I was only slightly more savvy than Eudora Welty, arguably Mississippi’s most famous female writer. In her memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings, she says, “It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass.” Early on, I knew that people wrote stories and books, but I pictured those people as exotic, far removed from the ordinary – the German Grimm Brothers, the Bronte daughters of the parish priest, or a mysterious writer in the Swiss Alps. Neither Eudora nor I had the privilege of school visits by favorite authors.
Like the Bronte writers, I was a rural pastor’s daughter with an abundance of sisters. I’ve often wondered as I’ve seen other writers who come from similar backgrounds whether our fascination with human beings was passed along like an unnoticed habit. I don’t think my parents had any idea of my becoming a writer although they both in their own ways contributed to this craving to arrange words for people to read.
My father loved words and the way they fit together. He never used a small word when a large one would do, telling us that our dairy farmer grandfather was “going out to extract the lacteal fluid from his bovine quadrupeds.” He found pleasure in writing sermons. Mama loved stories and was quite the storyteller. She read poems aloud far beyond our understanding, but not beyond our sense of beauty.
One of my favorite quotes, yellow with age from its permanent place on my bulletin board, comes from Katherine Patterson, “As I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time are those who have given me something to say.” Those interruptions in the beginning were sisters, followed by our children, and then by my students.
The sisters added their own help to my writing journey – inadvertently – because neither they nor I were aware that it had begun. Because of his impaired vision, Daddy could not drive so Mama chauffeured him everywhere he went. Since I was the oldest and left in charge, I unknowingly, stored fodder for future writing. Beth taught me viewpoint. She said I was bossy, and I claimed that she was a pest. Of course, she really was a pest, and I was never bossy. As you can see, it depends on who’s telling the story. From Gwyn, I learned the magic of imagination as she filled the gracious homes she constructed with elegant paper dolls who lived exciting lives. Ruth, an eager listener, gave me practice in telling stories.
Three children, who have now morphed into families of their own, took my time leaving me with something to say and time to say it only after they began their productive independent lives. These three grandsons refer to themselves as “The Three Twins,” with one from each family who represent our ten grandchildren whom I readily abet when they become time thieves.
I cannot skip the students in kindergarten and second grade who shared with me their real stories and the made-up ones that I read aloud to them from books. Of particular note, are the junior high students of my last seven teaching years. Recently, I had to repeat a statement I made to a friend, “What a wonderful time I had writing with my junior high students!”
My listener shook her head and said, “I thought you said junior high.” A nonbeliever, but she had heard right. Those students joined me in a reading-writing community with a two-hour block every day to read, write, and critique. As I encouraged them to broaden their goals and think of a two-career lifetime, perhaps with one to feed their bodies and the other to feed their souls, I found I was talking to myself. Teaching really did both, but a second career began beckoning to me. When time came to put the chalk in the tray for the last time, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up! Several of the pieces I wrote with them made their way into publication.
My second career, where my journey took a less traveled fork in the road, can be seen on the other pages of this website.