A Special Teacher

Miss Fincham, Freda Fincham was my class teacher at St Joseph’s Primary School, which I attended when I was 10 years’ old.  She was tall, lanky and gangly, her limbs mobile and appeared not to fit her body.  She had a long face and a long nose with dark lustrous hair that she piled together on top of her head and clasped back with a huge slide but which kept escaping into wild tendrils around her face.  She wore bright red lipstick and long flowing dresses with large colourful flowers on them and big woolly cardigans which had probably been hand knitted.

My mother was in hospital at the time and I was boarding at the Fidelius Convent but I was neither clever enough, nor was my mother rich enough for me to attend their school, instead had to walk down down the hill to the local school.

I was unruly and disruptive in class, I’m not sure exactly what I did, I talked alot (I still do) and joked alot (I still do) and generally did anything I could to attract attention which resulted in my being sent out to stand outside the Headmaster, Mr Brennan’s Office.  He would give me a telling off and hit me with his cane on the hand which stung and made my fingers red.

What I liked about Miss Fincham, although in my head she was always Freda, was that she would sing instructions to us.  ‘Put your pencils down’  ‘Take out your books’  ‘Pay attention when I’m talking to you’ and so forth, all on one note but very musical and I found her fascinating.  On one particular day there was alot of noise and I, along with others, was making paper aeroplanes and throwing them about.  Freda approached me and sang at me

‘Get out of the classroom.’

I sang back, ‘No.’

She then sung, ‘I told you to go out of the classroom.’

I again sung back, ‘No.’

She reached out to grab hold of me to pull me up, I resisted and grabbed hold of her cardigan which was flapping around and pulled back.  The cardigan sleeve stretched and stretched until I fell back down on to my chair, still holding on to her cardigan.  She looked at me for a few moments with such a look of caring that it was like an arrow of surprise that pierced through my hard, sulky exterior straight to my heart.  I didn’t realise anybody could care for me.  I let go of her cardigan and went straight out to wait for the cane.

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“Hey Jude”

“Hey Jude” – the sound for me of London in the swinging sixties.  I’m not sure why that particular song should evoke memories of those carefree days but every time I hear it I can picture myself back there with my flatmates belting out the song with a lot more enthusiasm than tunefulness. Whenever it came on the radio, we would all join in at the tops of our voices and that song was everywhere in 1968. 

The lyrics are quite sad and the song was apparently written for John Lennon’s son, Julian, at the time of his parents’ marriage breakup but it only brings back happy memories for me.  I was young and in London for the first time and there was a real feeling of excitement in the air.  I had come straight from a tiny country place on the other side of the world, a place so small it didn’t even have a shop, and London seemed like a box of chocolates, full of my favourite flavours.

I was flatting for the first time with people from three different countries; there was always a party to go to, a friend to come sightseeing and people my own age with whom to debate all the subjects under the sun.  After three years of being a teacher lodging with school families, this was a dream come true.

London offered endless diversions.  The shops were open all day on Saturdays, transport was easy and cheap and we had only ourselves to please.  Every weekend we caught the tube to the West End to take in the action.  Skirts were so short that men used to sit at the bottom of the stairs in double decker buses to watch the girls climb to the upper deck. Minis had became popular, a fashion helped by the invention of tights in place of the awful suspender belts and stockings we used to wear. Shiny hot pants were also a fashion item although I was never brave enough to wear them.   At the same time, maxi coats or capes were all the rage for winter and we wore knee-high boots for the first time.  I even had a wig with blonde streaks which made me feel very glamorous.  Fashion was cheap and disposable, so exciting for we girls who had always had to make our own clothes.  We all shopped for underwear at Marks and Spencer’s, commonly known as Marks and Sparks, and even sent parcels of knickers to friends at home.

 Mary Quant was the high priestess of fashion and makeup and Twiggy was the model to watch with her stick thin figure and haunting black-lashed eyes. We would spend whole days in Carnaby Street, the world centre of young fashion.  It was a riot of colour, each shop vying with its neighbours to present the most eye-catching displays. They had terribly British names like Lady Jane and Lord John, the latter attracting attention with the whole of its shop front painted in a psychedelic mural. Union Jack flags fluttered overhead and loud music boomed out of every doorway.  At that time, London was a magnet for all the world’s most creative young artists, musicians, designers and photographers.  It was the place to be. 

There was a real feeling of optimism in the air. Post-war austerity was over and young people felt a huge sense of freedom. They felt they could change the world and boundaries were being pushed everywhere.   The anti-Vietnam musical “Hair” was a smash hit and, for the first time, nudity was shown on a mainstream stage, even if it was for about twenty seconds in dim light.  We lined up for standing room tickets at all the shows as they were very cheap. We had to climb hundreds of steps to the Gods and watch from a great height but we were just thrilled to be there. We could not believe that we were actually in those theatres which had been familiar names from childhood – Covent Garden, Haymarket, the London Palladium and the rest.

We stood on the fringes of the anti-Vietnam protest march led by British-Pakistani Tariq Ali and actress Vanessa Redgrave when tens of thousands of people marched through the streets with placards, the biggest and noisiest crowd we had ever seen.  The march turned violent when protesters broke into the grounds of the United States embassy and the police were strongly criticised for their heavy-handed approach. In those pre-Internet/social media days, news didn’t reach us back home until quite some time after it had happened and we felt very important to be right in the middle of news as it was made.

These major events were exciting but we found everyday things almost as novel.  We used to listen for the sound of a horse and cart clopping down our street with the driver shouting “Rag and Bone” as he collected everyone’s castoffs. We were fascinated by the nippy little milk vans delivering their goods to our front door and we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw the girls in the flat next door actually cutting their minuscule front lawn with scissors.  Cutting the lawns at home had been half a morning’s work.  We fell in love with the man roasting chestnuts at our local tube station. He always gave us a few extra and the little bags were ideal for warming our hands as we walked home.

To be young and free in London in 1968 was the most exciting thing in the world. I could not have spent the tail end of the sixties in any better place and, although London is very different now and our hopes and dreams of a brighter future for the world have not quite turned out as we hoped, I still love retuning to London.  It is full of happy memories.  And, if I can’t visit in person, there is always “Hey Jude” to take me back there.

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Baking as a Tool for Healing

Around the late 1990s, cross stitching became a fad that everybody in my group of friends, except me, took to  it to while away the time, or possibly to get together to gossip about. In hindsight, and no offense to them, i also considered that taking on the hobby was a way for them  to escape hearing my separation narrative that had their ears already full for months since my marriage fell apart in September 1996.

We were first neighbors in an exclusive village called K-Square Townhomes in Quezon City, Manila’s capital as well as the largest city in the Philippines. Through the regular homeowners’ meetings, 4  of us gravitated towards each other and not long after, we have developed a solid friendship that has stood the tests of both time and distance. The circle expanded to include 2 other friends who lived outside of K-Square who were  friends with one or the other. Tess and Menchie T were coming to our place almost daily or nightly for our game of Pusoy 2. Soon they  were virtually residents of our village and that made my original neighborhood friends of six.  Five of us are now living abroad.  Menchie T and myself are in CA and is in New York,in the United States;Tess and her family live in Vancouver,  British Columbia, and Aida  just recently migrated to New Zealand.  Menchie Sexy ( an adjective we have attached to her name to distinguish  her from the Menchie with a T in our group)  still lives at K-Square, a decision she  stood up for to provide moral support to her son as he finished his medical school. Vincent, who is godson of  all 5 of us, is now a practicing pediatrician,

When all five  of my friends became so engrossed in cross-stitching, I looked for an alternative hobby to pursue because my eyesight could not handle the tediousness of sitting all day sewing x-shaped stitches to complete a pattern.

I did not hurry. Between sobbings over a failed marriage and trying to heal emotionally though spiritual retreats, I bid my time and waited until some promptings came to me. Then it just dawned.

I had no experience at all in cooking but I  I could very well undertand and follow cooking terminoogies and instructions  without even consulting Mr. Websters. So I told myself  why not baking?

So baking it was. The following morning, I rushed to Killion Merchandising, a place where bakers, caterers and  cooking enthusiasts flock to source ingredients because of its cheap prices.  It  is  located in Quiapo in downtown Manila, about 12.3 km from our place  but  about a two hour ride from Quezion City given the perpetually notorious traffic reputation of Metro Manila.

Every trip to Killion always included a visit to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene,  famous home for the shrine of the Black Nazarene, a dark statue of Jesus Christ which many claim to be miraculous. The Basilica or the Quiapo Church as it is more colloquially known is just a stone’s throw away from Killion.

While Killion was a place for me to stock up on my dwindling baking arsenal, Quiapo Church was a quiet, serene sanctuary for me to unload my pain and hurt of my failed marriage  that had swelled anew from my last visit. I would stay in the church for some indeterminate time, not saying anything, listening to my grief that I believed was being divinely transported to the right channel of grace. I would come to the place burdened but always emerged feeling light as a feather.

With every visit to Killion and corollarily to the Church,  I knew that, aside from getting better at baking,  I was, more importantly, getting emotionally  healed  increasingly and progressively.

So my baking saga continued. My first attempt was a simple pound cake. I found it in my older sister Beth’s stack of recipes which she must have left when she moved to Japan with her husband. Beth and another sister Cathy are the good cooks in the family. Mom,when she was younger and  in her  heydays, was a very good cook herself. Beth also took some courses in Culinary Arts while waiting to move to Japan; Cathy, on the other hand, was a Food and Nutrition graduate from the University of Santo Tomas, which must have imbued in her the art of food preparation, and ergo, the art of cooking. Techie, the baby sibling, and myself, had our interests away from the kitchen.

Braced for the task at hand, i propped up the recipe and spread out all the tools and ingredients in front of me. My nephew BJ and niece Carina were my little helpers. I suspected however that they volunterred during my baking sessions to be around not to help but to lick the batter from the mixing bowl once I was done with the mixing. Carefully and thoughtfully, I followed the instructions verbatim.  When the mixing bowl started whirring and I saw how the dry ingredients softened into a thick paste of butter, egg, milk, sugar and flour, I was ecstatic. When the batter was done, I greased the yellow bundt pan and shoved it in the oven to bake for 50 to 65 minutes. Needless to say, my first experiment was successful and from then on, my  cross stitching friends  had made it a point to gather in my place, almost daily  at around 3 pm, their cross stitch patterns in hand, while waiting for my next baking experiment to come to fruition. While I cautiously and painstakingly  separated the dry from the wet ingredients, folded in the eggs into the batter of flour, sugar and butter, and poured in the milk into the batter, my friends had their heads bowed down on their cross-stitch patterns,  looking up only intermittently to see my progress and how far off still they were from getting their hands into the finished product. This became a daily bonding time for us and for every compliment I was getting, I was progressively getting affirmed of my emotional healing.

My baking repertoire grew over time and inspired me to branch out to  cookies and other cake variations.  Oh, cookies. The plain sugar and butter cookies which my niece Trisha so much loved.  When I first made these I had  all 5 of my  nephews and nieces ( Trisha, Erika, Raymond, aside from Carina and BJ) present, cousins who were then all playful, and obedient  and whose gifts   of innocence , almost certainly, would end in time with the coming of age and reality.

It warms my heat to remember that memory when they would huddle around the kitchen counter and soon as mixing was  done,  grappled for the bowl to get the first taste of the batter. Trisha,herself a mother now, bakes this recipe to her own children Raphaela and Thea.

The hihglight of my baking adventure was when I chanced upon a recipe for Food For The Gods, a sweet dessert bars, made with dates, butter, walnuts and honey. It became a hit soon as it came out of the oven. So good in fact that my family and friends suggested I make them as give-aways during Christmastime. So I did and did it with flair. They were given away in beautiful christmas themed boxes or tin cans with either gold, red or green ribbons tied around it and a fancy gift tag dangling from it. Soon after they were not just giveaways. I was getting orders from everywhere which I accepted for a while to keep me engrossed until I was ready to leave for the States to make a brand new start in life, on a clean slate and without a man.

I have been living in sunny California  for the last 18 years now and bake only at my leisure.  When I look  back though the rearview mirror of  those devastating years  of my separation in the Philippines,  I am grateful for that  prompting to try baking as an effective  vessel  for me to rise above emotional hurt.  This prompting would have been   difficult to decipher without the wisdom of the Holy Spirit whom I have fully embraced during a three day spiritual retreat back in 1997.

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Discovering God’s Love Through Pain

The way I personally experienced God’s love was through the break up of a union that I thought was blissful and made in heaven.

It was the 7th of the month of September 1996 when I  confronted my husband (he has since passed away in October 2005) about all the nasty gossips that had been reaching me.

“Yes, it’s true. My son is turning two this coming November and my daughter is only two months old” , he said. When I heard the truth straight from the horse’s mouth, my world crumbled. There he was … the man who was the center of my life for 27 years, crying copiously and uncontrollably, begging for my forgiveness.

Too shocked and  too angry to react, I went along with the initial decision for him to stay with his children on weekdays and coming home to me on weekends. Because I was working Monday to Friday,  I chose the weekends so we  could make the most of Saturdays and Sundays together. I gave him my full understanding just so he would not totally go away. But the arrangement proved to be more painful than I had expected it to be. On Saturdays, he would come home pretty late when there was not much activity we could enjoy together for the remainer of the day. Sundays would be a routine trip to the church, movies, restaurants or madjong. When it was time for him to leave on Monday mornings, there we would be in the bedroom, by the bedroom door, by the stairs, by the car, embracing and assuring one another that the love was still there. It was painful knowing that this was the kind of love that I would have to learn to share with his children, sired out of an illicit relationship with a woman who had taken advantage of my husband’s desire to have kids which I could not give.

I am childless by circumstance.  In August 1978, I underwent surgery that would render me unable to bear children for the rest of my productive years.  But the post operation phase of our married life did not seem at all affected. Because we did not have kids, we could well afford to indulge in little luxuries. Our regular weekend activity was madjoing. We also enjoyed travelling to various parts of the country and the world, eating out in the finest restaurants in town and going out or entertaining friends in our well appointed townhouse in one of the exclusive villages at the time in Quezon City.

I was a pampered wife. IN 1986,  i got out of the government service and travelled even more and wrote articles about my impressions of countries like America, Europe, Australia and other parts of Asia, some of which were published in local newspapers and magazines.

For years I was content writing on and off but mostly enjoyed  just being around my husband catering to all his needs. We were happy. Or so I thought. I did not have the fainstest idea that my husband, a very quiet man, was already a father of two.

In November 1996, it got to a point where the excruciating  pain had become unbearable for both of us. For him, it was doubly so as he had to deal with a guilty conscience at the same time. So the inevitable happened. We had to separate. He chose to be with his children. He begged me to allow him to be with his kids who needed his physical presence. I was helpless. I let him go because I felt that if I did not allow him, he could just have deserted me anyway. But if I had insisted on my right as his legal wife and pressed him to stay, I would not have felt good either with the decision that he was there, with me, but only because he just had to be.

For a time I kept the situation from my family and friends. I hid the pain and carried this cross without anybody noticing until my weight started to deteriorate. That was the time I knew I had to tell them of my hurt. The way my mother held her tears when she learned of it was still very clear to me as yesterday. How my mother loved Jimmy so much. He was her favorite son-in-law.

But while I was thankfull for the loving support of family and friends during this difficult time, no one could have ever felt the pain the very same way I did. It was an indescribable pain — the kind of pain that tore the heart, the kind of hurt that gnawed at the very fabric of my being.

The ensuing days were even more nighmarish. I had to learn to undo the things that I had become so used to doing with Jimmy. The dawn of another day would break and would find me still awake. On an extraordinary lucky day, I would doze off momemntarily only to wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding. It was extremely painful entering our bedroom and he was no longer there to embrace me, assure me and secure me with his love. Loneliness would grip me and I could only cry. Sadness followed me like a shadow as I would see him everywhere — in the man standing close to me in the elevator, in the man driving the car beside mine and I would feel him in anything that would accidentally touch me.

During this darkest hour of my soul, I thought about God. But then I was angry even at Him. I blamed him for the break up of my marriage. In one confrontation with Him, I said I was no big sinner. I was not a cheater nor a murderer. What did He have to punish me for?

In March 1997, my dear friends Chris and Gigi invited me to attend the Life in the Spirit (LSS) Seminar, a three day live in seminar designed to introduce one to a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. It provides people with an opportunity to find out more about that life and to be helped in taking the first steps of a new relationship with God. It  aims to establish or deepen among the participants a more personal relationship with Christ by yielding to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

Blindly and immediately, I said yes. At that point I knew there was no else who could take me out of the pit of despair but God. I have always been pious. I never missed  out on my Sunday and Holy Days obligations since I learned about God in our religion class. But given my current situation, it was not easy convincing myself that God could actually  change my outlook about what creative suffering and genuine love was all about.

For three days, I sat and listened patiently to all the sharings and the talks about God’s Love, Salvation, New Life and other discussions as I secretly await for that “Aha” moment when I would feel the love of God, actually, physically. Then it happened during the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I did not know what came over me but I liked how it felt. It was overwhelmingly  conforting. Immersed in 3 days of prayers, meditations, fellowships, talks and discussions, I came out of the seminar feeling light as a feather. I joined the seminar to find emotional healing and I got more than what I had bargained for. I had continued in my spiritual growth by joining the Bethesda Healing Ministry that caters to all supplicants who were emotionally broken as I was and to those who were physically infirmed as well. This went on until I left for the United States to make a fresh start in life without a man. No ordinary man. The end all and be all of my existence for 27 years.

As I reflected on these  events in my life, I realized that God must have used the situation to allow me to see that there is no perfect and faithful lover than HIM. My attachment to my husband had driven me so far away from HIM  and He wanted me to draw near to HIM.

The pain still rears its ugly head once in a while. But this pain has been a great teacher. It taught me to be more involved with the world around me. It taught me how to be concerned with others other than my husband. It taught me how to acknowledge my helplessness and powerlessness before God who is so full of mercy. It taught me how to look for the jewel in the rubble of despair. During times of extreme pain and sufferings, things that were lying hidden are exposed and jewels are discovered. I discovered the most precious jewel in fact.  A deep personal relationship with God.

The waves of sorrow had polished and refined me and allowed me to show forth the power of God’s conforting and healing words. It took me a while to understand His ways. But the effort and the struggle along the way was worth every pain and misery.  Now, I know how to deal with pain. When pain sets in, my best armor is prayer. I pray to HIM for strength, for light and for guidance. I have prayed to HIM for healing, acceptance and most important, forgiveness.  In HIM, I found the grace to forgive my husband, the woman and the people who might have had a hand in our separation. I won over pain because I went to the winning side. I conquered pain that had left scars of bitterness and anger in my heart because I chose to have love in my heart instead. His forgiveness and love have helped me forget what getting even means. I now walk with love in my heart and beam love to those I meet specially those who are or have been emotionally wounded just like I was.

The love of Jesus has showed me that true joy is often hidden in the midst of sorrow and the meaning of life finds its beginnings in grief. He says “Unless the grain of wheat dies, it cannot bear fruit…. Unless we lose our lives, we cannot find them; unless the Son of Man dies, He cannot send the Spirit”.

My separation has been the cross through which I have embraced the pain. But through this pain I have found the joy based on the knowledge that I belong to God and have found in HIM a refuge and an assurance that nothing, not even death, can take God away from me.


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The Song I Wish I Could have Sung

The Song I Wish I Could have Sung
When my senior year in high school came around and I was able to go back to school, I was changed in so many ways that one person could ever imagine being changed. I was left in a wheelchair from the MVA that was caused by the person who was harassing me at the end of my junior year. However, I was changed for the better, shaped into a new profound free spirit which could view things so much clearer. A song that really took place in helping me through my spinal cord recovery, which I know all of you know that was sung by Joe Nichols call the Impossible.

The Lyrics goes:
“Then there was my junior year, Billy had a brand-new car
It was late, the road was wet
I guess the curve was just too sharp
I walked away without a scratch, they brought the helicopter in
Billy couldn’t feel his legs, they said he’d never walk again
But Billy said he would and his Mom and Daddy prayed
And the day we graduated, he stood up to say…”

“Unsinkable ships sink, unbreakable walls break
Sometimes the things you think would never happen
Happen just like that
Unbendable steel bends
If the fury of the wind is unstoppable
I’ve learned to never underestimate the impossible…”

You see I never did get to sing or say that I prayed enough to feel my legs in full or walk again, because in my song that is not the case. When I listen to this song, I could feel the real sorrow of my soul the depths of my wants as a once a flighty but athletic girl had. I cannot say I did not wish and pray for this to happen because I did. But, I did not ponder on this reality very long, instead until one day I realized that this was not my destiny to say God granted my leg’s ability to walk again. Instead, my story was more poetic and motivating.

Impossible brought shame, jealousy, and hate, to my 18-year-old broken life. However, it also brought me to the realization of knowing. I knew that the real fact of the matter, I am still paralyzed in my chair, but I knew then that God was allowing this to be, for a very blessed reason. So, for their forward I did not ponder on the why’s and why not. I decided to lift my head and go on with my life the best I knew to do. For there are things that happen to us that can may seem impossible to live with but fighting against the odds in reality is worth the outcome in the long-run.

When graduation came that spring I wrote a speech in which I quoted a memorable faithful poem and read it to my class in our baccalaureate program. I ended up rolling up on stage and presenting my speech which was one of my best speeches I have ever recited in my whole college experience.

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A Grandfather’s Touch

Hello I am new to the course and I am trying to write a Memoir about a very tragic time in my life please read my writing from lesson 1 and provide feedback.



It all started with a touch. A touch that seemed accidental at the time. You know one of those brushes in passing or not looking where your going.

I had always considered him to be the most important person in my life. When no one else cared Papa did. He always seemed to pull up to the house when my eyes couldn’t possibly cry anymore. He knew that I needed him and he was always there. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that he touched me.

I remember being in the kitchen at my grandmothers house sitting on a wooden stool aching from the raise of the wood on its seat. everyone liked this particular stool and would race to the kitchen to sit in it first. My grandmother was cooking lamb chops and prepping her famous Macaroni and cheese. I knew I would be getting the boot soon because she was dedicated to keeping her recipe a secret. before I made it to the crust Papa walked in to the kitchen and hollered “hey grands” like he always did. We all lined up to give Papa his kiss on the cheek. I was 4th in line, right behind my cousin Yari. She needed Papa just as much as I did. When it was my turn I jumped up with excitement on my tip toes and said “hello Papa” when I leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek I felt it. The touch. My body froze and my sandwich hit the floor. I quickly snapped out of my state picked up my sandwich and placed it in the trash.

Papa continued you speak as usual and grandma hollered at me about dropping food on her floor. My ears were muffled but I could tell she was speaking to me. It never left me. I could still feel it on my breast as if he was still there. I knew it was an accident but something about it frightened and confused me.

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Three Times a Lady (pls comment) Lesson 1 Exercise

Pls note: written in British English – hence spelling you may not recognise if you are from the USA. This memoir feels like the speed version and could definitely be filled out…but…it’s my first attempt, so I hope to have some feedback. 🙂

Three Times a Lady

“You know Lou, you never get over losing your mother”. My mother had said this to me more than on a few occasions as I was growing up.

I distinctly remember walking into the kitchen one day, my mother at the sink with her back to me, the radio blaring as it always did when she was in one of her dinner party cooking frenzies. This day, The Commodores were on the radio. ‘Three Times a Lady’ was playing and she said it again. “You never get over losing your mother Lou. It doesn’t matter how much time passes you know.  Your Nana really was three times a lady.”  Whenever that song played, she’d always speak of my grandmother with such love and conviction.

The ‘teenage me’ most likely rolled her eyes (which I did at most of the things my mother said at that time), and wandered off, thinking yeah, yeah. I never imagined that I would experience how it would feel to lose your mother in just a few short years.

I met my grandmother for the first time when I was 8 years old. She and my grandfather arrived in Australia from the UK to visit. About 2 months into the visit, my grandmother had a stroke, paralysing her right side and affecting her speech. She remained in a wheelchair, unable to speak until she died two years later.

My grandfather refused to take her back to the UK when she got sick, saying she’d die immediately due to the cold. My grandmother cried every time anyone ever mentioned the UK, unable to express her frustration, as she could no longer speak. My mother always remarked bitterly that her father simply used it as an excuse to stay in Australia, as he had always wanted to do. The young, child me, didn’t understand the hostility my mother had towards her father, and as young children often do, didn’t question it. It wasn’t until many years after my own mother had passed away, that I really understood what my mother was talking about when she would say my grandmother really was ‘three times a lady’.

Having travelled through my twenties and spent time in the UK, getting to know my family and my mother’s sisters, I was slowly able to form a picture of my mother’s childhood. Or should I say, the not so shiny side. My mother always told wonderful, funny tales of her childhood, and the adventures and mischief she and her best friend (Auntie Anne) got up to. My Auntie Anne followed her to Australia, and I grew up with her and her family as part of my extended family. I didn’t really know my ‘blood relatives.

But once I headed to the UK as a young adult, I loved talking to my aunts and hearing about their collective childhood through their eyes. That is, growing up in England in the 1940s in a single parent family of five daughters.

As it turned out, my mother’s, and grandmother’s story was essentially that of Frank McCourt’s. McCourt is the author of “Angela’s Ashes”. Ever read the memoir? Or seen the movie? Well my mother’s story was almost identical. The marked difference being that my grandmother, fortunately didn’t need to prostitute herself to put food on the table as did McCourt’s mother. She was fortunate enough to find work and worked hard. She was an incredibly strong Irish woman, who brought up five girls on her own in wartime England after her drunkard husband had taken off when the youngest was not much more than 12 months old. My mother would have been around three at the time.

I can only imagine the challenges of bringing up five girls in wartime Europe as a single mother, having lost a sixth daughter to meningitis as a ten month old baby. My grandmother really did endure hardship and heartbreak, though never broke, and loved and cared for her daughters fiercely. My aunts spoke of times that they were so poor, they used jam jars as glasses and how my eldest aunt at ten years old had to care for the younger children while my grandmother was working as a cook and nanny leaving the house in the early morning and returning late at night.

Like Frank McCourt’s story, my grandfather showed up on the doorstep, returned from who knows where 10 years later. My youngest aunt, a poet, wrote a wonderful poem about his return through the eyes of five teenage girls standing on the landing, peeking down the stairs, pushing each other forward ‘no you go first’, as this stranger entered their house. They had grown up in a house of women, and suddenly this man, this strange man knocks on the door, apparently declaring “Honey, I’m home”!

My mother, thirteen at the time was incensed and resented this stranger becoming the man of the house. She never took to him, and in fact, caused so much havoc that she was banished to stay with the relatives in Ireland for a year when he first came back. Then at the age of sixteen, left home for London. None of my aunts know why my grandmother took him back. Perhaps she felt she simply needed the economic reprieve. Perhaps she was close to breaking? Only she will ever know.

And so it was, that as I got older, and built relationships with my mother’s sisters, I learnt of my mother’s childhood and of my grandmother through stories told. I could see why my mother spoke of her own mum with such utter love, respect and admiration. A woman, who in the day when there was no support for single mothers, brought her five girls up through the war, housing and feeding them without any support from immediate family and never ever complaining. It was only then that I finally understood that yes, my grandmother really was, Three Times a Lady.

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Ex 6: 5 main events of 1971-2

5 important events that occurred during the time frame chosen

I was in Jr. High and a very impressionable kid. I was quiet and sensitive so I spent a lot of time imagining things that could never come true. I was very much taken with movie stars and the lives of famous people in general, so TV and movies were a great interest to me and I would do anything in my power to watch my favorite shows even if I had to beg or bargain in order to get out of or postpone doing my chores.

Football was a big fascination of mine. It went further than idolizing the players. I was in awe of how football players performed. I loved watching their athletic ability and how they outmaneuvered their opponents and even though I had my favorite teams, I even watched college teams play and didn’t even know of any of the players. My brother would explain specific points of the game and what certain players were doing and it became a way for us to bond. Eventually I began to watch games on my own every weekend. I think my mother wanted to kill me sometimes because it drove her crazy, especially when we got loud or other things needed to be done around the house.

I loved reading and writing. I kept a diary since 1970 and wrote in detail in it without fail. At that time they consisted of scattered minor details unless it was very important to me and this habit grew through the years to the point where I bought 5 subject notebooks to contain everything. But in Jr. High my interests were rather scattered.

The Beatles were very popular. My gum-popping 20 yr. old sister was as infatuated with them as I was with my TV stars so any time I came near my house, the ‘magical mystery tour’ songs were playing either on 8 track tapes from her car or from her portable record player. She played it endlessly to the point where the activities and past times I engaged in were hallmarked by these songs playing in the background.

My next door neighbor was my best friend. We knew each other since kindergarten and shared our thoughts, dreams and hopes. This usually included boys we were interested in or classmates we despised. She was a girl with attitude and it seemed that she got the boys’ attention. She walked with a bit of swagger and I was a bit envious because she could get the attention of any boy and I couldn’t. Still, she was a good friend all through the years.

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Lesson 6 Scene: Brian’s Song

Brian Piccolo lay in the hospital bed, motionless. The tubes in his arm were supplying the chemo that his body was not responding to. He looked to be frozen in pain, as frozen as his sterile room with its bare and cold antiseptic smell. His wife could barely stand seeing him, a football running back for the Chicago Bears now laying weakened and barely breathing and death at his doorstep.

Trying her best to steady her voice, she leaned over and whispered, “Brian, Gayle’s here.”

It seemed to me that Brian was waiting especially for him as he raised his right hand in anticipation for their brotherly grasp.

Through slitted eyes staring ahead, Brian agonized over each shallow breath, his sticky mouth opened in determination to speak though his body was trying to suck him into a vacuum and pull him into oblivion.

Even in his weakened state Brian never lost his good natured spirit. “Remember when you got me with those mashed potatoes?”

“You deserved it.” And after a pause he added, “…the way you sang that dumb fight song.”

As I shifted in the recliner, I saw tears gather in Gayle’s eyes. My own tears flowed as I recalled each of those particular moments portrayed in the movie. It amazed me that in the midst of the ridicule and cruelty they suffered from being the first black and white players to room together in the NFL, they fought together, not only to preserve their NFL record, but their steadfast friendship despite the critics.

Their last conversation ended with Brian persisting in cheerful optimism. “I’m gonna get you next training camp.”

Though Gayle must have felt very doubtful, he looked very sincere. “I’ll be waiting.”

It broke my heart to know that there would be no training camp for Brian at the end of that summer. If only they had some sort of treatment for his cancer! Even if he had some role on the team that would make him still be a part of the team or even the NFL, but I knew that beating cancer even in the 70’s was a daunting task—just about impossible.

I lay in bed with the movie scenes flashing through my head. How did his wife coped with the loss of her husband? How did she manage to raise her three little girls without him? What would she say to them? Bending over, I rewound the cassette tape. “I’m gonna get you next training camp.” Good. The recording came out. The library! Yes, I would go to the library tomorrow and search for the book or maybe an autobiography by Gayle Sayers. If not, then I would go to the Public Library. Maybe that would give more information about his experience with the death of Brian. Oh, maybe I could buy it! Yes, I’ll also check the bookstore.

I eventually bought the book, “Brian’s Song,” going over all the moments of the movie. I searched for Gayle Sayers’ book that he wrote in memory of Brian called “I Am Third.”

It inspired me to take out other autobiographies of other NFL players popular at that time so I could really know and understand their lives and the struggles they faced through their journey to the NFL, and it continues to this day.


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Lesson 4: Opt. Exercise: Conflict scene

I saw his silhouette coming into view as he approached the door and my stomach began to churn. He quickly entered looking disheveled and distracted but looked around in dissatisfaction at the dishes piled in the sink and clothes strewn around here and there.

Staring right ahead at the football game, I sat frozen, pretending I didn’t take notice of him. I hoped he would just fly by me and go get whatever he came in for but his heavy footsteps stopped suddenly when he saw me in the rocker.

“What are you doing watching football? Look at this place! Get over here and do these dishes!”

“I will in a minute.”


As he came closer, my brother looked like a towering giant even at 20 years old. Being only 14 and the youngest of the family, I always feared getting tossed around or beat up so I quickly ran to the sink and turned on the faucet. My eyes stung as I watched the bubbles rise, hoping he wouldn’t do anything else to me.

“You better clean this place up good or I’m gonna beat the crap out of you.”

“I will!” I said angrily.

“And your homework better be done too.”

“It Is!”

To my relief distant footsteps bounded down the stairs, and I knew it was my sister. It was a welcomed distraction.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

“This kid is watching football and not doing any work around here.”

Before I knew it he went into the living room to turn off the game.

“Make sure she doesn’t watch any TV until this place is clean.”

Turning around, he finally headed out and left both of us in silence for a moment.

“I’ll do the dishes and pick up, but can I turn the TV back on? I really want to watch this game, I looked at her eye to eye, pleadingly.

She rolled her eyes and sighed. “Get these things done.”

I held my breath and paused a moment. “OK.”

After she went upstairs I ran to the window to make sure my brother’s car was gone and turned the game back on as I steadied myself from the upset, but sighed in satisfaction when I realized we had come out ahead.

One way or another, I was going to watch my football game!

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