As part of this year’s One Read program, we invited you to take inspiration from “Bettyville,” and write your own mini memoir. The mini memoir could have centered around a big moment in your life, or even a small event from which you learned something profound about yourself.
We received entries about childhood and old age and everything in between. Some memoirs focused on cheerful moments, while others were more somber, but all of the entries were wonderful insights into the lives of our community. All of the writers shared their stories in less than 250 words. Thank you to everyone who entered and shared your stories of inspiration, love, loss and more.
Our two winners are Mary Jo Fritz and Starlight Katsaros. Honorable mentions go to Barbara Carter and Marcie McGuire.
We are excited to share with you the winning stories.
The Atomic Cloud Chamber by Mary Jo Fritz
It was 1960. I was a senior in Sister Kathleen’s physics class in high school. Assigned to work in small groups on a project of our own choosing, Rita, Margaret and I chose to build an atomic cloud chamber. Sister cautioned us that it had been attempted before by students with no success.
Undaunted, we set out to gather the materials we would need, including a 10 gallon aquarium, dry ice and rubbing alcohol. A trip to a local jeweler’s shop was made to obtain an irradiated watch hand. Working evenings and weekends, we assembled it in the garage. It worked for us there but would it also work in the classroom?
It did work! Radioactive ions shot off the watch hand making small contrails in the super saturated atmosphere. Sister Kathleen was delighted by our success, saying no groups of boys had ever achieved what we had done. She directed us to the principal (Father Beier) to show off what girls can do. Was she an early feminist? One can only guess.
That memory has echoed within for the past 56 years. When faced with a difficult situation, it bolsters my self-confidence. It makes me believe, too, that girls are just as capable as boys in the sciences. It also emphasizes that a teacher can and does have a strong impact on students.
One singular event, many years ago, was definitely a lifelong memory!
Wild Children by Starlight Katsaros
I grew up with my brother, Shaman, on Missouri farmland north of town. Our imagination was sparked with adventures in Terabithia and Tom Sawyer. Their creativity inspired us to set out one day and build our own wild magical place in the world. We went armed with rustic tools, a hatchet, some string, and a pocket knife. We explored the land that first day, choosing with care our fort’s foundation.
The fort needed to be built with ingenuity, so using what we could find in the forest and fields of our farm we began to create our first homestead. We used vines to tie together the logs that we could manage to move. The largest of these, at maybe fifteen feet, formed the backbone of our fort upon which we laid smaller sticks to be our walls. It slowly took shape around us with a small circular entrance complete with a fire pit and a triangular extension on the stream bank. We even found coal in the banks of the stream to light our fire. Our entrance gave us sovereign presence over the stream. It was perched at the base of a tree which itself leaned precariously twenty feet over the rushing stream. We were wild children of the forest. Our view of the world expanded and took shape from this magical vista.
Phonics by Barbara Carter
It was awful, devastating. There were tense, hushed parent-teacher conferences. Worried glances. I would never be able to read, or spell. Everybody said so. At the age of six, I was a failure. I didn’t understand Phonics.
Then, that terrifying assignment: Go to the town library, get a book, read it, and report on it. I felt sick. I couldn’t read (everybody said so), and I didn’t even know what a library was.
The next day, Mom took me to a room filled with books and a comfortable, smiling lady who didn’t know I couldn’t read. She handed me a book. “I think you’ll like this one.”
The next Saturday, I took the book back. “Did you like that book?” I nodded, not meeting her eyes.
“Well, if you liked that book, why don’t you try this one next?”
“Can I?” I looked up.
“That’s why the library is here.”
Each week, the lady was ready with another book. When I told her I wished I could take out two books, she told me I could! I started taking out several books each week.
When I had read all the kid books (it was a really small library), she introduced me to the bigger kid books, then to the teen books, then, when I was in 6th grade, to my first adult book, Agatha Christie’s “Murder, She Said.” By the time I was in 8th grade, I was reading Shakespeare.
And I still don’t understand Phonics.
Letting Go by Marcie McGuire
I knew something was wrong when the nurse kept adjusting the fetal monitor and trying not to look worried. We could all tell there was no heartbeat. When she turned off the machine, the room was still. I turned on my side in bed and closed my eyes, my belly heavy with my dead child. What would I tell my three-year-old at home, eagerly awaiting his baby sister?
When it was time to leave the hospital, I felt like a failure as they wheeled me to the front door, my arms hanging empty in my lap, my breasts filling with milk. That spring I wanted to rip flowers out of the ground. Suddenly fat and happy babies were everywhere. Over the next few months I would hear many unhelpful comments from friends and strangers, telling me this was God’s will, urging me to try again.
I did eventually try again. Finally, after another devastating loss, I gave birth to a healthy active boy. But never again would I feel safe from worry. I had lost whatever faith I once had, and I envied those who still believed. I had no answers for my living children when they asked, “Why did the others die?” But somehow I found a way to move forward; I tried to teach my children to love the world and not be afraid, naming things that crossed our path, accepting that there are things beyond our understanding or ability to control.