Family Get-Togethers

In this writing story blog, I certainly would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to mention and feature the hundreds of family get-togethers, reunions, and celebratory gatherings, both happy and sad, that brought us into each others arms and homes through the years.

At Grandpa and Grandma Knapp's house

At Grandpa and Grandma Knapp’s house

This photo, taken in 1952, represents most of the Knapp (Mother’s) side of my family heritage at the time. I’m the one turned around in the chair giving the camera a full-mouth scowl (XME). Around the table are two of my young cousins; my only two siblings at the time (that grew to seven altogether in the years to come), both brothers; my parents; my grandparents Knapp (at the far end of the table); and two uncles and two aunts.

Most of my upbringing included these get-togethers without fail at holidays, and they were also part of how we spent family time when my farming parents were free from farm duties to travel to their brothers and sisters’ houses.

While my Grandparents Knapp lived in town (Holgate, Ohio) all the years I knew them, my other grandparents, Dad’s parents, were from a farming ancestry and lived on a farm in the Malinta-Grelton school district when I was a youngster. Their farm was close to ours, and my two brothers and I would walk there to visit and, mostly, to get those yummy slices of buttered bread with brown sugar with which Grandma Helberg “spoiled” us.

A holiday celebration at Grandpa and Grandma Helberg's house

A holiday celebration at Grandpa and Grandma Helberg’s house

In this second photo, my Grandpa Helberg is the gentleman standing in the background. Next to him on the left is an aunt, then standing next to her is my Grandma Helberg. The children are all cousins, as each of my two brothers and I always had a cousin the same age as each of us. That circumstance gave all of us friends for life.

Most of our aunts and uncles are gone now, and a few cousins have passed on also, but the memories that a picture like this evokes — in any family — are priceless! And every family has them!

Over the years of my growing, I never met a family member, other than my Mother, who was interested in writing. She loved poetry. Much later in life, one of my younger brothers attended journalism school and remains a journalist as of this blog entry. He never took an interest in writing Fiction, however, or blogs, for that matter.  So, just where that creative writing gene of mine came from, other than from Mother’s prowess at poetry, I’m not certain. The only certainty is, that writing gene stuck in my bloodstream from day one.

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Writing Stardom

Writing Star -- 1958 6th Grade

Writing Star — 1958 6th Grade

Fifth and Sixth Grades at Holgate Elementary School in the fifties featured a combined teacher rotation that was brand new to us. We had come through the first four grades to begin a more mature experience.

In the fifth grade, I reached that hotly pursued pinnacle — writing stardom.

My first stories were about animals, primarily horses and dogs. Perhaps that wasn’t so surprising coming from a farm girl whose life involved the world of animals — although we never had horses — and who was attending a rural farm community school. As far as horses were concerned, I think the Grey Ghost of Sagamore had a lasting impression on me! (Many years later, I would write about horse racing at the Internet’s Suite101 article-writing site 2007–.) A few of my girlfriends also wrote stories about animals, and we would read each other’s papers.

While my stories had four, or five, paragraphs in that small beginning of storyland, my classmates wrote two, or three, paragraphs. I had words, lots of words, that flowed onto the paper in first drafts. I never thought to perfect sentences, or paragraphs, in first attempts to create a story. I enjoyed the editing and rearranging of thoughts and words, and of finding better words for describing situations, all of which I reveled in — and still do — after a story was completely written.

I knew I was a writer when my story-report on our fifth grade class trip to a caverns state park was chosen by our English teacher to be read in front of the class. My story wasn’t a first version. Our teacher was angry — an emotion he was prone to display in the classroom — at our first weak efforts on our essays.

In the first version of my story, I didn’t use the words stalagmites, stalactites, and “however”. I did, however, in the second (final) version, letting the feelings and sights and excitement of our trip soar from my head and glide down through my pencil to splash onto the paper. It was a creation, not just a bare bones story-report, and I discovered in those moments — never to forget — the true exhilaration one could experience in the passion to write down words in an entertaining manner.

When our teacher read my presentation — particularly when he paused appropriately at my use of the word “however” and surveyed the classroom in a mini-second of emphasis — I shivered with a sublime tingle. My story was the chosen one.

I was in Heaven!

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Then Came School

4th Grade, 1956

4th Grade, 1956

At an early age, my interest in sports became a second addiction — second to the written word and writing. With my Dad, I listened to the Cleveland Indians’ (baseball) games on the radio. The Indians were my Dad’s team. So, already having picked up on the value of competition, I began to root for the Detroit Tigers. Dad took our family to games in Detroit when the Indians came to town.

I remember being fiercely disappointed, years later, when Detroit traded the great Jim Bunning, and he went elsewhere (to Philadelphia) to pitch a no-hitter. By then, however, “Mr. Tiger” Al Kaline had become my first real sports hero, and my sports interests had increased to include Thoroughbred horse racing. There was the Grey Ghost of Sagamore.

Baseball and horse racing were the first two major sports shown on black and white television.

The first day I boarded a big yellow bus that took me to school, my life was forever distracted. Although sports became something I later learned to write about, it, too, was an early distraction.

School and the ability to learn so much about such a large world captured the majority of my time. If I wasn’t in school, I was in the yard, playing baseball with my brothers and Dad, or up in the hayloft, playing basketball with the same company, or watching the Grey Ghost authoritatively wipe out the competition, or screaming for the Tigers running around the bases on TV.

I was six when I started the first grade. There was no kindergarten in the early ’50s.

As the above picture may indicate, I wasn’t eager about my life being turned over to school. (I was one of those late bloomers who later on really began to appreciate the life of learning and its benefits rather than letting it act as a distraction from my writing.) Although, in school, I began to learn more about getting words onto paper, there were too many other activities, things in which one was required to participate: distractions like arithmetic, which quickly got out of hand in my head, and group reading, and spelling drills, and socializing discussion periods, and blackboard exercises.

All, and everything else around me, were giant distractions that steered me away from the joy of connecting words into sentences, rather than contributed enhancement to my love of pen and paper.

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Learning My Way With Imagination

The post-coloring book Cowgirl is the one seated wearing the black hat. In a mask behind me is my older brother.

The post-coloring book Cowgirl is the one seated wearing the black hat. In a mask behind me is my older brother.

Somewhere in the early going of my learning to write words and sentences, I heard the adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

A thousand words seemed a lifetime’s work at the time, plus I was terribly disappointed with the news that a picture could say more than I, apparently, ever would be capable of producing!

However, I also became aware that things to write about were all around me. My coloring books already had been thrust aside as too bland in my new writing world, and my dear Mother provided me with oodles of paper and pencils with which to create the next best, mini-sentence, mini-story I could write.

My first choices of subject matter were animals, since I was fond of them and we had dogs, cows, pigs, and chickens all about the farm.

But the biggest burst of imagination for me revolved around my most cherished possession — a whole miniature Western play town of metal buildings. A Christmas present from the all-knowing Santa Claus, it was a connected line of institutions like a modern strip mall, complete with Saloon, Livery, Hotel, Sheriff’s Office, Seamstress Parlor, Mercantile, and Doctor’s Office.

Plastic horses, cowboys — no Cowgirls included, actually, as we were back in the dark ages of unequal rights –Indians, cows, and wagons and carts, and a stagecoach all were part of the refined Western scene.

I loved that set. It inspired my imagination. From some of Dad’s empty farm grain burlap sacks, I sewed together a desert and plains rug to put the set onto when I played with it. I used green thread to make cactus plants and added rocks and stones from our driveway outside to create rough terrain.

And I wrote Cowboy and Indian sentences. I wrote about horses pulling stagecoaches, and about guys in masks robbing the saloon.

My imagination, the biggest part of a writer’s psyche, had been sparked. But I had miles yet to go!

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…Paragraphs Soon Followed

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Blessed with two loving parents, my mother, a poetess when she pleased herself to be, and my father, a fierce competitor and provider, I soon learned the power of the written word and the value of competition as I grew comfortable between two brothers. My Dad taught me about competitive sports and honesty, while my Mom encouraged my desire to write.

I thought there was no holding me back after I learned that words plus words equaled a sentence.

But there was more, so much more…

My Mom told me about “action” words. What could “The dog” do? I was puzzled. “Does he run?” Mom suggested. Of course, he does, I thought. My dog Penny always ran around with me in the yard. I nodded my head “yes”.

“Tell it,” Mom said. “Write it.”

That took a little thought. I strung the words “the” and “dog” with “run”. The dog run. Mom smiled. “Well, try ‘ran’,” she told me. Again, I dragged letters and words together. The dog ran. “Doesn’t that sound better?” Mom asked. The dog ran. Wow!

Oh, yes! That sounded great! Run and ran were “action” words, Mom said. She called them “verbs”. They told the action. I got that immediately. “But they’re tricky,” Mom warned. “You have to use the correct verb for the action.” I must have smiled with a puzzled look again. “You’ll learn more about that later. What sounds right is fine for now,” Mom explained.

My mind was flying forward with excitement. My hand had created a sentence with two words, and now I had a sentence of three words with “action”! More…please!

What more could the dog do?

Penny jumps, I thought. “The dog jumps,” I wrote. Penny eats. “The dog eats,” my fingers squeezed out of the pencil. Penny sleeps. “The dog sleeps”, my flying hand created. I re-read the sentences. A tiny raft of sentences had produced a story! It was an astounding accomplishment!

“Tell it,” Mom had said. “Write it.” And I had done just that! I was a writer! My Mom was smiling at me as I grinned from ear to ear.

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Along Came Words and Sentences

Paper and a pencil as fat as my finger at the time became my fast friends as soon as my mom gave them to me to replace my coloring books, which my imagination had begun to out-think.

With my pencil in a shaky, all-discovering hand, I put one letter, then another on paper with lead! My mom helped me learn the alphabet before I entered the first grade. When I put the letters together by using the ABCs with no spaces in between, Mom said, I could make real words, as those in my coloring books and in my reading books like “Poky Little Puppy”.

Gradually, I became an architect of letters. Simply by adding letters one to another, like figures in an arithmetic sequence, I spelled real words, just like Mom had predicted.

What a fine day that was, making first words!

And there was more, I soon realized. Words put together in a logical order could make a sentence, could say something. Wow! What joy! Just two words did it. “The” and “dog”. The dog.

I wrote “the” and “dog” over and over again that first day, stringing the letters together as fast as I could think of them.

Already, I was on my way to becoming a wordsmith.

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From the Beginning…

One year old, and all the world's my stage!

One year old, and all the world’s my stage!

One of my (five) brothers says he can remember events of his childhood back to the age of three, perhaps two.

I cannot.

But there are days, pieces of days, that do stick out for me.

My family lived at the corner of St. Rte. 281 and Township Road 11 in Henry County, Ohio, when I was a pre-schooler.

There, I stopped biting my fingernails. We had a puppy named Penny. I fell into the creek along St. Rte. 281 after crawling through the underground tiles.

Dad remodeled the brick house, closing in a doorway with brick that matched the walls. I bathed in a tub in the warm kitchen.

One evening my (then) two brothers and I played hide and seek (as dusk came on) around an old abandoned piano that was temporarily located in the yard near the house. I can remember looking at the little red pads on the keys’ ends. The pads softened the strike of the keys, I discovered.

I discovered more things about the world around me, and I wrote my first story.

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