The Words Remember When*

Trying a student-selected spelling list from Flickr via Wylio

© 2013 Liz, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

Are there words that can whisk you back to a certain place and time in your life? Certainly children of the 80’s hear “tubular” and think big hair and skinny ties. But, I’m referring to instances that are more personal, more specific. I’m talking about a time when for better or for worse, a word was forever imprinted in your memory. I learned how to spell adequate on a bus somewhere on a highway between New York and Pennsylvania.

I was in sixth grade and we’d taken a field trip to New York City. I don’t remember much, about the trip, but I do remember eating lunch on the observation deck on top of the World Trade Center. It was a cloudy day, so the view wasn’t much to speak of, but they had a gift shop (typical 11 year old).

After a long day sightseeing, we climbed aboard our “luxury motor coaches” for the trip home. This was the dark ages, before the Sony Walkman or Apple iPod, so we were left with few options to entertain ourselves. Some read, most talked, a few stared vacantly out the windows. Somewhere along the New Jersey Turnpike, a classmate remembered we had a spelling test the next day. Grrrooooaaann. Who schedules a spelling test for the day AFTER a field trip? My sixth grade English teacher Mrs. Embessi, that’s who. Years later I would come to appreciate her standards, but at the time, I was not amused.

My BFF back then was Kelly. Kelly was a good student and she was an excellent speller. I wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t as good as Kelly. She offered to quiz me on that week’s list. Knowing it was either learn it with her or go through it with my mother when we got home at 10pm, I agreed. I can still see her face under the reading light, with the pinpoints of lights that made up the cities and towns that lined the New Jersey Turnpike passing by the window behind her.

We went over the list several times and there were a few words I stumbled with, but adequate just refused to sink in. Finally Kelly popped up with “Think of it as Aye dee quady”. BOOM. From that day forward I could spell adequate without thinking twice.

If you knew my mother, you’d know that we still had to review the spelling words when I got home from the trip. There were mistakes and tears of exhaustion and frustration, but dammit, I spelled adequate correctly. I have no idea what I got on the spelling test, but I know for sure that I got adequate correct.

Are there words that when you hear them or use them take you back to a specific place and time?

*With apologies to Trisha Yearwood “The Song Remembers When“.

Lee Laughlin is a writer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at She is currently a member of the Concord Monitor Board of Contributors. Her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe.

4 thoughts on “The Words Remember When*

  1. Sartorial.

    The house was in chaos because we were preparing to head to a birthday party – Mr. Aveline, our adopted daughter, her boyfriend, our two pre-teen sons and I. It was a birthday party for a friend of my mother-in-laws and none of us really *wanted* to attend, but it was a big deal for MIL so we were trying to get it together to go. They were only four kids, but it felt like we were trying to coordinate a whole busload of kids.

    It was the early 2000’s and the internet was still this kind of new and wondrous thing and I was completely addicted. We were just about ready to head out, but I had to check my email, you know, just once more. My word of the day popped up and I read it aloud to the room at large.

    Sartorial – of or relating to tailoring, clothes, or style of dress.

    “How would you use that in a sentence?”

    “Change your shirt. That one has a stain. Sartorial disaster averted.”

    “No, you can’t take your entire collection of Pokemon cards to the party.”

    “Did you remember to buy the wine?”

    “Do you think she’d notice if we didn’t show up?”

    “We have to go. If it is really awful we can leave early.”

    “We should have a code. You know, like if I walk up to you and I’m tugging on my left ear-lobe that means it’s time to go.”

    “No. Because I mean, what if your ear just itches? It should be a word. Something that won’t just come up in regular conversation.”

    “Okay. You work sartorial into the conversation and I will bring you home.”

    We didn’t use our family code-word that day. That birthday party actually turned out to be a lot of fun.

    About two months ago, however, my daughter and I were at a work related function that was abysmal. My daughter walked up, looked me dead in the eye and said, “I just realized that I have a loose button on this blouse. i think this might constitute a sartorial emergency.”

    Five minutes later we were sitting in our favorite Mexican food restaurant sharing nacho’s and margarita’s sans co-workers.

  2. For me it’s run–the first word I ever read. We learned the sounds for the letters and then strung them together to magically create a word. I’ll never forget Mrs. Alderdyce, my first grade teacher, for unlocking the mystery of reading and because she was the only teacher who ever hit me–not hard, but that slap remains stuck in my memory all these years later. Luckily our family moved shortly afterwards and I got to switch schools. If I’d remained in Mrs. Alderdyce’s class for the whole year I probably would have become an elementary drop out.

  3. mine is “maintenance” We had a “maintenance quiz” every week in 4th grade, and it became our teacher’s goal to make sure we could spell the name of the quiz by the end of the year. It’s Main-Ten-Ance. easy. got it. Thanks 4th grade lol

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