My first memories of kindergarten are sitting on the floor in a huge room that had windows across a wide expanse on one end, and on another, a fireplace surrounded by what I now know were tiles made by Pewabic Pottery in Detroit. The teacher was seated in the middle of a semi-circle of five year olds who were giving her rapt attention as she read the first book of the Box Car Children series. Later when I read the book to my own grandchildren, I was surprised at how gruesome the story is! The children overheard the baker’s wife saying she was going to keep some of the children to work and the others would go to the orphanage. No wonder we were so insecure growing up!
Three years later, I could read on my own. I still remember the euphoria when I made the connection between the marks on paper representing sounds that formed words. I recognized even then that it was life-changing.
I was like a child possessed, hunting for something to read. My favorites were books I bought with my own money at the five and dime in our town. I still have copies of Little Women, The Bobbsey Twins, and Annette’s Sierra Mystery. (She had a convertible 🙂
The following year, my grandmother gave me Reader’s Digest Treasury for Children, and it was the true adventure stories written in the first person that captured my imagination. I wrote my first story after that, and proudly showed it to my grandmother. She in turn gave it to my great grandfather who was a Greek poet of some renown.
My little story was about how my family was struggling financially. A vivid memory was of running out of heating oil during a brutal Michigan winter and my mother keeping the door to the gas oven open to heat the kitchen. I also remember her carefully doling out food to make sure everyone got something to eat, probably the day before payday.
I was a fat little child, so my exposure of family secrets, especially not having enough to eat, did not go over well with my great grandfather, especially since my dad worked for the family business. His response to the story was, “She doesn’t look like she’s going without food.” Since he said it Greek, my grandmother translated what he said. To a seven or eight year old, that was devastating.
To this day, I laugh out loud at this, but it was a salient moment because after that experience I didn’t show anyone what I wrote for over thirty years.
My next opportunity to seriously write occurred in 1985, but it took another twenty-five years before I had the time or courage to finish a manuscript, and another year before I could actually publish it.
I’m so glad I did it. It takes so much courage to write and publish. The following is from my blog post, Writing From My Altar.
When I first began to write full-time, I did so at the dining table. My laptop was across from my husband, who also works from home. This setting worked fine for two years. We were both quiet, the only distraction coming from our dogs when they wanted a bone or from the wildlife outside our windows when it was time to refill the bird feeders or put more corn out for the deer in the wintertime. My ideas were flowing so quickly that it wasn’t an issue if he had a conference call or an unexpected visitor or the UPS man interrupted me. Then reality hit.
I began to write a book that required research and concentration. If my husband was having a business discussion with his partner, I lost my train of thought. If the dogs wanted attention, I got frustrated. It seemed that the most minor of annoyances could throw me completely off track and I would forget what I was writing. It was time for a private office. Leaving my husband and the wildlife view was difficult. There was a small, empty room at the front of the house; if I got lonely, we could yell to each other. The dogs could come and go. I decided to position my mother’s large old farm table in front of the window facing my sheep pasture. I put two bird feeders close by so I could watch the birds. Occasionally in the spring, wild turkeys passed across the lawn with their babies. It was tranquil.
Items I love began to find their way to my tabletop. Ancient sepia photos of my grandparents and parents grace the background, along with those of beloved dogs now gone to the big kennel in the sky. A hand-thrown pottery cookie jar filled with dog bones sits in one corner next to a clear bowl of sea glass my Aunt Von collected out of the water off the village of Capitola in Santa Cruz County. My owl collection includes pieces from my mother’s antique shop and gifts from my friend, Betty. I have a small bronze sculpture of a naked girl kneeling; I bought it for my dad and my mom gave it back to me when he died. From my daughter Jennifer, a pendant of Saint Anne, the patron saint of grandmothers and from my son Andy, a candle bought for Mother’s Day when he was fourteen. A nest my friend Cate knit with five knitted Robin-egg blue eggs is treasured.
Things I love began to find their way to my desktop, which was reminding me more and more of an altar. The process of writing is almost worshipful, meditative. You must pull thought from the back of your mind and put it into words another human can make sense of. Doing so, and knowing that not everyone will find the same meaning in your collection of words is both intimidating and egocentric. I’m not sure if making an altar of my desk was intentional or accidental. I may have hoped it would help me be more successful at the task of writing. However, I think its real purpose is to comfort me. It’s a scary proposition to put it all out there. Writers know what they are inviting; criticism, ridicule, shame even. But it’s a compulsion. There is a story to tell and I must tell it. I’d asked myself at one time, “now Suzie, who is going to care about this?” It’s vanity, thinking a series of narratives compiled of some childhood boogeymen are worthwhile reading.
So the writing-table becomes a sort of combination spring-board/cocoon. I am alternately withholding/expounding, hiding/exposing. Someday, I hope to make up my mind. I keep waiting for someone to have me arrested for writing tales that should be kept under wraps. My office is a safe haven for a dangerous occupation.