Writing with my mother is among my earliest memories.
My three-year-old mind was fascinated by my mother’s literal writing with all its loops. Hers was a round hand, bouncing wherever it landed on the paper. I was desperate to learn how to make a pencil say things.
I hovered over her arm as she wrote grocery lists, wondering how she knew the way to indicate we needed salt or celery or soap. She wrote frequent letters to her own mother, reading the passages about me aloud. I giggled as she showed me the rows of sticks and dots that were maps of my days.
How did she know what circles to connect?
What told her to leave a space after certain curls?
Why did some letters look like mountains?
She read a different looking writing from books. I stared at the page. I traced the lines of print with my finger. Sometimes I placed my thumb over a favorite word, thinking the magic of it would soak into my skin. I ached to understand.
Using paper and pencils, I created what I thought was writing. More than anything, I wanted to be part of the book world, so I launched my career on our freshly painted living room wall. It was the perfect place for everyone to see my story, written in beautiful purple down the length of the pale blue expanse.
Let’s just say my efforts did not receive high acclaim.
My crayons were put on a closet shelf for a week. But more than my sorrow over their loss, I was hurt that no one could read my story. In a way, it was my first editorial rejection.
Still, I did not give up.
I recently discovered a book that my mother had kept as a reminder of my determination to be published. I must have been four when I copied her words onto the cover of James Whitcomb Riley’s poetry book. I imitated letters from her lists and address book stacked on the telephone stand. I’ve mastered Ohio. To Do obviously puzzled me because I’ve picked up an extra loop from the line of letters above it. We shopped for groceries each Friday at the A&P, which explains those letters. I know I looked away from her guide because the P is turned backwards.
In my little girl world, I was now published.
Looking back, it’s easy to see my life’s ambition surfaced early. All the years of missteps and false starts and falls make sense now. They were the necessary tickets to board the train always running beside me.
Somehow my mother knew.
She read to me constantly. Never interested in princess stories, she preferred Riley’s poems about the chores of Midwestern life. She liked the work ethic of the little red hen who tackled every task or the third pig who chose bricks. Her favorite for me was Watty Piper’s The Little Engine That Could.
She never let me give up. Ever. About anything.
She was the ultimate ticket.