Session Two Handout

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Session Two: First-Person Memoir Assignment

Write a story of between one to five pages about a significant event in your life. You may build upon last week’s assignment or create a new story. In addition to focusing on description, think about the plot of your story. Where does the story really begin and end? Are there details that could or should be left out (people or actions that aren’t relevant to the particular story being told)? Are there details missing that would provide your reader with a smoother transition (such as background information on the event or main characters)?

Sample of assignment

The Smell of Gardenias

by Bob Harvey

         Last week my wife came in from shopping carrying one of those dwarf gardenia bushes so often found in super markets. You know the type — small dark green shiny leaves, plastic pot wrapped in foil and a special water-absorbing ribbon that sags if the humidity gets above 60%, plus a couple of small cream colored flowers.

         One smell of those little blossoms transported me back 50 years to my home in Galveston, Texas. It was the fall of 1946, I was 12 years old and my hormones, while not exactly raging, were staging frequent border skirmishes. When Yvonne asked me to take her to a dance the internal battle between fledgling man and Peter Pan was bloody and without mercy. But since Yvonne was the best pitcher within a square mile and could run forever, it was more like taking one of the guys, (who was a little different), than taking a girl. Poor Peter Pan. In that one moment he lost not only the battle but the entire war. Though not dead, he would never again pose a serious threat to the new order.

         For the next two weeks my mother inundated me with rules of proper conduct. I not only had to learn what to do and what not to do, what to say and not to say, I had to learn to dance the box step. Mrs. Letz, our local florist, made me a corsage of sweet peas. She thought that sweet peas were the most appropriate flower for a girl of 13. I thought that for a $1.25 I should have gotten the Garden of Eden complete with animals.

         Since neither of our parents owned a car, the big evening found me walking to Yvonne’s. Clutching the cellophane corsage bag, dressed in my Sunday school best, strong of stride, head held high and bladder, bowels and belly threatening to void themselves at any moment, I spent the entire trip trying to find a graceful way out of this frightening situation.

         When I finally reached my destination and rang the bell, Yvonne’s father answered the door. That almost ended the evening immediately. Mr. Lang was a very large man with a craggy face and a dour expression that was accented with one eye that was slightly askew. All of the guys were afraid of him and I was no exception. However on this night he was Mr. Congeniality, doing his best to put me at ease while we waited for his daughter to make her appearance. When she finally emerged I was dumfounded. Tousled hair had become silken tresses, sweaty skin had become burnished alabaster, chapped lips had become sweet strawberries and her white strapless gown was held up by parts I didn’t even know she had.

         After the standard “oohs” and “ahs” a beaming Mrs. Lang wished us well and told us to be careful. Finally we were allowed to leave and the three of us headed for the bus. Yes I said the three of us — Yvonne, me and Mr. Lang who stayed a silent and discreet distance behind us. After dropping us off at the dance, he disappeared for the next four hours. Years later I learned that his time had been spent at the Clipper Ship Bar and Grill.

         We entered the dance through large old mahogany double doors and were immediately surrounded by girls. Yesterday I knew that girls were different; today I was learning a little of just how different. And the smells. We guys usually smelled of peanut butter, sweat, and stale urine, but these beautiful creatures smelled of scented soap, sachet and perfume. It was the heady aroma of gardenias, however, that dominated all others.

         I must have gone into sensory shock because the rest of that evening is little more than a vague memory. Not one specific incident is recallable.

         When we got home, and with her father in plain sight, Yvonne put her arms around me then kissed me slowly and gently on the lips. At that moment I was totally in love with love, women and humanity in general. I now look back on that instant not so much as the beginning of the loss of innocence, but more the realization of my own ignorance.

         Though we never became sweethearts, Yvonne and I remained good friends until she married and moved to another state. Last month we met at our 45th class reunion. She told me that she still has that little sweet pea corsage and whenever she looks at it she fondly remembers that first dance. We smiled, hugged and, after a few moments of polite conversation, went our separate ways.