Six-feet long, roughly built, thickly painted in a shiny brown enamel and filled with books from encyclopedias and The Harvard Classics to Reader’s Digest’s condensed books to every paperback Louis L’Amour and Agatha Christy ever published, that book-case captivated much of my childhood. It also formed my delight in reading and my desire to become a writer.
My favorite, by far is Louis L’Amour, and I spent many a rainy, windy winter’s day with my nose tucked inside one of his novels. His story-telling allowed me to escape and develop my imagination and hunger for adventure.
At the time though, I didn’t know this. Also, what I didn’t know or understand until some years after his death, was that my father was a story-teller from the old school, meaning that unlike L’amour, he didn’t write his tall-tales down, but rather, enjoyed spinning yarns over and over, until he, himself, believed the stories he was telling.
For years, especially following his passing, when family would gather, all his stories became ‘lies,’ which he did do, but some of the things he shared with his ‘gift for gab’ can be nothing more than the work of a truly gifted raconteur. Where, when or how he came to this skill, I will never know.
When I was nine or so, I saw a photograph of Louis L’Amour as a young man. I remember being struck by how much he and my Grandpa Jack Olivera looked-a-like.
This led me to create a fantasy that Grandpa Jack was, in reality, Louis L’Amour. Further, I fantasized that one day, when I was old enough to keep his secret, Grandpa Jack would tell me all about his life as a writer and we’d have something besides my mom in common.
Because this was a fantasy, I never told anyone, fearing I’d get called a liar and punished for it. But I did devise a way to get the fantasy out of my head and into the ‘light of day,’ and that was by writing it down in story-form.
Unfortunately, that original story has long been lost, tossed out by my mom after I joined the service along with many other stories I wrote as a child. When I began to write at the age of nine, I was certain that the world would one day benefit from whatever I wrote, so saving every written scrap of paper was nearly as important as the writing itself.
While I mourned the loss of those ‘original’s’ for years after, I’ve since concluded that they probably were no more than a narrative than a real story. I’ve also learned that when an original is lost, the rewrite is generally the better of the two.
By the time I entered middle school, I’d long outgrown the fantasy of my Grandpa Jack being Louis L’Amour. And later, when in high school, after being kicked out of the house by mom for ‘behaving like an animal,’, that old book-case became a very close friend and life-saver.
She moved me into the garage turned ‘rumpus room,’ where I poured through our ‘library,’ reading nearly everything on the shelves. I had already read the encyclopedia set after being grounded for the entire summer to my bedroom for bad behavior in grade school.
And from time-to-time a new L’Amour or Christy paperback would show up in the case, and I’d find a reason to disappear (Mom called it ‘being anti-social’ and worried that I might be doing drugs,) to the ‘rumpus room,’ to read and write. Back then, I had access to an old manual typewriter that Dad had brought home from work.
The typewriter was given to him and Dad rarely used it. Me, however, I not only banged out ‘copy’ for the high school newspaper and wrote book reports and essays on it, I used it to teach myself to write like a ‘real author.’
Putting ‘real author’ in quotes is my way of saying, that to claim the actual title would have been a ‘lie.’ I would’ve been accused of ‘living in a fantasy world,’ which would have been true, but it would have taken on an entirely negative connotation, not out of meanness, but out of frustration as I had spent a lot of time there as a child.
One of the first items I ever wrote was a small piece of poetry and while I didn’t fully appreciate the intellectual creativity of poetry, and still don’t, I had heard ‘cowboy poetry’ spoken (Bruce Kiskaddon is a favorite) and it sparked my imagination. Beside, it is rhyming words to tell a story – how hard could it be?
Ha! I look back on my rhymes and see no meter and where I wrote open-verse, I see no story and my tenses are all wrong. So yes, I learned and in that learning I found it’s much more difficult than simply using ‘say’ and ‘day’ to end the first and third sentences of a verse.
Mom in her naturally over-zealous reaction to my leaving home, decided it would be best to help my brother transition from sharing a bedroom, to being alone, by removing all of my stuff. Granted, I’d been banished from sleeping there, but I did have all my clothing and much of my writings in that room.
Fortunately, for me, I did have some notebooks, journals, and a number of stories tucked in a drawer in a large metal work desk that occupied the space beneath the window that looked out at the front yard. Later, when my folks’ marriage dissolved, Mom cleaned the house of nearly everything, either selling it or giving it away, including the desk, which she emptied.
What she couldn’t pawn off to others or make money from, she put in trash bags for yje Wednesday morning collection. Happily, for me, the garbage service had not been paid and our service was in default so I saved all that I could, and still have much of it to this day.
All of this returns to a central point in my life. If it hadn’t been for a bookshelf filled with books, childhood fantasies, an active imagination, some bad adolescent behavior, and actively writing night-after-night, for good or bad, I wouldn’t be writing today.
And finally — Debbie — if by any chance you’re reading this, sorry we had to listen to hours of angry lecturing from both sets of parents about ‘where babies come from.’