Book of Me – Prompt 23: Memory Board (part 1)

book of meThe Book of Me – Written by You is a weekly blog prompt created by Julie Goucher of the blog Angler’s Rest. This is a fifteen month writing project to highlight my life so that I will have something to leave behind for my descendants. Week twenty three’s prompt is a Memory Board.

To read more about the concept of the memory board, go to Julie’s blog:


UMASS (Part 1) – Freshmen Year

During my senior year of high school, I applied to three universities: Boston University, Clark University and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. While I was accepted by all three, I really only had one choice, and it was purely based upon economics. While Boston University and Clark University offered moderate financial aid and scholarships, the offers were not enough to make the schools viable choices. As much as I wanted to attend Boston University, I could not afford it. At that time, my mother was an employee for the state of Massachusetts at the UMASS Medical Center in Worcester. The state workers’ unions had done some excellent bargaining in the 1980s. Any employee of the state of Massachusetts or their dependent children could attend any of the state universities tuition free. We were still required to pay all fees and room & board, but free tuition was free tuition.

UMASS - Main Campus View

Postcard of UMASS from the 1980s (Photograph by Larry Molczyk)


My roommate freshman year

During the summer of 1986, all freshmen were required to attend an orientation before the fall term started in September. We stayed on campus for a few days, ate at the dining halls, pre-registered for classes and took placement tests for math and foreign languages. My five years of French from 7th through 11th grade fulfilled my college foreign language requirement and I earned 3 free credits by taking a test. I was also required to take a math placement test. I passed and earned a waiver for the Tier I General Education math requirement. Because of my grades in high school, I was placed in the Honors track at the University.  I had already decided to be a History major. Because I was an “Honors” student, I had special priority for housing in Orchard Hill. The University had set aside some of their housing for students who were more academically motivated, and needed quieter living conditions. (Can you hear me laughing?) I met my future roommate during orientation and we signed up to room together. Our floor assignment was 5 North – Grayson Hall. I ended up living in the same room for three years.

I had a full course load my first semester.

UMASS - Schedule, 1986 (Fall)

After receiving one’s schedule for the semester, the first campus field trip was generally to the textbook annex. Conveniently, the annex was on the opposite end of campus so everyone got their exercise.

UMASS - Book receipt, 1986 (Fall)

UMASS campus map

Map courtesy of the UMASS website

All freshmen were required to take College Writing. I was able to sign up for a new offering of the course which took place in the computer lab. We were able type all papers in the computer lab. An additional two hours per week (outside of classtime) were required in the lab. I remember a few late evenings walking home after dark across campus. In the course of the semester, we wrote seven formal essays. We also keep an online writing journal.

My first journal entry answered the question “What I missed most about home?”:

UMASS - 1986, English 112 Journal, p. 1 (excerpt)

“9/24 What I miss the most at home. What a question! I’m not really sure. I know I miss my cat a lot. He’s getting old, almost ten years, though I’m not really sure exactly how old ‘he’ is. He’s a funny animal which we got under both slightly humorous and tragic circumstances. ‘He”…

A few days later, I wrote about my roommate:

UMASS - 1986, English 112 Journal, p. 2 (excerpt)

“Living with a roommate is a new experience for me. I never had to share a room with anyone because it is only my brother and I at home. I met my roommate at orientation which was good. I didn’t really know anyone from home that was coming here. I know a lot of kids from my school did come because I see them every now and then but no one I could call a friend. L – – was living down the hall from me for those few days. I didn’t really get to know her then at all, but now after a month it seems almost as if I’ve always shared a room with her. We get along really well together, and I think that’s very fortunate because I know several people who are having trouble adjusting to life with their new roomies.”

That fall I took an introductory level Anthropology course. Three guys from my floor were also in the class. They were all sophomores. Apparently they must have put me down quite a bit because I wrote about our final exam in my journal:

UMASS - 1986, English 112 Journal, p. 8 (excerpt)

“12/12 The fact overwhelmed her. She had done better than them all. They had all put her down, time after time. But she had showed them. She had taken the exam and won. It was a boost for her confidence. A boost that she badly needed. It could have been better, but a 4.2 out of 5 was not bad, an 84. But L – – had gotten a 3.8, and she had beat him of all people. He had called her all sorts of names from lazy to stupid to basically clueless. It made her somewhat elated to know that know [sic now] he was feeling the same way about himself, and that she had beat him. M – – wasn’t as bad, he didn’t put her down as much, and he really hadn’t tried on the assignment. But still the fact that she had done better just made her afternoon. J – – didn’t count, he didn’t even do the assignment. He never studied for the class, and he was taking it pass/fail. He did the best out of the four on the midterm exam which was sad. The more she thought about it, the less important it seemed. So what she had beaten L – -, she had probably spent more time on the assignment anyway.”

During the fall semester, I took History 102 Honors course with disastrous results. The professor was merciless and hateful. It was the first time I ever failed a class in my life (and the last time!) One of the bright spots in my semester was Theater 100 taught by Professor Harry Mahnken. Like most introductory classes, it was taught in a large lecture hall at the end of the day. We spent most of the semester watching Westerns and hearing Harry talk about the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. One requirement of the class was to attend the fall productions of the Theater Department. The two plays in the Rand Theater that semester were Sam Shepard’s Angel City and Eugene Ionesco’s Amedee or How to Get Rid of It.

The spring semester began in late January. The university had a long break between fall and spring semester to allow for a short four week winter term. I returned a History major, but had begun to have doubts about my choice. I continued with taking two more courses in my chosen major: European History 1500-1815 and American History to 1876.

UMASS - Schedule, 1987 (Spring)

I signed up for several courses that fulfilled more of my general education requirements. I took a class in Astronomy. The professor was fabulous and he made learning fun. He enjoyed placing a banana in liquid nitrogen, then dropping it on the floor to watch it shatter. Another course that I enjoyed was English 143: Science Fiction Masterworks. This was one of those courses that has always stayed with me. We read several classic novels and watched several classic movies. The only movies I can remember are Zardoz and Fahrenheit 451. We probably watched some classic Star Trek episodes and maybe Star Wars.

UMASS - 1987, Science Fiction Masterworks

After my first exposure to the Theater Department, I continued to see the department’s productions (even though I was no longer required to). The ticket prices were greatly reduced for students. Most shows were only $2 or $3.

By the Spring of 1987, all the money I had earned from my high school job was running low. It was time for me to go back to work as I had not had a job my first semester. I found a job at the Franklin Dining Hall where I ate daily. I started  working on the assembly line washing trays and dishes. It was messy work but a lot of fun. I worked there for 7 semesters and averaged about 20 hours a week. I eventually became a student supervisor.

UMASS - Franklin Dining Hall

Franklin Dining Hall, circa 2013

UMASS - 1987, pay stub

One of my first pay stubs from 1987

My freshman year had a lot of ups and downs. When I left high school (I readily admit in retrospect), I was very naïve and sheltered. University life opened my eyes and life to a lot of new experiences as well as knowledge. Up until then, I had not known homosexuality existed. One of the other residents on my floor was from New York. Her father lived in Greenwich Village with his partner. In the 1980s being out and LBGT was not easy. Most people were still in the closet. Living a sheltered life prior to college, I did not recognize my own life had been spent in a very large closet, though not one of my own making. I began to recognize the lie that had been created around me. I understand on many levels that the lie was for my own protection as well as being just the wrong generation and time for the truth.

My father was very good about continuing to write to me while I was away at college. He also sent some killer care packages. Here is a letter that he wrote early on during freshman year. He also enclosed some pictures and a news clipping about Doctor Who. The story is a bit of a metaphor for my first experiences with alcohol. My relationship with my father was strong enough that I could tell him that I had gotten drunk for the first time while at college. Perhaps you can read between the lines about some of the other aspects of our family?

Sept 7, 1986
Hello Debbie!
Here are some photos to introduce you to a new member of our household, Laverne the flamingo. David P. brought her back from his trip to Palm Beach. Picture #1 shows her with David upon their return. The boys (photo #2) accepted her with open arms – left to right: Franklin Sebastian The Panda, Jeffery Bear (blue vest) and Snuggles the polar bear. Actually, it was Jeffery Bear who met Laverne at pool side at the hotel in Palm Beach. I guess that’s why she’s sitting on his knee. Laverne, however, has proved to be somewhat of a disruptive influence. We found her drunk (photo #3) when we got home one evening. Joey had left the beer in our refrigerator. After recovering a certain degree of sobriety the next day Laverne stretched out on our window greenery for something like the Florida sun (photo #4)
The rest of the photos need no explanation(!)
Upon reading through the NYT [New York Times] the other day I came across an article I thought might be of interest to you – on Dr. You – Know- Who. Enclosed.
Let me know how much you want me to send for the books, i.e. exact $ figure.
Love Papa

My roommate (and my floor mates) exposed me to lots of great music. One group that my roommate introduced me to was the Irish band Clannad. And thus began my love of Irish music. We also spent a lot of time listening to the two hottest new musicals on Broadway.

By the end of my freshman year, I was no longer happy with my major. I did better in the two history courses I took spring term, and passed them both. But they had made history boring. I didn’t want to know about sweeping political movements (although I know they are important in History). I wanted to know about the lives of people who lived and what life was like for them on a daily basis. I started looking around for a new major. I had two choices that interested me: English and Theater. I really would have liked to minor in Theater but the department did not have that option, so Theater major is what I became. I was a little nervous about telling my parents, but neither one objected. Theater had always been a part of my life up to that point so the choice wasn’t very surprising.

Although my freshman roommate and I are still good friends, we had a rough spot during the spring semester. There was the infamous incident over the M & M’s that probably played a major roll in the decision to not room together during sophomore year.


At the end of freshman year, I headed back to Worcester. I spent the summer working a boring temp job, typing forms at an insurance agency with a chain smoking co-worker. I had really wanted to work abroad that summer with my roommate. There was a great university work exchange program that allowed students to work in Britain on a student visa. It was not the summer I had planned, nor did I particularly enjoy it. It was the last summer I ever spent in Worcester. I was happy to return to Amherst in the fall of 1987 as a sophomore.

UMASS - 1986

In my dorm room during my freshman year, 1986-1987

You can learn more about the University of Massachusetts at Amherst on their website:

©2014 copyright owned and written by Deborah Sweeney
Post originally found at:…y-board-part-1/


7 thoughts on “Book of Me – Prompt 23: Memory Board (part 1)

  1. davidmadison1942

    Well, I hope to survive another decade to read those letters!! I have just opened a savings account to accumulate the cash for our trip (i.e., D & D, Deb, Cathleen & Seamus) to Paris in 2022 for my 80th birthday! The Eiffel Tower awaits! Of the furry animals in that photo, only Laverne and Jeffrey survive. Laverne has been missing a foot for years, but remains in our living room cabinet. Jeffrey just went our trip to Italy, with his seven brothers 🙂

  2. Amy

    I cannot believe you saved all those mementos of your freshman year! And I thought I was a saver (I think you saw my post today on this very topic). I live 45 minutes from UMass, by the way.

    1. Genealogy Lady Post author

      I got in the habit very young of saving letters from my father after he moved away from New York. I also started saving theatre programs from a very young age as well. Several years ago I cleaned out some of my buckets and I finally got rid of some of my college textbooks. If only I had held onto them a little bit longer… 😉

      I miss Amherst but I do not envy you all the snow right now.

      1. Amy

        The snow has been relentless. They say we will hit the 40s later this week—can’t wait!

        Your father’s letter said so much about him, his sense of humor and his relationship with you. Letters like that are priceless.

      2. Genealogy Lady Post author

        In another decade (Ha!), after I have finished with my grandparents WWII letters, I am going to move onto my father’s letters. I have hundreds that were written between him and his parents. Eventually I will move onto our correspondence. It will be quite the living history project – three generations of letters.

  3. NikiMarie

    One of my favorite classes in college was also a science fiction literature class. I think of it every now and again and I see that I similar books on my reading list as you did. I love this 🙂


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