1993—a pivotal year (with thanks to Mrs Grant)

Besides my Oma, the person who most encouraged my writing when I was a child was my year three teacher, Mrs Grant. She was an exchange teacher from Canada and we all grew to love her so much that it was devastating the day she left. She was so sweet that one time, when my best friend Genna and I were having a fight, she started to cry, and she couldn’t teach the class until we had made up. She was super funny too – she played a trick on us on April Fool’s Day, making us line up, thinking we were getting needles – it was terrifying and hilarious. She also cast me in my very first play – The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. ‘Santa, why are you taking our Christmas tree?’

Mrs Grant showed me how enjoyable reading could be, and she also was one of the first people to get me writing fiction. We read our stories out loud to the class – and the stories I found yesterday have chapters and cliff-hangers (including my favourite – ‘Michael Jackson and the Magic Hat’). I remember 1993 as being one of the happiest and most inspiring years of my life. And this was confirmed yesterday when I also found the diary Mrs Grant made us keep. There are so many things I’d forgotten, such as the fact that when Mrs Grant read to us, the session was called ‘Reading Like a Thinker’.

Going back through the 1993 school journal also makes me see how encouraging Mrs Grant was, not only of my school work and writing, but of my general kiddie happiness. What I can also see though, is how I constructed myself for her – some of the events in the journal I remember as being sad or confusing or scary – but I always relay them to her with enthusiasm. Or I write ‘oh well’, after something bad has happened. And it’s so interesting to see how much of your child-self still exists. The teenage diaries are a lot different, and a lot changed – but so much of my personality is still 9-year-old wanting-to-do-well and please people and be surrounded by things she loves Angela.

I wonder how different I would be, if I hadn’t had her encouragement? If she hadn’t read to us? If she hadn’t made us write stories and keep a journal?

My friends and I had a movie night yesternight – and as we’re all movie buffs (them even moreso than I) we often end up talking about pivotal film moments. We got onto Jurassic Park and I told them how I found the entry in my year 3 journal from when I saw it. We actually ended up on a big trip down memory lane and watched Aladdin, which I also found reference to in the diary today! We talked about how we didn’t get some of the Genie’s jokes when we were kids, because they were intertextual (my generation learns almost everything backwards – from reference or homage to original) and this is exactly what I had noted in my journal: ‘Dad understands it more than us because the face of the Genie and what he turn’s [sic] into are faces of comedy people from other movies’.

It seems I watched The Simpsons often that year and would tell Mrs Grant what I found funny. This would have been about season four of The Simpsons, and as most fans know – seasons four through about eight are the ‘golden era’ episodes, yes? Another cool thing about Mrs Grant is she watched them too, and wrote in my margins, or after my diary entry ‘I liked the bit where Marge was Bart’s teacher!’ If only all teachers could relate to their students like this.

1993 was also a big Michael Jackson love-year. He was touring and I watched the Dangerous concert on TV. I noted his 35th birthday in my journal, too, and how I celebrated with wizz-fizz and teeth lollies from the corner shop. It was the year he was on Oprah – how exciting that was to watch! It was the first year I watched Moonwalker and the full version of Thriller too.

This was the year when I had dreams of flying so vivid I was convinced they were real, when I imagined dinosaurs walking beside me to school, when I thought UFOs might be real, when I had secret crushes on two blonde boys in the choir (but didn’t everyone?), and – something I’ve always remembered as setting my imagination on fire – when my family visited Storyland Gardens. I wrote about the forest, the animals, the fences, the three little houses for the three little pigs, and the rusty old train track. A branch fell from a tree and hit me in the face, and I wrote, dramatically ‘It made me jump right out of my socks!’ I called the goat a ‘greedy fellow’ because he snatched the bag of pellets out of my hand and gobbled them down. Thinking about it now – I wonder what Storyland Gardens was like for my parents. No doubt the rust, weeds, decay, and animals in tiny pens looked less wondrous than they did to me, and the day was probably quite boring, from their point of view (except to see their kids happy). I never want to go there again, because I’m afraid of how different it would look – that is, if it even still exists. Being from Coffs Harbour, the monorail at the Big Banana was a similar sort of thing – magical, when you were young; disappointing, stinky and out-dated, when you get older.

Another thing about 1993 – and man I miss my parents when I read this journal – is how I didn’t ever write about wanting or needing anything. Every weekend my sister and I did something fun – we were taken somewhere, we played with the neighborhood kids in the street, we invented games, went for adventures, watched movies, and did heaps of reading. And my family were never super well-off. I’ve worked ever since I was 14, along with study. But we had an idyllic childhood – we were given the space, time and encouragement to develop our imaginations – and importantly, to have a lot of fun.

Do you guys have someone pivotal who shaped your life? Are you still your 9-year-old self, in some way? What was the most inspiring year of your life?

And Linda Grant – we kept in touch for years, but I wonder where you are now? I’d love to know how you are, and for you to know that Genna and I – and many of the other kids you taught, still talk about 3G.

1993 – a brilliant year.

9 thoughts on “1993—a pivotal year (with thanks to Mrs Grant)

  1. This is a wonderful post Angela: reflective, sweet, nostalgic. I enjoyed it a lot.

    A couple of months ago me and one of my mates reconnected via facebook with a high school teacher, Mr Marshallsea, who played a pivotal influence in our writing careers and inspirations.

    When we were in year 9 he held an extracurricular class once a week during lunch times called “writer’s extraordinaire” where a bunch of us would write and share what we had with the group. I’ll never forget Marshallsea’s style: placid, generous, never raising his voice or losing his temper, always treating us like adults (which many of us did not deserve), leading us all by example, in our how to participate in class and how to handle yourself in general. He was one of those teachers easily trampled by disruptive students. But I’ll never forget his style, and I’ll never forget the warm encouragement he gave to my writing.

    I liked your observation that our generation learns almost everything backwards. Very true. We see that in relatively new media like horror movie remakes right back to TV references of Shakespeare, Greek gods, ancient cultures etc.

    Oh and no – we didn’t all have secret crushes on blonge boys in the choir 😛

  2. A moving reflective blog…I’ve always kept a diary, inspired by a teacher who handed them out in class. I dream of inspiring like Mrs Grant. Sometimes, I’ve seen students too affraid to hold a pen, I guess, sometimes, out of fear of writing the wrong thing. Just last week I was writing with a student (after reading BlueBack by Tim Winton and telling stories of the ocean) and he said he had been always told to write about what he knows, I suggested he draw a picture with words about a world no one knows, yet. He just smiled. In the system we live in with narrative structure and showing off ‘techniques’ are tested like they are maths formula, originality and innovation in writing are sometimes lost…

    1996 was my year, trying to write like Tim Winton, having my English teacher hand over copies of his novels, little scribbles in the margins (something I find myself doing with my students)…I wish all my colleagues could read this!

  3. Wonderful blog. There’s no substitute for THAT teacher. Mine – a huge man with a shock of white hair and a ruddy impish face who when he bellowed at us (which was a lot) there was no malice anywhere in his tone…He actually reveled in our schemes and joys. What, I think I thought at the time, a grown-up man who doesn’t hate kids? A miracle. He wrote plays and I begged to be in them and was. He let me out in front of the class to (cringe) sing Buddy Holly and report what I thought I knew or saw, read Wind of the Willows, The 39 Steps, Treasure Island (Ah! Stevenson)..I often think I wouldn’t be writing without either R.L. or old Bill..Years later Bill was thrown out of the school for borrowing some money from a parent..(what’s the damn school got to do with it, I thought, but it was one of those schools??!@X&!! God schooled there). Old Bill walked with two sticks, carrying his huge size, sweating, if not smiling then grimacing in pain. He’d been struck down with polio. Old Bill Longley, long is size and long in effect. Loved him and still do. The year Christine Keeler drove a racing green sports car right through the British establishment (I was frogged marched to the senior school head’s office and caned for what I distributed on her). Topped the class by four marks year’s end and they did a recount and I lost by two (never trusted authority ever after that ) – know in heart the Head, a quaker, ordered that recount – the only year I ever worked at my studies, the year that never leaves me alone. Then JFK was blasted into my consciousness. Going back a bit, I know. Beatles. Rolling Stones. But it was one helluva of a year. 1963.

  4. I loved this post and can relate to a lot of it, and it’s amazing how much of it you can remember later on.

    I was always encouraged to read and write by my teachers, but my pivotal moment came in Year 11, when I would’ve been 16 or 17. I’d stopped reading and writing for pleasure outside of school in high school but my English teacher, Mrs. Chapman encouraged us to read to increase our vocabulary, so I picked up some King novels and it inspired me to start writing again.

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  6. At that age I lived in Qatar, and really felt all the boys in my class were rather defective for playing soccer at lunchtime in the 45 degree desert. We weren’t allowed to stay in the library at lunch, only in this air- conditioned ‘reading corner’ in another room, which had books for kids much younger than me, and was always really loud because it was packed with hundreds of girls.
    So the school librarian, Mrs Brewer, invented some sham title for me, like ‘Library Assistant’ which meant I could stay and read all through lunch time.
    I remember she would very patiently let me recount the entire plots of each of the Willard Price ‘Adventure’ novels, and also made me cheese and pickled onion sandwiches.
    She was great, and I think it was so important for me to have someone who would listen and interact with me when i’d get really really excited about hieroglyphics.

    But yeah, thanks for the great post, I haven’t thought about Mrs Brewer in years and years.

  7. this is cool. i have a big folder full of fiction from my primary school days, that i’ve been meaning to go through & interpret. mostly to steal ideas from my past self though…

    i’m way impressed with your year three punctuation skills. also your youth, seeing as i must have been in year 10 in 93; still interested in jurassic park, aladdin, not so much.

    school journal writing doesn’t seem to have stuck in my memory, but ‘story writing’ time has. i think i’ve mentioned it in my own blog post – we were allowed to partner up, & other kids used to enjoy being my partner (one moment of popularity). i wrote quickly, erratically, & most importantly, anarchically.

    when not viciously satirising fellow students, my stories would attempt amazing fantasies. stuff like life-or-death races around the world pitting me against aliens, vampires etc. i guess the entire aim was to propel me into a fiction where i would get massive credit for being amazingly brilliant. it’s interesting to compare that to your writing that always puts a positive spin on things. even then i guess we are aware of our audience, our readers. people expect certain things of ‘a good kid’.

    oh & i remember the first ever writing competition i won. it was in honour of the bicentenary (88!). my story was aptly titled ‘save the bicentenary’. it was about a couple of awesome kids with detective-minds that travel back into the past, & manage through various feats of heroism to make sure australia was discovered etc etc…

    i’ll see if i can locate this one. i suspect it would make an interesting post-colonial read.

    & i guess i should say, i just can’t agree with your assessment of 93 (a great year). i had stopped writing then, & wouldn’t come back to it for a long time. i was listening to nirvana in my bedroom, thinking pretty much all human interaction & experience was terrible. 2003 is a far finer vintage.

  8. What a sweet post! Mrs Grant sounds awesome, she reminds me of my Grade 1 teacher Mrs Sommerville who apparently enjoyed reading my writing journal entries. We were supposed to write about our daily goings-ons (the exciting lives of 7-year-olds!) And when I started uhh, straying, into fiction, she got the whole class to start doing fiction as well.

    She’s the first person who ever read my work and always showed so much enthusiasm, I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone so encouraging in my life since Mrs. Sommerville.

    (I was a little younger than you when Jurassic Park and was so scared of it at first, but quickly grew to love – seems like you’ve always had awesome taste in movies Angela :P)

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