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Apr 8, 2023Liked by Elizabeth Marro

I turned eleven in 1955, during the third year of the Cold War. In school we had drills teaching us what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. I had a vivid imagination. Later I wrote a poem about it:

Fifth Grade Air Raid Drill, 1955

I tell Mr. Carter there's a crack in the ant farm,

but he has more important things to talk about today.

After the bomb, trees will wither, milk will glow.

You might live a year before the insects get you

but first you must survive the blast.

Duck under your desks

and stick your heads between your knees.

I pretend to do as I'm told.

When he turns his back I crawl away

on six legs, triumphant.

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We heard a lot about the cold war when I was a kid but by the time I was 11 in 1967, the news seemed more focused on a generational conflict within the U.S. borders. This, too, seemed remote to us in northern NH.

Thank you for sharing your poem, Andy! I am transfixed by what seems to be a metamorphosis that occurs by the end. Or is the ant carrying you away? No need to tell me, of course. I love going where the words take me.

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Doesn't everything seem remote in northern NH? Except maybe the next igloo? :)

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Andrew, I too was eleven in 1955. The Cold War was never mentioned during my years at school (1949-1959), but then I was in London. We knew about nuclear bombs, but there was no protection, so no one seemed to worry. Perhaps the proximity of the Second World War and bomb sites were reminder enough as to why Britain had nuclear weapons.

What eleven meant to me was an exam to decide whether I went to a ‘secondary modern’ school with no exams whatsoever or a ‘grammar school’, where you did have exams at 16 and a top few pupils would go onto university (which my wife did). It was an evil exam and, as a Labour councillor in the early-1970s, I helped to abolish the exam in Birmingham and grammar schools. Sadly, a few survived and the school system is very unfair again. Eleven was too young an age to determine the future of a child in 1955, but then here in Britain, in 2023, we do it at birth. As for puberty and hormones in 1955, we were a little way behind the USA, so I was 12 before a girl on my road traumatised me! Robert Howard 🐰

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As another who was 11 in 1955, but in the Mid-West of the US, we also did not have bomb drills. I don't know why. Maybe we were just too rural. I didn't know about the Cold War until 1958 when we read the daily newspaper at school in the 8th grade.

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Since I, too, came of age in a rural area, I am wondering how that affects what we take in and how we respond to this age.

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Eleven does seem young to chart the entire course of a young person's life. But, as you point out, it can happen even without the exams in place. Good on you for helping to abolish them, Robert.

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Sadly, in England, grammar schools have, in places, come back and local government schools have, for the most part, been handed over to ‘academies’. The success was passing. Our young ones are the future and deserve to be cared for and well educated. Sadly, it isn’t happening. Apologies for getting political again. ❤️Robert 🐰

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I can relate to this in so many ways. Like you, I was a shy, awkward, book-toting eleven year old, but instead of becoming bossy, I went for a kind of knowing superiority. It played as well as I played sports- really badly lol.

Also, I have a twelve-year-old, and in my experience as a mom, eleven really is different from twelve. It’s the difference between crushing on a famous person versus a kid in your class. Between reading the Babysitters Club versus whatever you find in the Teen section of the library that your mom doesn’t immediately deem “inappropriate.” It’s not better or worse but I can tell you, there are days I want to turn back the clock.

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Yes, you can totally relate! As I wrote the essay, I also thought of my son's 11th birthday party -- a raucous outdoor thing involving 22 boys, two teams headed up by a couple of neighborhood teens, silly relays, tugs-of-war, squirt guns, and enough food to keep it going way past the allotted couple of hours. None of them wanted to leave. When the mothers arrived to collect their sons, we all stood in a group watching them be these weird, wild children. Then one of the mothers said, "I just want them to stay like this. Forever." We all sighed.

And yes, twelve WAS another story altogether.

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Eleven was a huge year for me. My ever-moving family settled down in San Diego, where my grandmother lived. I went back to sixth grade again, after having missed so much of it the previous year that I felt it didn't count.

I'd skipped second grade so, at 11, I was also with kids exactly my age for the first time in years. They hated me, because I was a smart ass who loved to read, could remember what I'd read, and always raised her hand. I spent my lunch money on Hostess goodies and told the kids my dad worked at Hostess, and suddenlyI had friends.

But when my mom found out we were poor enough to get free school lunches, there was no more lunch money.

Cathy was the one girl who stayed friends with me when I had nothing to offer but friendship. She and I are still friends 50 years later!

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Yes, a huge year. I'm fascinated by your creativity with the Hostess story. I'm sorry it blew up on you but also glad if it meant the start of a 50-year friendship. Those are hard to come by.

I was the new girl in fifth grade and also had my hand in the air way too much. It's not a great combination for popularity, you are right.

Reading your account got me wondering about how friendships change when kids hit eleven -- look at all those who dropped you after discovering there would be no more Twinkies. Sometimes it takes even less to lose a friend. Or gain one. Thanks, Jenn.

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Hostess goodies? I would have been your friend...

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I was obsessed with baseball when I was 11. I was one of the best pitchers in my little league at that age and, of course, thought I was destined for the big time. It took about six more years until I realized I wasn’t quite good enough to make it very far in the sport.

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To be best at something at that age has power. Perhaps your obsession didn't take you where you thought you'd go when you were eleven but, looking back, it must have felt wonderful to be good and strong and confident at something at a time when so many changes are occurring.

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Oh, for sure. I wish I could bottle up some of that confidence and sip from it when I need it these days!

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I was 11 in 1988. This was the perfect year to be a baseball-loving boy in Los Angeles because the underdog Dodgers ended up winning the World Series. To this day, I’m convinced that there’s a magical time, around 11, when you’re old enough to start to see the world and all of its challenges, but still young enough to believe in heroes. That was me and my friends throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 1988. If we weren’t watching the Dodgers, we were playing baseball and pretending to be our favorite players. My favorite was the ultimate utility player, Mickey Hatcher, who I believe played every position, including pitcher that year.

Your question brought back a flood of good memories. Here’s one. In the fall, the Dodgers had a few playoff games that took place during school hours. A 4pm game on the east coast is rough for west coast fans. Anyway, my friends and I tried to convince our teacher to let us watch the game. That went nowhere. But one of my friends had a very small radio. He listened (secretly), then flashed us signal and passed notes for updates. Worked great, until the Dodgers scored at a critical moment and my friend yelled out “holy shit!” We got in trouble, but it was worth it.

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I'm so glad the question brought back good memories for you. I found myself smiling happily as I read through this. Your comment echoes Rosalyn's in a way -- the 11th year allows for heroes and crushes on famous people and, with all that, possibility. Sometimes these things take a hit in the later years.

I'm guessing even the teacher was secretly grateful to know the Dodgers scored!

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Sadly, my teacher wasn’t a baseball fan. Nobody’s perfect. But she was a darn good teacher.

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I was a tomboy. I rode my bike all day (pretending it was a horse), hit tennis balls with my friends, went fishing and spent all day outside. It was the last time I felt unselfconcious and truly didn't care about fitting in or what other people thought. I didn't return to that feeling that way until I was in my late twenties.

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That feeling of not caring is so precious and we don't ever know it until we've lost it. If we were lucky enough to have it in the first place. I am very glad you found it again before your thirties.

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I thankfully managed to instll it in our sons. Feeling comfortable in your own skin is hard enough as it is. My parents were big on "what will other people think" and my attitude was always "who cares what they think"?

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Wow, 11 was awful! Wanting to fit in so badly, being socially awkward and not knowing what to do. I remember being terrified that my body was changing and being much taller than all of the boys made me feel self-conscious. I didn’t want to get my period but the girls talking about it fascinated me as well. I just felt like I was suddenly pushed to became an adult and be interested in kissing boys and acting older. Trying cigarettes and what-not. I just wanted to watch cartoons and play videogames. The internet had just started and it felt like this amazing new thing. And the new millennium felt filled with possibilities. That was 2001.

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Did it get better when you turned 12, or more difficult? I can relate to all of the things you mentioned except for the Internet and video games and i've often wondered how those made being eleven, 12, 13, 14 etc easier or more difficult for kids. I turned 11 in 1967. My character, Olivia, turns 11 in 2012. I'm guessing there will be common themes no matter when eleven happens but the world around us will have its impact.

BTW: What games did you like to play the most? What cartoons? Did you keep playing video games or did their attraction fade for you?

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I guess at 14 or so it became better. But not much. The pressure to fit in and conform was pretty high at school. I studied at a catholic school. I felt I could only be more like myself at the university. I had my first phone at 13 or so, a Nokia, but it didn’t do much. You could play snake on it and that’s pretty much about it. I used to like watching Japanese cartoons and playing Nintendo 64. But I wouldn’t do that with friends from school only my cousins. I still play now with my boyfriend. But I guess most women my age don’t. I hope it helps :)

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There's so much rich material in childhood, if we can remember it. I wrote about 1975, my 11th summer, here: https://www.thelitpub.com/blog/summer-child-lisa-renee

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This essay blew me away. Every detail felt familiar even the ones that were specific only to you and your experience. I want everyone to read this. And I laughed out loud when I saw "Inna Gadda Da Vida" played over and over. I wrote it down for the essay this week and then, somehow, it got dropped. Then there was this:

"We cross the lilac-choked gardens, where we half-heartedly pretend to be brides, to visit Kathe’s ancient grandmother. She has great bowls of hard lemon candies in her living room and she leans imperiously in her chair to fart. Our mad glee is barely contained. We sit in the barn loft and wonder when we’ll die." -- Lisa Renee, The Summer Child.

Thanks for all of this, Lisa!

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Thanks for your kind compliments! 😊

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Very nice one. I could feel both the freedom and mild danger of that time and it’s awash in golden sunlight. Love it.

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So great to see this, thank you!

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11: I had a lot of zits and was the first girl in the class to get breasts. I was taller than every other girl and I wanted to be a fiction writer. I read so much that they moved me up a grade for reading and then I got really bullied for my zits and for being of Jewish descent when everyone else was Christian. So eventually I retaliated and was punished. I went from bullied to bullier.

A teacher also made me stay in detention and talk it out with my nemesis. None of it would have taken place in present day due to awareness around bullying.

One girl involved later found me as an adult and told me the events that year had traumatized her for a decade, which totally caught me off guard because I’d long ago moved on.

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Breasts. So many had 'em. All of us wanted them. Ditto for periods. Except for when we didn't want anything to do with any of it.

Sounds as though eleven was a tough year for you. To be taller, younger, and good at something makes a girl a target. Why are you convinced it wouldn't have happened today? Just curious. Have teachers and parents gotten better at managing that sort of thing?

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To be honest it wasn’t so bad, but that is my most vivid memory was the whole situation.

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I don’t think they’d let it go on for as long and also probably wouldn’t try to force us to be friends.

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Sigh. This is the comment I was scrolling to find...

At 11 I got my period a few months before "the talk" at school.

I got my first bra because a neighbour told my mom something about her husband looking at my breasts.

I was a tomboy and very childish, and was totally unprepared for what my body was doing.

But it wasn't all bad. It was also a year of adventures and fun.

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That must have been difficult. That girl who found you later: that sounds like great material for a story! Even if told how it happened--from the point of view of you who moved on, or from her point of view.

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I just saw this and I have to tell you about the things going through my mind when I try to remember what stood out for me at that age. There was only one thing that mattered. It was a Golden year for me, in hindsight. Some things you don't understand until years later. 1969 was the year of Apollo 11. We sat in front of the TV on a hot morning--summer holidays, who knows what day it was--refusing not to watch it because we understood it was something important. We tried to tell her that it was history in the making; we might never see anything like it again. They were going to put a space station in orbit and a colony on the moon. My mother just wanted to clean the house.

But the thing that really stood out for me was when I was in the neighbour's yard, standing in the shade under two tall trees. He was an old man of about 75, and grew up on a farm in Northern Saskatchewan. My first question, of course, was to ask him if he'd fought in the First World War. He said he was exempt because they lived on a farm and it was deemed essential. He asked me if I watched them land on the moon, and told me when he was 9 years old, they drove into the big city and went into the new "odeon", and saw a film of the Wright Brothers flying for the first time. He said, "To think that I live in a time where I got to see the first manned flight, in one of the first movie houses, and got to see the first man landing on the moon." I'll never forget that year. I thought it would be something I'd be able to share with my children, and grandchildren--(I got the children, but they don't want any of their own)--but they don't care about landing on the moon...

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That's a powerful memory to mark your eleventh year. I remember it all seemed remote and strange and almost unreal viewing it on the screen of our television. Everything was small and unimpressive for such a major thing. I wonder what other feat will bookend your life/memories when you get older?

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Well, since I'm 65 right now, about the only thing I could hope to see is the first Mars landing.

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Thanks so much for the feature! Much appreciated.

I have to pull back the weeds to find 11 year me, partly because as Cisneros says, they’re jumbled with the years before. It was 1995 and a teacher I admired told me I was a good writer. I had started collected poems in my pockets on scraps of paper from then on. The summer saw a cousin and I buying matching outfits and strutting around her neighborhood, doing nothing in particular but being outside in the sun. I started watching X-Files that year and decided I would go into pathology. The theme song became an anthem. I even stood with my hand on my heart and whistled the tune.

I was studious, loved R. L. Stine books that I devoured on nights I couldn’t sleep, and was lost in imagination. It was a good time.

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Apr 8, 2023Liked by Elizabeth Marro

Thank you, Betsy. In his mind, the wildly imaginative eleven-year-old narrator is transformed into an insect--just in time!

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I love the metaphor of scattering the change of memories Betsy. 11 was middle school, feeling like my body was wrong, being told it was indeed wrong by boys who were allowed to play lacrosse while we played pickle ball. 11 was my first real best friend who I confessed everything to, who made me laugh and loved me for me.

My son is 12 on the cusp of no longer being a child. He is learning independence - taking the bus places- making plans- but also close to us in a way that I know won’t last forever- it will still exist but it will change. He spends most days playing basketball and still enjoys Marco Polo in the pool.

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I became eleven on January 19, 1955. At the time, my five-year-old sister and I were commuting to town (riding in with my mother who worked in the factory, staying with her mother-in-law until time for school). I was in the 6th grade, and I was the popular new girl. I had a new boyfriend, new girlfriends, and some pretty dresses I was still wearing from when I was ten. Before school let out in May, we had moved into town, the first time we lived in town since I was born. We had the only brick house in town, and we were proud of it. I finally had a library card, was making E's in school (for excellent), and happier than I had been since my dad died when I was seven. Life with our second step-father wasn't easy, but it wasn't as hard as it would be within a year. Eleven was a good year for me.

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Yes, a very good year. I can imagine it all just by reading your account of that period. To be new AND popular seems a miracle to me. When we moved (in fifth grade), I was the object of curiosity and although things worked out, I had to pay first. See "being dunked in garbage can."

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All angles and elbows, I was thin and fleet of feet, but with no other sports skills, I was always picked last for teams at recess or for sandlot sports. It was the year I discovered "talking to your neighbor" in class. A great sixth-grade teacher who relished history and infused it into me, along with aspirations to travel. I lived many lives outside of my small town - in books!

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A great teacher stays with a person forever. How great that you had one in sixth grade. And how great that you had those books, too,

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I loved being 11. In 6th grade I fell omnipotent. I was sassy and smart, my aunt made me an outfit with gaucho pants and a matching light blue velvet cape with a plaid lining (wish I still had that). I was in a little singing group called The Forget-Me-Nots. We had a great teacher. All was good. Then.....middle school came. And I had to rediscover myself. I was never 11 again.

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