I Can’t Believe I Wrote the Whole Thing!

Even with a bound copy of Irish Firebrands in my hand, I still have to laugh about it: I wrote a book! Nearly five hundred pages! All by myself! Where on Earth did it come from?

Antique-Mothers-Day-Picture-GraphicsFairyIt’s been fashionable, on and off over the past century or so, to Blame One’s Mother for One’s Weird Stuff, so I guess I’ll join the crowd. My mother has always been what “They” call a “voracious reader”: She amassed a massive personal library that covered one entire wall of our large living room, and never sat down without a book to keep her company (except during family meals). Our local public library was in an ancient storefront with creaking board floors, on the short main street of a small town five miles away, and after Ma got her driver’s license, it was one of our regular haunts. When she lost her sight, I believe she wore out more than one “talking book” machine from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

Ma had taught me to read and write by the time I was four years old. Then, on my first day at kindergarten, the teacher irately informed me that I must forget how to read and write, so she could teach me the “right way” to do it. I recall being very puzzled about that commandment. How does one purposely forget how to read and write? Of course, it was impossible – so I kept a low profile and kept my abilities to myself.

My mother encouraged my relationship with the written word by putting books in the room I shared with my younger sister – even the headboard of our bunk bed was a bookshelf! I remember consulting one of my “Little Golden Books” to find the correct spelling of the word “friend,” to write a sentence that I proudly showed to my mother.

I think I may have been about 12 years old when Ma contracted to buy me a complete set of sixty or so Zane Grey western novels (delivered three volumes at a time, for a dollar apiece plus postage, if I recall aright – I read every one of them numerous times, and I still own them), and I was about 16 when she let me sign up with a book subscription service called “The Doubleday Bargain Book Club.”

When Ma put adhesive tape over the letters on the keys of her manual typewriter and taught me to be a touch typist at the tender age of 10, I toyed with the idea of being a novelist, but never followed up on it. And frankly, I detested public school “creative writing” assignments.

But now and then I’d keep a diary, and many years into adulthood a big-city newspaper printed (for free) three Op Ed articles I sent over the transom; I was paid $10 for an article I wrote for a parenting tabloid; and I wrote a childbirth education workbook that I printed on my own photocopier and bound on my own comb-binding machine, to distribute to my pregnant students.

After I moved to Indiana, I began attending a book discussion club sponsored by the local public library. I started reading more modern stuff than what I’d inherited when Ma divested herself of her library, and while some of it was good enough for me to add to my collection, some of it was abysmally bad. I recall thinking, “A Big Name Publishing House PAID for THAT?!”

But it wasn’t until I was midway through graduate school that my subconscious mind apparently rebelled under the burden of all the “scholarly” writing assignments, and it took a sword and pike out of the thatch and decided to fight for its own little allotment of writing earth. So I scrounged up some unused notebook paper that was left over from the days when I homeschooled my three youngest children, I bought a packet of pencils and a couple of pink rubber erasers – and the rest, as They say, is history….

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “I Can’t Believe I Wrote the Whole Thing!

  1. Did you like westerns before those books? Or did you learn to like them with those books? (I don’t mean to appear nosy… I just wondered why those and not a “girly” series like Nancy Drew?) Your Ma sounds like a magnificent lady!

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  2. I liked reading westerns before the matched set. I had begun reading Grey in old copies that had belonged to my grandmother (I remember seeing her signature on their flyleaves). Most “girly” books just didn’t appeal to me. My two older cousins owned a few Nancy Drews that I looked at when I visited, but they seemed boring. I do remember reading Alcott’s Eight Cousins and Rose in Bloom,, but I couldn’t get into anything else she wrote. I did like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books (which were the inspiration for my learning, later on, how to make bread, soap, cheese, and vinegar, and to keep goats and chickens). But when I was a girl, I mainly read things like Red Ryder and Tarzan stories, Twain, Dickens, Stevenson, and Kipling. Thank you for your compliment to my mother. I’ll pass it on when I telephone her.

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    • I didn’t much care for Nancy Drew either, though most of the girls I grew up with thought I was the odd duck for saying so. I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder as a child and actually still do. It’s interesting that you make soap… I just made two different kinds this past weekend. The idea of using lye intimidated me at first, but once I actually did it, it was easy and lots of fun.

      Did you and/or your Ma see (or hear) the movie Changeling (with Angelina Jolie)? If not, it was of course inspired by a true story, but she was a telephone operator from way back (who I believe actually became the supervisor). When you mentioned somewhere else that your mom used to be an operator, it made me think of that movie. I love that she gave you the gift of the love of reading at such a young age, and valued its importance. What a blessing!

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  3. I haven’t seen Changeling. I’ll ask Ma about it. Ma told me she used to bring home a shopping bag of books from the Chicago Public Library every week. She also told me about an incident when she was working as an operator, that would make the premise for a thriller, but that’s not my genre. Maybe my sister will write that book. She has experience as a newspaper columnist, and has talked about writing books. She works as an accountant now.

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  4. Oh, you have got to see that movie! It takes place around 1930, so if you like period pieces, it’s also enjoyable from that aspect. Angelina Jolie is a telephone operator (which of course was a big deal back then) and she is the single mother of a son. She gets called into work one Saturday and the son disappears. Later another child claims to be her son and the police try to convince her it is really him, though she knows he isn’t. It’s a thriller, I guess, but a true story, and I think you’d appreciate the operator scenes. At one point, she even has to wear roller skates to get around the large telephone facility quickly. The movie is from 2008.

    If your sister gets around to writing your mom’s story, I would love to read that, too. I not only love thrillers, but period pieces as well.

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