The first speech one gives for Toastmasters is called ‘The Icebreaker’. Four to six minutes long, it performs the same function as the “Mihi”, in the Maori tradition of introducing oneself by saying who you are, who your family is, where you’ve come from.
I struggled to write my Icebreaker because nothing seemed important enough to say after Ma’s death and writing her tribute. However, I realized I was steeped in the stories of our family. We’d spent precious night after night, by the fire, sitting around the living room, listening to my father recall stories from his and mum’s past. So I decided to base my speech on the meeting of my parents, and because that felt meaningful, the Icebreaker flowed from there. Great. I had it written.
The next trick was to learn it. The family gathered again around my father, last weekend, because it was Dad’s 83rd birthday. I stayed at a motel, and every night I went back to my rooms and practiced my speech. By the time I returned to the city, I had nearly got it down pat.
Then, horrors, the night before I was due to give my speech, I was hideously grossly ill. I coughed all night long. I woke in the morning, feverish and shaky. I vomited absolutely everything even water. I had to ring our carer supporter and ask her to come in earlier as I was so unwell I hadn’t even managed to dress the boys. I prayed for help and friends said they’d send prayers and miracles. Incredibly, about an hour before I was due to speak, the illness lifted. I put on some make-up, some bright clothes and a smile.
Wonderfully, it was the school holidays so the boys were home, and with help, I was able to take them with me to witness my first ever speech for Toastmasters. My youngest even volunteered to be video-guy.
When it came up to my turn to speak, and the Toastmaster was introducing me, my heart started to pound at a completely ridiculous speed. I thought, am I having some sort of episode? I did relaxation breathing techniques which normally always work and they didn’t work! My heart-rate was still going a hundred miles an hour. I stepped up there with a smile on my face anyway. The crazy thing? The minute I started speaking the nerves went away! Blow me down with a feather. I didn’t know that.
I learnt I can do something I was formerly terrified of doing.
What else can’t I do?
This is the ‘Icebreaker’ speech I gave yesterday ~
“Mister Toastmaster, fellow members and guests,
You may ask, what does an alarm clock have to do with a person’s history? In my case, and the case of my family, everything! I wouldn’t be standing here, neither would my children be sitting there if it wasn’t for the case of the mysterious alarm clock.
My story begins in England in the early 1950’s with the coincidence of my parent’s meeting.
At the time, Mum’s parents lived in apartment number 5, Dad’s lived upstairs at number 7. Yet Mum and Dad had never met. Mum was a trainee nurse at London Hospital and was home two days out of the month. Dad had joined the merchant navy and was on land and home one month out of six.
One day, an alarm clock was delivered to number 5. Granny sent Mum to ask at the other apartments if the clock belonged to them. Mum knocked at #7. Against all odds, it was Dad who answered the door, in his navy whites. The clock didn’t belong to them. As mum walked away, Gran asked Dad, “Why don’t you go out with a nice girl like that?”
Dad said, “She’s not my type.”
While according to Mum, her response to meeting Dad was to think, “God preserve me from those hairy legs!”
But God had other ideas.
Dad says, ‘he must have thought about it’ because he ended up inviting Mum to a game of tennis. Then they went to the pictures. Dad buzzed up to London Hospital on his BSA 250 to look for her, and couldn’t find her anywhere. Lucky for him, (and for us), he knew where Mum lived!
They married within two years of meeting and had two lovely daughters. By now Dad had worked his way up to the position of First Mate, Navigator. My parents began to think about emigrating. Dad brought the ‘Ngakuta’ out to NZ in 1961. Mum and my sisters arrived a year later. They settled on the North Shore where two even more wonderful children were born, my brother and I!
So here we were in NZ, Kiwis with English, Irish, Welsh and Scottish blood. What started out as a tiny band of Poms on foreign shores became a family of six and a menagerie: birds, fish, guinea pigs, a rabbit, hare, a dog, a cat, chickens and a goat. That was then. Today, my parents have four kids, nine grandchildren and three great grandchildren, and they’ve run out of pets.
I think of our childhood as idyllic. We had a secure home base with our parents, from which we could roam wild and free all day long until the sun went down. It’s the ‘lost Eden’ of my childhood I seek to recreate through my stories when I write fiction for children.
I owe my folks a debt of gratitude where my career is concerned. When I decided to quit freelance journalism and pursue my dream of being a writer, it was Mum and Dad who opened their home and their arms. They gave me the grace of their belief and support. I’d always nursed the hope that they’d be around to see my first book published. Hence the big push I’m putting on now, to get this book on the market while I still have one parent alive to bear witness!
My parents supported me through having my first child when I was a teenager. They were there when my second marriage ended, and they let me buy the family homestead Dad built when he first landed in this country, at a good price. My children and I were able to settle down. Mum and Dad knew I had my own fight on my hands, with a special needs child to raise on my own, and a child needing heart surgery and a lot of health intervention besides. My parents extended unconditional love which meant the world.
I intend to do my best to honour and respect the struggle they went through to create a better life for us in this new country. I want to make them proud, to let them know their hard work, their courage, their smarts, their spirit live on forever and will never be dimmed. My youngest son, Nathaniel, is the spitting image of my father. My middle son, Sam, takes after my mother’s side. While my eldest boy, Chris, has his grandpa’s integrity, and his grandmother’s heart. We are all the leaves and shoots which have sprung from this adventurous vine.
But what about the mystery alarm clock, you ask? Who did it belong to? The owner was never found. The clock had done its job. It had brought my parents together. Why it was addressed to apartment number five remains a mystery to this day. Hmm, maybe someone should write a book about that?
Thank you all for bearing witness to my first ever speech for Toastmasters.
But not my first ever speech. As you may already know, I gave a tribute at my mother’s funeral last week in front of a big crowd of people, while I was under considerable duress, and … I rocked it. I may have only been along to a few meetings, however I know that if I hadn’t joined Toastmasters, there’s no way I would have been able to do the tribute justice.
So believe me when I say to you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Thank you, Mister Toastmaster.”
talk to you next time,
Yvette K. Carol