangerie. My initiation to the wonders of the bakery began soon after my arrival in St. Germain en Laye.

My father sprinkled centimes in my hand, the coin of the realm before the Euro, and gave me brief directions to the shop. He instructed me to ask for one loaf. His French was limited to the pertinent phrases he needed to navigate outside the NATO base where he worked and he struggled to translate the question for me. I left the apartment (another elevator ride to the street) and walked slowly up the cobblestone street, repeating the words he had spoken as a mantra. Bicyclists passed with loaves spearing like lances from the bags hung on handlebars. Housewives returned from the market weighed down with bags of produce and meat, loaves tucked under their arm. The loaves were long and thin, crusty outside with a soft sweet center.

I entered and stood inside the door of the small shop. The yeasty aroma of fresh bread mingled with the scent of fresh flowers perched on the glass case. Women stood near the case vying for the cashier’s attention. The rapid staccato of French gave the scene an urgent feel as I stepped forward to place my order. Suddenly, I was tongue-tied, the mantra deserted me and I stood, a young American girl surrounded by bustling French women. “Un pain s’il vous plaît,” I stuttered. My accent immediately alerted everybody in the shop and the hushed silence caused me to jingle my coins nervously. I stepped to the register, offered my centimes and grabbed the loaf. My face turned rosy with embarrassment as I made my way out the door clutching the bread to my side. Out on the street, I turned toward home and looked at my purchase. Instead of the long, thin, crusty spear of a baguette, I held a football shaped loaf. Clearly, I had made a mistake. Rather than face the same shoppers again, I raced through the alley, down the cobblestone steps and into the elevator. I had no idea what I had ordered, only that the loaf I brought home looked nothing like those common loaves of all the others in the shop.

Fortunately for me, there was a thick Berlitz guide to the French Language available. I admitted to my father the error I had made and searched the pages for the correct term. “Un pain” was an oval loaf, smaller in size than “un baguette” the more typical long thin loaf of every French household. It was a small yet crucial distinction, one I was careful to learn for my next foray into the Boulangerie of St. Germain en Laye. I also learned the difference between the Boulangerie (the bread bakery) and the Patisserie (the pastry bakery) although it would be some days before I developed the courage to explore the sweet wonders of the Patisserie.

Assortiments_de_Pt_11_petits_fours_assortiments

 

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DP Challenge – Steps Along the Past

My mother told me the news at lunch on a cold February day during our mid-winter break. Our family was moving to Paris. Yes, Paris France, the city of Les Mis, the Bastille, Marie Antoinette and an eager American teenager. The plan was for my father to go ahead, establish his place in the workforce, find a home for the family and then send for us to come after our school was finished in June. The plan left the majority of the work to my mother, to prepare our small suburban home for rental, gather our school records, sort through belongings to store or sell, schedule immunizations and maintain our life in New Jersey. There seemed to be so much time between the announcement and the departure. I was on the brink of adolescence and cranky teenaged angst. The February announcement would forever change my life and by June 1966 I would begin to walk a different path than that of the ordinary suburban schoolgirl I had been.

My father left first, in March. I remember taking him to the airport on a cold March afternoon, driving through the dark slushy streets in a car loaded with his entire wardrobe of suits, ties, casual clothes and at least one hat. It was 1966 and dapper men wore hats and overcoats, suits and ties and shiny shoes. My mother was remembering all the details of their last separation during World War II. I hoped this would be shorter. “Do you have your passport, your traveller’s checks and the ticket?” my mother asked over and over. “Yes, dear,” he repeated to her every question. I had never thought he would be gone, not present every night at the dinner table, presiding over the family supper with jokes and job stories. Yet, here he was, leaving on a jet plane with hugs and kisses, tears welling in his eyes as he looked one last time at my mother. In a moment, he was gone with his heavy suitcases and his leather briefcase. We watched as long as we could.

Predictably, my mother accomplished miracles in the next three months. She organized repairs on the house, scheduled my brothers and my immunizations, prepared the paperwork for our passports and turned over her Women’s Club presidency. I remember walking into the house from school to hear an attic floor being hammered into place, the noise reverberating throughout the neighborhood. My brother and uncle were preparing a storage area for our furniture and personal treasures. While they hammered sheets of plywood into place, my mother was supervising the workmen setting new steps and a walkway at the front door. Weeks of endless workdays, hectic schedules and farewell parties almost overwhelmed her but at last, the house was empty, the back steps had fresh paint, the dog had a new home and the four of us were loaded into cars en route to JFK airport for a Pan Am flight to Orly airport in Paris.  The family was moving to a two bedroom apartment in Ste. Germain-en-Laye, France. The transformation was underway.

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Pay It Forward 2013

2013 Creative Pay-It-Forward:

The first five people to comment on this post will receive from me, sometime in the next calendar year, a gift.

Perhaps a book, or handmade item, or a candle, music – a surprise! There will likely be no warning and it will happen whenever the mood strikes me.

The catch? Those five people must make the same offer in their FB status, their blog or to their email friends.

Be sure to let me know your address or contact info.

Pay It Forward

Pay It Forward

Thank you to my lovely friend, Rachel Dickenson for suggesting this inspiring idea.

 

 

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