A Life In Rooms
When I was a child, the thing I wanted more than anything was to grow up and live in one house.
When my Navy Chief dad received orders for a new base, it meant we had to move. First we’d visit our extended family in Forest Hill, Louisiana. Seven generations of my both sides of my family are from in and around that area. Sometimes my cousins and I would sit on my grandparents’ front porch and play Lost in Space. Sometimes the grownups would drink coffee and talk about the good ole’ days. I loved listening to them. When we had to leave, I sure missed that porch.
By the time I was fourteen years old, I’d lived in Pensacola, Florida; Paris, France; Norfolk, Virginia; Alexandria, Louisiana; Barrigada, Guam; Bremerton, Washington; Forest Hill, Louisiana and the Westbank of New Orleans.
Our kitchen reflected all those places we’d called home. We ate French toast, pancit and lumpia, red beans and rice. And we never forgot my family’s central Louisiana roots. We ate chicken and dumplings, too.
If I could only invite four people to my table for a dinner party, I’d choose my grandparents. Growing up in a military family meant I didn’t get to see my grandparents often. One time I didn’t see them for three and a half years.
Many of my books have grandparents in them because my grandparents were important to me. If I asked them a question, they didn’t give me a simple answer. Their answers came in the form of a long story. (My parents are this way, too…and… I guess so am I.) I think I write stories because I was blessed with a family that told them.
Even though we didn’t have much money, we always had books. My mom would let us buy them from the summer reading club. She also took us to the base library. When I was in elementary school some of my favorite books were LYLE, LYLE CROCODILE, the AMELIA BEDILA books, the NANCY DREW series and all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books. For a few years, Louisa May Alcott’s LITTLE WOMEN was my favorite book.
Books can change lives. And Carson McCullers’ THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER changed mine. When I read it in seventh grade, I knew that I wanted to be a writer.
My favorite book today is TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but I’m always reading to find a new favorite.
When I was younger my little sister and I shared a room. We had twin beds and an imaginary line in the middle that kept our spaces divided. Most of the time, we liked it that way. But sometimes when I realized what a lucky person I was to be her big sister, we’d push our beds together in the middle of the room, forgetting all about our no trespassing rule. At night I’d make up stories about a pig that drove a convertible and lived in Hollywood. I guess I’ve always been telling stories.
Soon after my baby sister was born, we got our own rooms. However every Christmas Eve, the three of us shared a bed and stories.
I started writing June 15, 1994. I didn’t have a computer, but I didn’t let that stop me. I wrote on yellow legal pads. Even though I now have a computer, I continue to write my first drafts by hand.
Backyards are magical places for kids. In fifth grade I would swing for hours. One day I thought of a poem and when my toes touched the clouds I found the rhythm. I was swinging to it. I’ve read a lot about writing poetry since then, but no lesson was as powerful as that swing’s.
My daughter, Shannon, had a reading tree in our yard. It was a big pine tree with a huge branch, thick enough for her to stretch out with a good book. I think that tree taught her a thing or two. Nowadays when she isn’t storytelling and event planning for the public library, you can find her hunched over a café table writing about magical lands.
Somewhere a long the way I grew up. (I really tried not to. And between you and me, I’m not finished growing up yet. Hope I never am.) About thirty years ago, I met a man who I liked and loved very much. (I even loved his floppy lock of hair that never seemed to lay flat.) When he asked me to marry him, I said, “Yes.”
Back then I didn’t know we were opposites. I like my gardens to have flowers, vegetables, herbs and trees. Jerry likes to build things for the garden that look like they come from outer space. He says such things will protect our water well. I need the water for my gardens so I guess I’ll live with those extraterrestrial-looking things. And I guess I’ll keep him, too.