Books: A part of my childhood, a part of my adulthood

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My earliest memory of books was when my dad read nursery rhymes to me—about  kings and queens, farmers and peasants—a precursor to fairy tales. When I won first place for my nonfiction piece, “A Memoir of Mother Goose,” I told my old professor that I had a slight “obsession with Mother Goose.” He’d chuckled and said it could be worse.

Mom and I read the Encyclopedia Brown series together, often in the car when my parents sold lamps and lampshades at an outdoor flea market in Summerdale, Alabama. Books were my salvation from boredom. If I didn’t have a new book, I’d reread an old one. I think I read Mom, You’re Fired! by Lou Kassem every day in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, where I stayed with my grandparents every summer as an adolescent and tween. I also read many stories in the Mostly Magic installment of the Through Golden Windows series, printed in 1958; I loved all the retro books my grandmother’s bookcases were filled with. I remember it was a lot more fun to sift through books than it was to surf through channels.

Still is. 

Many Moons by James Thurber was (and still is) my all-time favorite children’s book, but I also loved the Wayside School series by Louis Sachar and The Face on the Milk Carton series by Caroline B. Cooney.

I guess you could say I’ve always been a series girl—The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin in elementary, Sweet Valley High by Francine Pascal in middle, and V.C. Andrews in high school—the last of which I stopped reading when Andrew Neiderman (Andrews’ ghostwriter) turned out to be a hack.

I read many a Harlequin romance in my early twenties, which I deemed as research. (I wanted to write for them.)  My mom and I shared a lot of books—Tami Hoag, Lisa Jackson, and Sandra Brown—the usual suspects.  

In my late twenties and early thirties, I fell in love with Linda Hall novels—Christian fiction that didn’t resort to caricatures (as a lot of Christian fiction does). I reread her books every so often, but LaVyrle Spencer’s Small Town Girl will always be my favorite. I remember reading it when I was live-in nannying for three girls in Sidney, Montana, and feeling a bit homesick. The book is set in fictional Wintergreen, Missouri, which, is close to Poplar Bluff. It was because of that reference, perhaps, that I called my Aunt Cheryll (she and my uncle had recently split up after 27 years of marriage), with her telling me that she loved me; I realized then she would always be Aunt Cheryll to me.  

If I had to choose three classic novels that top all the others I’ve read thus far, it would be Gone with the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (Ironically, the films that were adapted from these fine works were flawless.) Sometimes I wonder if it were the heroines of these novels that make them so beloved—a feisty Southern belle who toughened up when push came to pushing back ten times harder and two precocious girls (one of them a storyteller, the other, a writer).

Though television programming has become portable with the advent of cell phones, back in the eighties and nineties, reading was the perfect, portable form of entertainment. At night, when I could no longer see (no Kindles then), I’d make up stories in my head.

My dad instilled in me, through poetry, a legacy of literacy—just as my mom shared that legacy with me. Thus, I am passing this legacy on to my daughter, who loves Mother Goose as much as I always will.

Updated 12/4/2019

The Processes of Seed and Clay

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In the process of moving and going through old boxes, I found a medal I’d won my eighth grade year for “Excellence in English,” and I thought, Just when was it I knew I wanted to be a writer?

Paper had always been such a part of my life.  Before I was old enough to draw, I spent hours cutting it up.  (I believe snowflakes were my favorite creation.)  Once, while my dad was asleep, I cut up every paper in the house, causing him to throw my red Roger Rabbit scissors against the Butano heater in our Spanish apartment, breaking them.

As my brain developed, I began to illustrate the stories in my imagination, my fascination centering around the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (especially the Hanging Gardens of Babylon).  Then, my third grade teacher, Ms. Cahoon, had us keep journals.  I always wrote about my summers in Poplar Bluff; I was never interested in keeping a diary (I preferred to write creative nonfiction without the gushy stuff.)  I didn’t like writing about my feelings, save through the medium of poetry, so that no one could read this or that and say for sure, “That’s Sarah.”

Through poetry, I could reveal everything in plain sight.

I don’t know when it is that we know what we want to be–whether it’ll be in athletics, academics, or the arts.  I only remember my parents’ encouragement, never their pressuring me to be interested in any one thing (though my dad would only help me with history homework because it interested in him; if it was math or science, I was on my own).  Mom and Dad simply exposed me to what they could afford to; lucky for them, I was always drawn to books, such as the Berenstain Bears, Encyclopedia Brown, The Baby-Sitters Club series, and any books by Roald Dahl, as well as all the Newbery Medal award winners.  Books were my way out of poverty (literally and figuratively).  For years, I fancied myself as Francie Nolan from the movie, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn; I could write lies that weren’t lies because they were stories.

I am so grateful that my parents just let me be (I call it the Libertarian approach), which is why most of my daughter’s playtime is unstructured.  I see how she ignores the television (thank God) unless there’s music, during which she is immediately transfixed.  Maybe that’s why I enjoy singing to her so much (though it does get a bit daunting trying to come up with a different melody for every nursery rhyme).

When she starts kindergarten, I’ll enroll her in piano lessons (as music works every part of the brain).  My husband prefers classic instrumental, though I always balk a bit at that, because I’m a writer, so of course, lyrics matter (though I wanted only “Canon” played at my wedding).  I see lyrics as telling a story, the melody, making you feel that story.  With classical music, there is no story–you just feel. 

Poetry, for me, is the flip side of instrumentals.

Everyone should have something–something that encourages mindfulness, something that draws them outside themselves.  My craft does that for me; I will lose myself in it, yet I will find more of myself I hadn’t known was there.

Because I know how much fuller my life is with writing, I want my daughter to have an outlet (so far, it’s ripping up paper).  Children come to us a blank slate, and it’s our job, as parents, to shape them as if they were clay–to mold them into good human beings–but they’re also seeds that need to be watered with nurture so they can reveal what they are meant to become.

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