• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Don’t Throw Our Love Away

In the sixth grade, I asked my favorite English teacher if I could try some creative writing. She told me to write a poem or a story and bring it to her. Thing is, I meant calligraphy. I thought fancy lettering was called creative writing. Being both proud and embarrassed, I pretended that’s what I meant and brought her a poem the next day. She was blown away and encouraged me to keep writing. That’s my dirty little secret. This whole career is predicated on a massive misunderstanding.

What’s your origin story?

11 Responses

  1. Sixth grade. Penmanship. Names on a chart … gold stars for excellence.
    Fountain pens.
    I was left handed.
    A back-handed smearer.
    Never got a star.

  2. Like Andy, my 6th grade teacher. Her name was Mrs. Rothstein. She appreciated my words and effort and encouraged me to write. I thought, huh, I guess I’ll be a writer.

    And my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Smith, deserves a wink and a nod. When I fell behind in my reading due to childhood illnesses, she worked with me during recess so I could catch up on my Stamford Achievement Tests and go on to a higher reading level. She advocated for me and was everything a teacher should be. Because of her, I fell in love with books before my 9th birthday.

  3. What a story. Please say it’s true.

  4. My ninth grade English teacher chose me to read my stories to the class. That was nice, but I was more interested in the cute boy in the third row than writing anything other than assignments. My eleventh grade English teacher asked me to be the school reporter for our local newspaper. That was nice, but the cute boy and I were going steady and I wanted to watch him play basketball and football and run around the track, so thank you anyway, but I didn’t have time to write a newspaper column. The cute boy and I got married a week after I graduated from college. We lasted three years before he left me for a dumb girl with big boobs. I got married again, had two kids, taught second grade for thirty-three years, and retired. I had nothing to do, so I wrote a book. It won a Lambda Award. I wrote more books. They did okay, too. Now I’m seventy-nine and a half. I thought I was done writing books, but no. I have one more in me and I wonder if that job at the newspaper is still available. .

  5. “What’s your origin story?”

    When I was little, before I learned to read, my mom would read bedtime stories to my brother and me. She was a good reader, and the stories were the sort that would capture a child’s attention. I asked her one night where the story she was reading was coming from, and she pointed to the pages and said, “It’s here — it’s in these marks — they are words and I am reading them to you. Someday soon you will learn how to read, too, and then you’ll be able to read all the stories you want.”

    And write them, too? She didn’t say, not that I remember, and I don’t remember asking, though I could not have been more than seven years old when I told a beloved aunt that I was going to be a rich and famous writer someday. Wherever did I get that notion? What did I think it meant? How did I think it could come to be?

    Just the chatter of a child, that was, that going-to-be, going-to-be nonsense. I was also going to be a spaceman and an army man and a scientist.

    Skip ahead to sixth grade. Another good reader of stories enters my life. This time the fire is lit. My sixth grade teacher, young, new to the profession, read to us, her students, two books. The first was “Two Years Before the Mast.” This was good, this book, she was a good reader, but it didn’t inspire me to become a sailor. The second book she read, however — that was the one. “Harriet the Spy.” That character’s notebooks, in which she wrote down everything and anything that she wanted to write, that was what got me started. I took a couple of spiral notebooks and I began writing. By the time I was thirteen, I had settled on my life’s course — that no matter what else I did, I would always write about it, make stories out of it, and present those stories to the world. To what end? As I put it in one of my notebooks then, “So people will know what it was like.”

  6. Mine is less straightforward. Before the idea of writing came, all I did was read. Those were the days when being called a bookworm was an insult. I quietly embraced it. Who cared? I was likely buried in the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, or Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings.

    When I was eighteen, for some reason, I submitted a short story to one of those writing contests – you know the ones – in the back of the magazines? Similar to the “Draw Blinky,” or whatever that critter’s name was. I received a letter back with lots of praise. Then, they wanted money, (eye roll – of course they did!) Shelved that idea.

    But. Despite that cheesy foray – it sparked something. I didn’t know it, but what was missing was the right genre. Grade school was Black Beauty, Call of the Wild, My Friend, Flicka, All Creatures Great and Small, etc., my early teens books, Harlequin, my mid-teen years, captivity stories, and historical fiction, late teens on into late twenties, Stephen King. It wasn’t until I read ELLEN FOSTER by Kaye Gibbons that something clicked. Then I read BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA by Dorothy Allison, and then I couldn’t find enough Southern fiction. I read Bragg, McCarthy, McCullers, etc. Soon after I opened a Word doc. That was about 30 years ago.

  7. During the weekend after JFK’s assassination, I like millions of others sat in front of our TVs as if they were campfires in a very dark forest. The breath had been knocked out of our nation. I was a teenager and for some reason I had to write down my feelings and impressions. Events had shifted me into the adult world.

    I was a painter so to turn to words felt oddly out of place and yet comfortable. After my parents read a one page essay about the assignation I had written on a piece of notebook paper my mom cried. I didn’t think much of her reaction because that weekend everybody was crying. My mom and dad told me to show the essay to my English teacher who was also the high school football coach. I did not do well in English. Not one of my favorite classes. I was assigned a seat in the front row because I got in trouble for talking too much.

    We were given that Monday off from school as a snow day. No snow. The President was being laid to rest.

    On Tuesday I gave my sheet of notebook paper to Coach in the hallway as I entered the classroom. It was also Homeroom, my first class of the day. Everyone was uncharacteristically quiet. Before Coach took attendance, before he spoke one word to us I watched as he stood in front of everyone silently reading my paper. When he did speak I remember his words like I remember the Lord’s Prayer.

    “Your weekend homework is not due today. I’m sure all of you, like me, were in front of the TV. That’s why I want to read something to you which was written by Carolynn.”
    Though I was a talker in class I was a shadow-kid in the hallways. Not a joiner, not a lot of friends.

    As Coach slowly read my piece out loud I could hear kids behind me crying. The quarterback sat to my left bending his head and wiping away eyes. He looked at me and nodded. Then he made a gesture like he was holding up my paper and then thumb tacking it to a wall.
    That was the exact moment I learned about the power of words. That is when I became a writer.

  8. “I had nothing to do, so I wrote a book.” I love it.

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