Thursday, September 10, 2009

An Appetite for Food and Words

When I was 4 years old, my European immigrant parents enrolled me in our local primary school. At that time I only knew a handful of English words and only one English phrase. My clever Greek mother had equipped me with the words she thought would best get me through the day. Most necessary of all was “toilet please” and whilst I don’t have a memory of using it, I am sure it came in handy! I also knew the word “lunch”,  suitably schooled by mum to get my lunch box out when I heard this cue. Not having attended kindergarten, neither of us knew there would be ‘morning playtime’ or ‘recess’ where small snacks made their appearance, often referred to in my primary school as ‘play-lunch’. 

At the appointed time, when I heard “blah blah blah...lunch” I pulled out my parcel of food and like my happy neighbors, sat down to eat. I must have used up a lot of energy that morning, because I gobbled it ALL down, and went off to play. It wasn’t until lunchtime, that I realized something was not as it should be. Why was everyone eating again? Why didn’t I fit into this group anymore? I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong, and I don’t know how many days it took me to realize how things worked round the lunch box. Somehow it got sorted for me eventually, and I learnt to ration my supplies. And although it’s not a particularly sad or bad memory it is nevertheless the strongest memory of my first day of school. 

The year of my 9th birthday found me in grade 4, and by then the English language was my own. Unlike Greek, it had become the language I spoke most fluently. Reading was my favorite pastime, and when our teacher Mr MacRoan announced there would be a story writing competition, I was all ears. 

In honor of his son’s first birthday, we were commissioned to write a story, celebrating the little tot’s special day. The winner’s prize was to be a piece of the birthday cake itself. Memory is a selective creature. It has left me with little knowledge of my entry but I do remember writing from the point of view of the cake as it stood like a trophy on the party table. I also remember winning the competition, and Mr MacRoan handing me my prize - a slice of cake wrapped in a paper serviette. 

There was a shift of gears for me that day. Apart from the natural swelling of my girly head, I think a tiny engine of desire started to chug. Smokey curls of appetite began to wind their way round me, as I contemplated writing as something to be enjoyed just as much as reading. There were rewards here I had never tasted before, and they weren’t of the cream cake variety. I had entertained an audience, impressed my teacher and peers, and made my parents proud. How soon could I do it again? The writing locomotive was starting to steam and Mr MacCrowan had just thrown the first shovelful of coal.

Little did I know then, how many times I would look back on that day as the significant first milestone in my writing adventures.

Job 34:3 For the ear tests words
       as the tongue tastes food.