The Backpage: I was 17 62



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It was an aunt, I think, who said to me on that long ago birthday: “Sweet 17 and never been kissed”.

I felt my face redden with embarrassment, although whether anyone was able to detect the colour change beneath the red blotches of acne which covered it was arguable.

She was right, of course. I was 17 and I’d never been kissed by any female who wasn’t several times my age and/or directly related to me.

My stepdaughter turned 17 the other day and as I watched her and her incredibly sophisticated and self confident friends celebrating, I tried to recall my 17th year.

It was my last year of high school and I remember staring blankly at textbooks and willing the words to cement themselves into my brain.

The physics, chemistry and maths text books may as well have been written in Urdu and end of year exams threatened like a storm on the horizon.

The one ray of sunshine to penetrate this gloom was the opportunity to get my driver’s licence.

This took three attempts because while I could drive, the necessary skills deserted me whenever a testing officer got into the passenger seat.

Clutching the steering wheel, I would leap frog the car down the road, the testing officer bracing himself against the dashboard with one hand while he tried to scrawl FAILED on his clipboard with the other.

I rode to school most mornings on the back of a neighbour’s truck who was kind enough to give me a lift in those pre-seatbelt days.

He worked for a plumbing supply company which meant my only companions on the truck’s tray back were often white porcelain toilets.

There were trams then and when the tram stopped to pick up passengers, we would pull up beside it and a hundred or more commuters, including several of my fellow students, would stare down at the pimply faced kid in the school uniform sitting in the back of the open truck surrounded by white toilet bowls.

The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were in the ascent and long hair was the favoured look. I would have sold my brother for long hair but I suspect that my father regularly whispered in the ear of the local barber to shear me and so I suffered a totally un-cool “short back and sides.”

As a result, my head looked very much like a toilet brush if you can imagine a toilet brush with pimples, a look which at least helped me blend in with my surrounds when riding to school on the back of the truck.

I watched my stepdaughter and her friends as they laugh and chattered.

They seem so grown up and yet their lives have not yet begun.

It all lies before them, the joys and the sadness, the achievements and the disappointments, the love and the rejection.

I am tempted to say, as I was when my own daughter turned 17, “be careful” but now, as then, I just offer a silent prayer that God will look out for them.

Tell us, what were you like when you were 17?


Mike O'Connor

Mike O’Connor is a Brisbane-based motoring writer, travel writer and columnist. He’s driven hundreds of different cars, travelled widely and mingled with famous people, none of whom, he confesses, can remember meeting him.

  1. I was a rebel I worked in Shaftbury ave in London their was a lot of clubs their also met a lot of famous people working In a shop called S. Weiss near soho were their lot of theatres also work in two now in Basinstoke xx

    1 REPLY
  2. Lovely story. I was working & sharing a flat worth now a life long friend. Broke but loving life.

  3. I remember being 17 very well, I was pregnant, got married and had my first son a month after I turned 18, bit hard to forget that.

    3 REPLY
    • Me too, it was a shock to the system, but it didn’t help having a husband who was handy with his fists. He left me finally after 2 years and 2 kids, I was 20. Met my 2nd husband and had 3 more babies by the time I was 29 and that was it for me. That marriage ended in 1992 and never again will I do that.

  4. Married and a mother…different times ..wouldn’t have it any other way. Problem was the empty nest in my early forties. x

    5 REPLY
  5. I can remember it like yesterday, it was the year my father passed away😢

    1 REPLY
    • Oh wow , what a major loss so young .
      Would have had a huge impact on your life.
      Hopefully you retain happy memories .

  6. I met my future husband,didn’t know it at the time but we have been married for nearly 47years have wonderful children and grandchildren. A special year

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  8. My final year at school & worried about what I would do when I left. As it turned it all went well.

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