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My Writer's Journal

Questions, Questions, and Few Answers

Beauty, 1946
The war was over, and our family got back to normal. I still didn't enjoy school. My fourth grade teacher terrified me, because she taught by whacking kids with a yardstick when they gave a wrong answer, and I didn't want to get whacked.

I still couldn't hit or catch a ball, or win a race, or hold on when the kids played "Red Rover." But, boy oh boy, could I read (the fifth grade teacher had me tutor kids who couldn't), do multiplication and long division, answer every question about the Boston Tea Party, and win spelling bees. Naturally, this earned me the derision of the other kids, who dubbed me "Professor Pisspot."

I discovered boys, another lost cause, since in addition to my social liabilities I was the only child in my school with glasses, and I was going to have to wear braces to correct my buck teeth. Dreams of being a Cosmopolitan cover girl were doomed. My mother's ladies' magazines triggered romantic daydreams that involved white satin wedding gowns, and I wondered if I'd ever get a chance to wear one.

I'd gotten very curious about sex and asked a lot of questions that my mother wouldn't answer, and so I made stuff up and solemnly passed around my misinformation as scientific fact. Nobody else knew much, either.

I was glad to be leaving my country grade school but worried about what was coming next. My parents decided not to send me to the rural high school but to enroll me in the junior high school in town. At least I wouldn't have to ride a school bus--my dad would drop me off every day on his way to work.

Professor Pisspot was scared to death. Read More 
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In My Imagination

Ace of the Airways
With no brothers or sisters, a father overseas in the Air Force, and not much skill at getting along with other kids, I might have been a lonely child. But I wasn’t. I had a dollhouse. I had a playhouse that had once been a chicken coop. I had a little dog, Domino, that I dressed in doll clothes. And I had a radio, and that radio—much more than books at that age—was a door to another world.

Every afternoon at 5 o’clock I tuned in to “Hop Harrigan, Ace of the Airwaves” and then acted out that day’s developments, embellishing them with my own ideas. In the early part of the war, a friend of my mother’s came to stay with us for a few months with her two daughters, both younger than I, and I enlisted them in my scenarios. I played the part of Hop Harrigan, of course, but Nancy, age 6, could be Gail Nolan, a nurse and possibly Hop’s love interest, or Tank Tinker, his sidekick. Linda, age 4, was always cast as the enemy, Japanese or German, depending, until we captured her and made her stay under the card table, a POW.

Later, there was “Baby Snooks,” played by Fanny Brice. My only cousin, Harold, in his teens, began to call me Snooks, a nickname that stuck for much too long. And Red Skelton, and Fibber McGee, and all those soap operas: Mary Noble, Lorenzo Jones, Ma Perkins. When I began to think about being a writer someday, it was writing radio scripts that I saw in my future—not books.

But meanwhile, we had a war to fight! I got a Junior Commando armband to wear on my snowsuit and tried, without success, to enlist classmates to march with me. I had a plane identification chart, so I’d know if our little Pennsylvania town was under attack from Zeros or Messerschmitts. I saved tin cans and used my allowance to buy 25-cent War Stamps to paste into War Bond booklets.

And then, at last, the war was over, and my daddy came home. Read More 
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How I Learned to Write

Mummy, Daddy, and me - July 1942
When I was a little girl, my father used to tell me bedtime stories, and that, I believe, is how I learned to make things up.

I didn’t much like kindergarten. I was an only child, wore glasses, and had no idea how to get along with other kids. At Halloween my mother dressed me in a clown suit, and I was put at the tail end of the parade through Miss Keller’s dining room and parlor and into the sunporch that served as our classroom. Leading the parade was pretty, curly-haired Janie, in a pink fairy costume with a little crown and a wand with star at the end of it. I dropped out soon after that.

First grade was also miserable. I hated recess and refused to go outside and play with kids who ran and yelled and threw balls. That was when I learned to read. I don’t remember, but it must not have been a struggle, like learning to ride a two-wheeler or to roller skate. I do remember the books I loved: "Bunny Brown and His Sister Sue," a series about insufferably good children; "The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew," a family that was poor but always happy, no matter what; and the "Uncle Wiggily" series, about an elderly rabbit with rheumatiz and his muskrat housekeeper, Nurse Jane Fuzzy Wuzzy. All of these books had been published long before I was born. Somebody must have given them to me—probably my grandparents, who also gave me a lot of Bibles (Pop-pop Meyer was a Bible salesman.)

I also remember learning to write—that is, to form big, squarish capital letters and then to string them together to form what I believed were words. My mother preserved some of those early attempts. A favorite word was “interrupted,” which I translated as INARAPDAD.

Then, in the middle of first grade, everything changed. We came home from church one Sunday and turned on the Philco radio to listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. It was “inarapdad” by news that upset my parents tremendously: the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. I had no idea what that meant, but six months later my father enlisted in the Air Force and was gone for the next three years. Read More 
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