I was sitting on my front porch one day when a couple of the neighbor boys walked up the path. Something was on their minds, and it didn’t take them long to tell me about it. Their teacher had told them to learn the thirteen original states of the Union as their history assignment for the day, and one look at that formidable list had them down. Neither of them, they admitted candidly, was a star pupil as it was, and — well, they wanted to go fishing. If they could only find a way of memorizing those states quickly…. They beat around the bush for a while and then one of them came to the point.
“Do you know the thirteen original states?” he asked.
I had to admit I didn’t, and his face fell.
“Heck,” he said. “Pop said you were a memory expert or something.”
“Well,” I said, “I don’t know them now, but I’d like to learn them. Suppose you run home and get your book, and we’ll memorize them together.”
“Can you teach us by tomorrow?” they wanted to know.
“I’ll teach you by this afternoon, and you’ll have time to go fishing besides.”
They were back with the book in no time. I began by explaining my first thirteen key words and the way they were used to hook up images and associations. The boys mastered these easily, finding them vastly entertaining. Then we went on to work up associations for each state. The boys were bristling with interest as they discovered for the first time that memorizing can be fun instead of drudgery.
The next afternoon the boys returned, glowing. Not only had both recited the states perfectly, but one of them, flushed with self-confidence, had volunteered to reel them off backwards, and his performance had gone off without a hitch.
You may be interested to know just what associations we used in memorizing the thirteen original states. Perhaps you will want to try it yourself. Here they are.
1. Delaware (alarm clock). The alarm goes off — “Beware! Della be_ware_!” See Della wearing an alarm clock tied around her neck, screaming, “Be_ware_! Be_ware_!” Alarm clocks bobbing up and down in Delaware River.
2. Pennsylvania (trousers). Trousers are pants — _Pant_sylvania. Clotheslines filled with trousers crowd the halls of the Pennsylvania Station, and on the Pantsylvania railroad train, trousers blow out of every second window.
3. New Jersey (chair). See your new jersey sweater hanging over the back of the chair. A Jersey cow sits on the chair trying to pull the jersey sweater over her head, and her horns tear holes in the jersey on the chair.
4. Georgia (table). George Washington, King George of England, and George Bernard Shaw are having a conference around your dining-room table. As each George tries to get across the point he bangs his fist on the table. See a beautiful Georgia peach eating juicy Georgia peaches at the table.
5. Connecticut (newspaper). See the front page of a Connecticut newspaper. There’s a picture of the Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court cutting the throat of his girl friend Connie. The large letters of the newspaper headline reads _CONN_IE’S NECK IS CUT. You are cutting up the Connecticut newspaper.
6. Massachusetts (automobile). There is a mass of automobiles piled up. A priest is celebrating Mass before a congregation of automobiles. The automobile is messy (massy). It has a Massachusetts license on it.
7. Maryland (policeman). The big policeman and Mary Pickford are singing a duet, “Maryland, my Maryland.” The policeman hits her with his night stick, and Mary lands on the ground.
8. South Carolina (revolving door). The sun is shining through the revolving door making palm trees spring up inside, for the revolving door has gone South. Your Aunt Caroline sits in one of the partitions of the revolving door, mopping her face under the _South_ern sun.
9. New Hampshire (mailbox). You try to push a new ham into the mailbox, but the little slot hampers you. See the mailbox dripping with grease from the new ham that came from New Hampshire. The grease drips from the mailbox into a new hamper below.
10. Virginia (general-delivery window). The Virgin Queen, Queen Elizabeth, is singing through the general-delivery window. Her song is “Carry me back to old Virginny,” and Virginia accompanies her by strumming on the bars of the general-delivery window.
11. New York (sidewalk). This is easy. See the crowd on the New York sidewalks, singing, “The Sidewalks of New York.”
12. North Carolina (elevator). The elevator is going up North. The elevator boy is a boy from North Carolina who is singing carols while he takes the elevator up North. Everyone on the elevator is waving North Carolina pennants and singing along with the elevator boy.
13. Rhode Island (floor). See an island in the center of the floor. A road runs along the floor right through the island, and thirteen Rhode Island red hens are pecking through the road to get at the floor. A Rhode Island red rooster is crowing in the middle of the floor.
Longer lists, such as the fifty states, can be mastered in the same way, simply by using more key words.