From the Vault: Pencil Cup

By Eilene Lyon

The “From the Vault” series features an artifact or family photo from my collection to illustrate a tale from my distant past.


In 1976 my school, the American School of Guatemala, participated in an international high school drama arts festival in Managua, Nicaragua. We took a bus trip through part of Central America to reach the host city. There, we were parceled out to various households for the weekend.

I have only a couple vivid memories of the festival. One is a play based on Shirley Jackson’s story “The Lottery.” Crumpled balls of notebook paper littered the stage, standing in for stones. The other: it was so hot that when we bought ice cream treats, half our Fudgsicles would melt and blow away in the blast-furnace wind before we could eat them.

Really, I don’t even recall much about my performance in the Oral Interpretation contest, for which I received this second place trophy. Only five or six students competed in this event, so it doesn’t mean I was outstanding in any way.

The contest rules did not require us to memorize our piece, but my drama instructor insisted on it. Oral interpretation involved using both voice and body language to bring the written word to life.

I selected a poem titled “What Is A Boy?” from an anthology we had at home. (There was also a companion poem, “What Is A Girl?” and yes, both were chock full of gender stereotypes.)

Once I had memorized the poem, the teacher had me rehearse by performing for other classes. I was a freshman, and one day she scheduled me to recite for a senior class. My older brother was in the class, and a boy who played lead guitar in his band, whom I had a big crush on.

“What is a boy…” I began with confidence, having done this several times already. Then about halfway through, my mind went completely Blank……. Blank…….. Blank……….. Then filled with a sense of dread.

Suddenly, I blurted out, “Oh Shit!!” My face a blooming rose as my gaff dawned on me.

After a moment of stunned silence, the class gave me a big round of applause. I then recalled the rest of the poem and finished with a big bow.

“A sassy girl at the American School gets away with cursing in class.”

47 thoughts on “From the Vault: Pencil Cup

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  1. I enjoyed your blog Eilene, about the American Schools as it brought back old memories. I knew several teachers in such embassy schools and my kids attended the American school in Algiers, not in the American embassy but rather by the Swiss, because the American one had been burned along with the English library. My memory is that most of the teachers in such schools were young and may be on their first teaching assignment with a much more open mind.

    One such experience was when, at the end of the school year, we were at a reception and many of the drawings, and objects of their learning experience for the year were shown around the room. You can imagine my horror when I came to one by my second grade son which was an almost perfect rendition of a whiskey still. Under it was written in a child’s hand: My dad’s whiskey maker. This in an Arab country where alcohol was forbidden~!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh my gosh, that’s hilarious!🤣🤣 Our school in Guatemala was actually a Guatemalan school and not affiliated with the embassy. My experience of the teachers was mostly that they had issues which would have prevented them from getting a teaching job in the U.S. They were pretty bad, honestly. I don’t know much about the Guatemalan teachers who taught the Spanish-speaking classes, just the American ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would love to have seen that high school rendition of “The Lottery.” I’m a big Shirley Jackson fan, but the first time I read that story I found it very shocking (which was the point, I’m sure.) I’m very glad your fellow students responded to your brief memory lapse with kindness and didn’t treat you like the woman in Jackson’s story!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What a fun memory! 🙂 And I love the “From the Vault” series idea, how cool. I’ll look forward to reading more. I also got away with cursing in class once. One of the mean boys threw my books out the study hall window and I chewed him out with a curse word, and the study hall monitor thought it was so funny I got away with it lol

    Liked by 1 person

  4. That was so funny! I can’t imagine! I remember the Oral Interps we had to do and the contests we were in. I went to a Christian school in the US and I can’t imagine blurting that out in an auditorium at Bob Jones University during nationals! That being said, I did end up saying “Oh, shit!” in the middle of my wedding vows because I had left my engagement ring on and could not get it off of my finger when my husband tried to put the wedding ring on it. At least, in these incidents, a good time was had by all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Glad I could jog some memories for you. That must have been a bit embarrassing at the wedding!

      Although I did perform in plays, I never did oral interpretation again. Once, I blanked out during a Toastmasters speech and didn’t handle it quite so well. Maybe I should have tried the Oh shit trick!

      Like

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