Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Heartwish Is Born

The summer before fourth grade, I encountered a fascinating contraption in Grandma’s bedroom. It stood on the nightstand, between the double and the twin bed. All the letters of the alphabet looked up at me. But not in order. The machine was made up of many pieces. I wanted to take it apart and study its innards. But I knew that’d annoy Grandma, so instead I asked her what it was for.
            “To type letters,” she said.
            “What’s typing?”
            “You push the keys down. Words appear on the paper.”
            I didn’t see a key. Didn’t see any paper either.
            She led me upstairs to demonstrate. “Would you like to try?” she asked.
            Would I!
            So every afternoon during my summer visit, I sat and pecked out stories. My first was a mystery. I didn’t know much about dead bodies, so I wrote about kids stealing a lunchbox and woofing down its sandwiches in the barn loft. The detective who solves the case is, of course, Doloresknown as “dummy” to her classmates.
            That summer gave birth to my burning desire to be a novelist. My unmarried aunt, who lived with Grandma, told me about adult novels and explained the words character, plot, suspense.
            I had all that. Characters. Plot. Suspense. What I didn’t have was many words. A character could be tall or short. Skinny or fat. Nice or mean. No more.
            As to plot—everything happened in the space of a single page.
            I used up a lot of paper that summer. Lots of plots with the same characters in every story. Today, we’d call that a series. My very own series at the age of nine.
            Aunt Dorothy also told me I needed to study hard if I wanted to be a good writer. I needed to learn English grammar and something she called “sentence structure.”             
            In an earlier Childhood blog—“Tough It Out”—I shared the pact that resulted in a fourth-grade certificate for perfect attendance. Mom and Sister Corita’s belief that I could accomplish that feat made all the difference.
            But Aunt Dorothy’s words are what prompted my newfound heartwish: I longed to give voice to the characters inhabiting my mind. Characters who came, camped out, and refused to go away. Characters who wanted to say this or that and to say it their own way. Characters who knew what they were about even if I didn’t.
            Oh, those aren’t the words I used as a fourth grader. Those words come after years of trying to write novels. When I shared Aunt Dorothy’s words about grammar and studying hard and sentence structure with Mom, she said, “Dodo, you can do anything you set your mind to. If you’ve got a story to tell, tell it. You’ve always got a reader in me.”
            Now I have more readers—those of you who click on this blog three times a week to discover a new story. Thank you.


  1. So what happened to those kids who stole the sandwiches? Did Dolores solve the mysteries? To whom did she report the thefts; or did she let the miscreants make anonymous amends? We readers need closure! ;-)

  2. I miss typewriters! The sounds. The smell. The physicality. Thanks for the memories.

  3. Gosh, Dee, that reminds me so much of two "typewriter stories" from just about the same age. One involved my grandmother, and her mother's typewriter, which my cousins and I decided to take apart one summer afternoon. Later I realized why my grandmother was so upset with us. It was a beautiful antique from the 1800's and we destroyed it. (At least as far as I know. After she was thoroughly mad at us, I never saw it again.) My great grandmother was an author and had used that typewriter to compose her poetry and stories on. (Fortunately, I do have some of those precious papers that survived!)
    Thanks for reminding me about the magic of typewriters.

  4. This brings to mind my fascination with my Dad's old Smith Corona typewriter. I was absolutely fascinated that he could type fast and without looking down at the keys! Long before I knew anything about touch-typing, I would try to emulate him and the keys all ended up stuck together and I always ended up with ink all over me!