Not Louisiana – Paris, France – New York or Rome

My mom saved all my elementary and high school report cards and gave them to me recently in a box of memorabilia. I got mostly A’s, with the occasional B. It wasn’t that school was a breeze for me. I worked hard, and did a lot of homework.

I don’t have many specific memories from elementary school. But one that sticks in my head involves identifying accented or stressed syllables in multi-syllabic words. I usually aced writing and reading assignments, so you would think I’d have easily grasped this concept. I didn’t.

I remember sitting at my desk in third-grade at St. Benedict’s, wearing my uniform green plaid jumper and white blouse, surrounded by my 30 or so classmates. The teacher handed out a worksheet—a list of words—and explained our task: we were to indicate which syllables were accented in each word. I had no idea how to do this.

I could read the words, pronounce them, and properly divide them into syllables. But I didn’t understand stressed vs unstressed. The other kids got busy placing little accent marks on their worksheets. I sat bewildered and embarrassed, not wanting to admit to the teacher I needed help.

I can’t recall what happened in the end. I think I randomly marked the words on my sheet and turned it in, hoping at least some of them were right.

Many years later, I told my mother-in-law about this incident. She was the kind of music lover who burst into song if circumstances brought a particular one to mind. Hearing my story, she came up with “Gary, Indiana” from The Music Man, sung by Professor Harold Hill (played by Robert Preston), reprised by seven-year-old Ron Howard as the lisping Winthrop:

My mother-in-law was confident that if my teacher had used “Gary, Indiana” to illustrate accented syllables to my third-grade class, I would have zipped through that worksheet, no problem. She was probably right. Instead, I fumbled along by myself until the light gradually dawned, sometime after third grade.

Now I look back fondly on a time when the only thing I didn’t understand was which syllable had the accent. Those were the days.

Copyright © 2014 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

 

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6 Responses to Not Louisiana – Paris, France – New York or Rome

  1. Aunt Evie Kimball says:

    Strange which life experiences stick in our minds. One of mine from Whitfield School days was misspelling “hospital” (I said o-l at the end) to lose the spelling bee. It must have been in the early grades, because that certainly isn’t a hard word by today’s standards!

    • And I bet you haven’t misspelled “hospital” since! I have only vague memories of my own grade school spelling bees, although I think I was usually one of the last left standing.

  2. Jessa says:

    She was so sharp and creative. 🙂 what a loss for all those that didn’t get to spend enough time with her, but what luck to be able to have those kinds of memories.

  3. Your three years with Grandma were definitely not enough time. Dad and I have tried to keep her alive for you through photos and reminiscence. But oh how I would love to hear that voice again!

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