Teaching with Memoir

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories.” -Anne Lamott

“Our job as teachers is to help students tap into their wants and also help them realize that writing can be a solution.” -Donald Graves

“Our pasts belong to us.  They are the fires that drive us, that consume us, that illuminate who we are.  They are the inaudible voices that guide our decisions and expose truth when we are afraid to.” Stephen Crowder

It isn’t great, but it’s part of my story. I hope you enjoy.

Change Can Be Difficult: A Brief Memoir by Travis Crowder

As you read the following memoir, identify:

  1. places where the author uses poetic language;
  2. power words;
  3. and how the author creates tone (the attitude/feeling toward the issue or content).

When I reflect on my past, vivid, colorful memories flood my mind.  My parents built a home full of warmth and love.  Both of them were hard workers and they instilled in me a drive to achieve greatness. My father bruised his hands from hours of hard labor, and he was willing to sacrifice comfort for the sake of our family.  Although rough and callused from work, his hands were gentle.  They wiped away tears, helped me with homework, patted my back before bedtime. Like all children, my vision of the world was not a realistic one; it was clouded by the spirit of love I felt when I was safely ensconced in our house. Home was a haven, a protection from the ugliness of the outside world. At that point in my life, my imagination was not tamed by the terrible reality of our financial situation. In truth, money was almost nonexistent and my parents struggled to make ends meet; I never understood the hardship because they protected me from it. They cast this protection like it was a charm, but unfortunately, it was short-lived.    

By the time I was in 8th grade, I was well aware of the financial burden that had crept over our family. My father worked diligently, but the income was a pittance, never fully providing the funds we needed. On school mornings, he would always ask if I had money for lunch. I often felt guilty for taking money from him because I was beginning to understand the issue with finances. Several times he would give me the last few dollars in his wallet, and even when I refused, worried he would have nothing to buy his lunch with, he forced me to take it.  

One morning, I asked him for two dollars for lunch. He opened his wallet, and it was empty except for some receipts.  He sighed, and I knew his mind was plagued with worry.  “Hang on,” he said.  He walked to the kitchen cabinet where our family kept a cannister with spare change. He pulled it down from the cabinet, twisted off the lid, and brought out four penny rolls. “Will they let you pay with this?” he asked.  

“I think so,” I said.

“Well if they don’t, ask them if you can charge it.  I’ll pay it as soon as I can,” he said, turning away from me. I’m certain he had tears in his eyes.

In the moments leading up to lunch, I began worrying. If I took the penny rolls out of my pocket and they didn’t accept them, I would look like a fool. If they did accept them, and classmates saw me paying with an embarrassing form of payment, I feared I would be ridiculed.  Knowing I had charged my lunch in previous weeks, I feared suffering the condescension of the cafeteria cashiers. They were known to be acerbic, and I wasn’t sure I could handle their rudeness that day.

To save myself from as much embarrassment as possible, I decided to ask a cashier about the penny rolls before going through the line. If they wouldn’t take them, I wouldn’t go through the line. I’d just eat when I returned home. I approached the least busy cashier and asked rather quietly, “Can I pay for my lunch with penny rolls?”  I assumed she didn’t understand how embarrassed I was (it’s hard to believe she was just too rude not to care) because she said back, rather loudly, “I don’t know if we take penny rolls. You’ll have to ask our manager. She’s over there!” she said, as she pointed to the front of the cafeteria. The students in the lunch line were looking at me, and I could tell they were amused at the incident. I was dismissed to the cafeteria’s overseer, a harsh woman who was anything but pleasant, and as I approached her, I took into account that she was talking to another adult. I waited. I waited some more.  She never acknowledged I was standing there, even though I did small things, like moving into her line of sight or clearing my throat to make my presence known.

The lunch line was starting to diminish, and I was still standing there waiting for her to acknowledge me. I was frustrated and embarrassed, and I could see some kids whispering, wondering what I was doing. It fueled my anger and I was ready to burst into tears.  

Right before tears slipped from my eyes, one of the kinder cafeteria ladies approached me. “Honey, what do you need?” Her words were comforting and I was grateful.

“Can I pay for my lunch with penny rolls?” I asked.

“You sure can,” she said. I’ve never forgotten her soft smile, how she welcomed me into the lunch line, accepted my money and gave me back my change without question or a sign of ridicule.  I’ve also never forgotten the words of the other cashier, who said, “Guess you can pay with those things,” as I walked to my table with my tray of food.  

That day I realized the supreme importance of kind words and acceptance. It was the first time I had experienced judgment because of money.  I had been protected from such hateful attitudes, but as I ate my lunch, I began to understand the rudeness my parents had to endure.  I had enough money to pay for my food, but my method of payment was different.  How could paying with change be so difficult? Maya Angelou, one of my favorite poets, said people will forget things about you, but they will never forget how you made them feel.  Emotions are fragile things; when they are destroyed, we never forget the people who destroyed them. My attitude toward people changed that day because I saw how rude they can be.  I was hurt, and even now, when I remember this part of my past, I cringe at the memory.  Sure, I eventually healed, but I have never forgotten.

Change can be difficult.  

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One comment

  1. anonymousmystic · November 1

    Thank you for this insight into your heart and your soul. I am sensitive to the fact that while we do “own” everything that has ever happened to us, it’s not always easy to articulate without the pain, shame or embarrassment that is sometimes associated with certain events and circumstances. I can feel some of what you felt in a way that I would never have considered prior to reading this. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 1 person

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