I love to write and I have taken great joy in putting pen to paper since early childhood. Perhaps I should say that in those days, in the Fifties, it was at first, a big fat red carpenter’s pencil, stubby and flat-sided, and the paper was usually old brown grocery bags, the insides of empty cereal boxes, or anything else that was of little value. (I learned by bitter experience that wallpaper doesn’t fall into that category.) That first pencil, I borrowed from my father, who often kept one tucked behind his ear. He used it whenever he was working on a project, to work out his measurements or put down marks where he wanted to saw next. God provided fathers with ears, not just to hear, I’m sure, but also to keep them from cursing at their children. Where else would that pencil be safe from covetous little fingers? Well, in truth, my dad was not a cursing man anyway, but just to be on the safe side he still kept his pencil there.
Once I arrived on the scene, there were two kids in our family. By the time I married and moved out of the house, there were eight. In large families, it is always difficult to maintain ownership of any of your things for very long.
A favorite doll gets quickly adopted by a little sister (if it doesn’t lose an arm or a leg in the transaction). That first bottle of “grown-up” perfume becomes an everlasting drawer-scent at the hands of a snoopy little brother. Strangely, he fails to appreciate the karma of rose-scented tighty- whiteys when later your dresser is exchanged for his because only the smaller one will fit into your room. That’s because there are three sisters’ beds to make space for now that the “new baby” has arrived and has ownership of the crib in Mom and Dad’s room.
Big family life can be hard. Your most treasured books end up as a pile of scissors’ fodder ( even for blunt-tipped ones, no less!) Dresses are inevitably borrowed, unasked, or even shortened, unasked, when a sister has a “really important occasion”, and the family’s finances are tight. “Lost” “snagged” “ripped” “gouged” “broken” “stained” “spilled” and “run-over”— these words are the true driving force behind a child becoming a writer. When you are young, your writing is just about the only thing that nobody else attempts to lay claim to. It is the only thing that is truly your own.
So it was, that my love of writing evolved. I moved on to thinner, longer, yellow pencils, of course, to ancient nib pens for learning perfect handwriting “the old fashioned way”, in a one-room schoolhouse with a crotchety teacher; to refillable fountain pens with blue, black, or turquoise ink; to ballpoints; to fine-tip markers and then eventually the computer keyboard. Perhaps you noticed that I left “typewriter” off my list? (A deliberate shunning, actually.)
My first attempt at learning to type was in Grade Ten; I was anxious and uncoordinated from the outset. It didn’t help that I was two weeks late starting classes— an accepted practice among farm families in the tobacco belt. Generally parents required their older kids’ help until the harvest was complete and the school boards accepted it. Although in all other subjects I quickly caught up, unfortunately, in typing I never got up to speed. Literally! On my final exam I got a humiliating 26%! When I told my parents “My fingers got jammed in the keys!” in all likelihood it was a false memory of that event. It is more likely that it was actually a panic attack. But that 26% isn’t a false memory! It still appears on an aging yellow report card, in a rusty old tin box in the back of my crawl space.
Even more traumatic than the mark was the fact that it was used to factor my academic “Final Average” for that year. This was the cause of deep mortification, and teenage angst. To this day, I sometimes use it as an excuse for the throwing of plates and silverware at my siblings.(Back then, of course, not now— I’ve finally mellowed out some.)
Like me, several of my siblings love to write and, in fact, they write very well. Sometimes they write poems, and sometimes stories of shared family history. At other times it’s simply a story to make everybody laugh, or to lift someone in particular up. And some of them write in an attempt to make things better in the world at large.
Each of my siblings mean so much to me that words cannot really express it. But just let one of them try to borrow one of my stories, and say that it was they who got bitten on the leg by Aunt Grace’s chihuahua, or yelled at for loudly singing a hymn in the schoolhouse bathroom, or that it was their eye that the baby robin pooped in— then plates will fly! Mark my words: Plates will fly!