{September 20, 2012}   Writing Lessons

When I was in the fourth grade, I read every book by Dr. Seuss. My favorite was Gertrude McFuzz about a girl bird who had only one plain tail feather. Gertrude is jealous of Lolla-Lee-Lou because she has two beautiful tail feathers.  So Gertrude tries to outdo Lolla by taking pills that make her feathers grow. The pills work and Gertrude grows another tail, but Gertrude wants more feathers. She can’t get enough. At the end, she has so many tail feathers that she can’t fly and has to have them plucked out.

When we were assigned to write a story in class, I copied Dr. Seuss’s style by making up odd names for weird creatures and used loose rhymes. My teacher, Miss Chapman, didn’t like my stories. She made red marks all over my papers. She glared at me if I raised my hand when she asked for volunteers to read their story aloud. Miss Chapman liked another writer in my class–Crystal Cain. I loved that name, Crystal.  Pure. Clear. Sparkling Crystal. Oh, why hadn’t my parents named me Crystal? Daddy told me once that he liked the name Summer. But he didn’t name me Summer. Daddy said he chose my name after he placed a long shot bet on a greyhound at the dog track. The dog’s name was “Little Lynn”. The dog won. Daddy was so happy he promised to name me after the winning dog. Great. Instead of a name like Summer or Crystal, I was named for a dog.

Miss Chapman read Crystal’s stories aloud to the class as an example of what we could do. I had to admit her stories were pretty good. She always found just the right ending. Miss Chapman said she used irony.  But I think she copied her ideas for endings from the O’Henry stories Miss Chapman read us in class. The stories I made up were kind of strange but I liked them. One story, The Boon of the Chica Poo Poon,was about a half-kangaroo, half-chicken named Chica. Chica had a secret formula carved into a stone. He buried the stone deep in the sands of a desert in Australia and then forgot where he buried it. Poon, a Koala bear, joined Chica on a treasure hunt for the stone. The hunt lead Chica and Poon to discover that the secret of the stone wasn’t as important as the friendship they discovered while they were searching. I was proud of that story. When Miss Chapman asked for a volunteer to read their story aloud to the class, I raised my hand.  When I read the title, Miss Chapman’s face looked disappointed. So I told her that my story wasn’t really finished and sat down. I decided I wouldn’t volunteer to read my stories in class anymore.

After fourth grade, I wrote in a personal diary I kept at home.  My first diary was a gift from Aunt Jane, my rich aunt on Daddy’s side who recycled Christmas gifts and canned her own food. It was a five-year diary with a lock and key. I thought the lock kept my diary from being read. There was not much space in the diary to write stories, so I wrote personal stuff like what I wore to school, who sat beside me at lunch, and what David Goldsmith said to me that day. David Goldsmith was a dark haired boy with a nervous habit of flicking his right hand when he spoke. He sat in front of me in class. David would turn around and talk to me when the teacher  wasn’t in the room. Once, he told me he thought I was smart. I was in love with David. When I wrote about David, I circled hearts around his name. My five year diary had pages divided in half, so it only allowed a few sentences. I used the whole page, sometimes two, so the diary lasted less than one year. I kept the key where no one would find it, under a stack of books. Nobody in my family would ever find it there.

Writing about what happened to me was dangerous in my family. I learned that fact the summer when I was twelve. I was invited to the pool with some friends from church who were older than me. The girls painted their nails and wore padded bras. I was flat chested as a boy. I decided to change that by padding my bathing suit top with a pair of falsies. I looked in Mother’s drawer and took out a pair. They were really big. But, I thought, the bigger the better.

I joined the girls and paraded around the pool with new confidence. I thought that I looked older than twelve. With these, I could pass for at least fourteen. I flirted with the lifeguard who must have been at least sixteen. I started getting hot so I jumped in the pool.  When I plunged underwater, I could feel the falsies pop out of my top like two helium balloons. The impact unhooked my top. When I resurfaced, the falsies and my top were floating on the surface of the pool. I grabbed my top and heard the frantic whistle of the lifeguard. He stood up at his chair and pointed at the falsies, signaling everyone to clear away. They were floating too far away for me to grab. All eyes were on those hideous falsies. I didn’t want to claim ownership, but I couldn’t just leave them floating there. I grabbed them, holding my unhooked top over me. The girls I came with thought that was the funniest thing they’d ever seen.

That night I wrote about the falsie tragedy in my diary. I locked it, hid the key and then hid the diary in my drawer. I was glad that day was over. I put the falsies back in Mother’s drawer and tried to forget.

The next day, Mother was sitting on my bed when I came home from school. Her face was framed by her black hair. “Did you take falsies from my drawer?” Surprised, I asked, “Why? Did you read my diary?”  “Never mind that, “ she yelled. “You went in my drawer and took my things without asking.”  “And you stole my diary and read it!” I screamed. Mother glared at me. “Everything in this house belongs to me. As long as you live in my house, you will never go in my drawer again.” Mother slapped my face and stormed out of my room, slamming the door.

I collapsed on my bed. So, Mother’s been going through my drawers and reading my diary. At least, now I know. I’ll have to hide my diary somewhere she would never find it. Mother slapped me for going into her drawer and taking something of hers. And, the only way she knows this is by going in my drawer and taking my locked diary and reading it. Irony. An ending that Miss Chapman would have appreciated.


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