by Jennifer Munro

Story Summary

A funny and touching story about two girls who live in a socially divided village in the heart of the industrial English Midlands. On one unusual day, they transcend the barrier that separates them the joy of  that brief friendship is long remembered.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does it mean to be working class or middle class? Alternatively, what is the difference between being a blue-collar or white-collar worker?
  2. Have you ever felt inferior because of the clothes you wear? How did this make you feel?
  3. Have you ever made someone else feel inferior because of the way he or she looked? How did this make you feel?
  4. How does Mrs. Giannopoulos feel about the storyteller, and what kind of woman might she be?
  5. The games the two girls liked to play were very different. How were they different? What does this tell you about the two girls?
  6. Whom would you rather be: the storyteller or Diane? Why?
  7. What cultural markers identify this as an English story? Were any terms confusing or new to you?

Resources

  • The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
  • Short Stories about Class: http://www.shortstoryguide.com/short-stories-about-class/

Themes

  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neighborhoods

Full Transcript
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Hi, my name is Jennifer Munro and this is an excerpt from my book Auntie Lily and Other Delightfully Perverse Stories published by Parkhurst brothers.

I grew up in a small English village in the heart of the industrial midlands. Now, at the time, I didn’t really understand what was meant by growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks,” but I did know that our village was divided. You might even say segregated but not by color but by social class.

We working-class kids who lived in the North in council houses that our parents rented, well we never crossed that dividing line to play with the kids in the middle-class South. Now they lived in detached houses and bungalows that their parents actually owned. But, when I was in my final year of primary school, Diane Giannopoulos invited me, she came from the south, to her house one day for tea. Well, I have to tell you that the event exceeded my expectations.

When we arrived, Mrs. Giannopoulos had just got out of the bathtub. At 4 o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon! At my house, once a week on a Saturday night, all six of us, one at a time, shared the same bath water. And not only that, but Mrs. Giannopoulos was wearing this red, silky dressing gown that failed to disguise the fact that she was completely naked underneath. My mother wore this thick flannel affair that managed to disguise the fact that she was human.

Well, Mrs. Giannopoulos looked at me from top to toe taking into account the frayed cuffs of my white shirt and my shiny navy-blue pleated skirt. It was a hand-me-down. And she admitted an exasperated sigh and, then, with a dismissive wave of her cigarette, she told us to go and wash our hands.

Ahhh, the bathroom was a revelation! There was a low pink, pink toilet. I thought about the monstrous lav at our house. We had a big metal tank high on the wall and a long chain for flushing. Really technology we thought revolutionary compared to the outhouses we’d been used to. But I washed my hands and, then, I followed Diane down to what she called the dining room.

I hung my school satchel on the back of the chair and sat down and Mrs. Giannopoulos arrived carrying a large tea tray. She was still smoking a cigarette and I stared open mouthed at the food she had prepared – store bought food that we never got at our house. Great mounds of spaghetti on toast and as many Kit Kat bars as we wanted for dessert. I wanted to grab a handful and stuff them in my school satchel but, of course, I didn’t. “Thank you, Mrs. Giannopoulos.” A dismissive wave of her cigarette. She disappeared into the hallway.

I tried to be polite, but I picked up my knife and fork bent my head and shoveled in great mouthfuls until my plate was empty. When I sat up Diane was looking at me in a sort of horrified fascination and she declared, “We’ll have dessert later.”

I was broken-hearted.

Well, we went outside to play and there was a huge, horse chestnut tree in the garden.

“Let’s climb it,” I cried.

“Whoa! I’m not allowed to climb trees,” she declared.

And then she said, “We’ll play dress up.”

And before I knew what was happening, I was inside the little playhouse wearing a pink fairy outfit. I did try to pretend that I was enjoying myself. But, after a while, even Diane got bored and I said, “Well, do you have any snobs or stilts or marbles?”

And, then, I remembered the horse chestnut tree. “Well, you must have some conkers.”

She was looking at me as if I was speaking a foreign language.

“You know, if I’d brought my knife, we could have played stretch.”

Well, she ran off down to the garden shed came back with a large pocketknife. Perfect! We skipped outside and then I showed her how to play stretch. It’s not a game I would recommend. You had to throw the knife so that it stuck into the ground close to one another’s feet. You took out the knife moved your foot to that spot and, eventually, your feet got so wide apart one of you fell over. You lost the game.

Well, we started playing and Diane was brilliant at it. Pretty soon both feet were very wide apart and I was beginning to wobble. She was laughing out loud. Something I’d never heard her do before. And then she cheated. She leapt across the space and pushed me over. Well, I grabbed hold of her and we rolled together over the ground. Way across the grass, over the flowering border into the dirt beyond. And we were lobbing great handfuls at one another. Diane was laughing so loud she was hiccupping.

Well, we eventually stopped laughing, but then Mrs. Giannopoulos came out. When she saw that knife, she was horrified. And she pointed her finger at me and she said, “It’s time you went home! Diana come into the house now!”

Mrs. Giannopoulos marched into the house pulled Diane’s collar like a singed cat. We helped one another get out of our fairy outfits and Diane suggested that I go through the side gate to meet her at the front door so she could bring my satchel. Well, I waited a long time and eventually she appeared looking neat and clean again. She handed me my school satchel and I turned to go, but she reached out and she touched my arm.

“I had a really good time,” she said. “Perhaps, next time I could come to your house to play.”

“That’s a good idea,” I said,

But we both knew that Mrs. Giannopoulos  would never allow it.

“See ya’,” I said.

“See ya’,” she said.

And as I walked away, I put the satchel on my shoulder and it felt heavier than I remembered. And when I opened it, I discovered that Diane had filled it to the brim with Kit Kat bars.

Now that’s what I call a real friend I thought to myself as I munched happily on the Kit Kat bars.

Now Diane and I never again met outside of school, but we both knew that, on that day, we had crossed over that dividing line and we had become friends. And we remained friends, albeit in the confines of school, all the way through high school.

You know I often think of Diane and I wonder if she remembers me.

I hope so.