Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Story Time at the Library

There's been lots of blogging lately about memories and memory mapping and memory triggers. With my upcoming 20 year high school reunion, I've been struggling to remember my youth.

I finally dug out the old yearbooks and photo albums. They helped a little, but mostly scared me. I have some serious memory problems! I can't remember high school! What's even worse is that I was one of our newspaper and yearbook editors. I read some of the stories I wrote; I still can't remember. I looked at pictures I was in; I can't remember many of those situations either. There's even a photo of me with a caption saying I thought of our pet poodle as part of our family. Um...I don't recall ever being a pet person! (The day she died, one of my brothers gave her mouth to mouth and I was on the phone in my dorm room getting the play-by-play from another brother, so I must have cared a little.)

I did have a nice drive down the Boulevard when I was back in Nebraska. I drove my girls past my old elementary school, and even sang the school song for them. My SIL was in the other vehicle and sang the song for her kids too! She didn't even go to our school, but my nutty brother sings the song to his kids. Although we're five years apart, my brother and I are soooo much alike! We drove through the old neighborhood. I wouldn't have even recognized our house--I had to look at the address! It made me sad to see it so run down.

As I drove through, I remembered my friend Eddie. We used to sit on his deck and play our guitars. He'd play KISS on his electric guitar, and I would play John Denver on my classical guitar. I showed the girls where we used to play kick ball and pick up sticks. I thought about the boys who threw me in the dumpster and ruined my coat when I was in second grade. I thought about Lisa who started baton twirling lessons a few years before I did. I thought about our lemonade stands--hers always had Oreos!-- and running half-way around the block alone to play with her when I was five because it was still considered safe.

I thought about how we took our dolls to the park and crawled into a hidden area of the trees to have tea parties. I thought about how we collected Charlie's Angels cards and put all our cards together so we had a complete set and could put the puzzle together. I showed the girls the Kwik Shop that we used to walk to for comics and treats. I showed them the pool we lived at from 12-8 almost daily...back when we wiped Crisco on our bodies to get a good tan--never mind that the towel smelled like rancid grease. I thought about my guitar teacher and learning to cook at her house. And, my fifth grade teacher who taught us to clog dance. And, the girls and boys who went to Bluegrass festivals with us to clog dance. And wanting to get on stage and play my guitar. And, walking home alone from guitar lessons and being afraid to walk past the big kids who teased me. And getting older and becoming self-conscious and giving up playing guitar and singing completely. And having contests with DW to see who could check out the most science books from the library each week.

Then, tonight, I took the girls to the library for story time. I don't know why we've never gone before. It was such an experience. As the librarian read the story, pausing to explain things or to have the kids act out a section, I remembered my mom taking all of us to story time. And, I remembered the summer I volunteered at the library. I think I was in third grade. I got to help check out books back when they still had cards to file. Later that summer, they taught me how to return books to the shelf. And, I remember making the librarian search for more Florence Nightingale books for me.

We'll definitely go back for story time. It was great fun for the kids and I enjoyed watching how the librarian chose to interact with the kids...when did she pause, which words did she change or leave out, what did she explain, what did she have them act out? For most of the books, she had the kids clapping and snapping and moving their little bodies the whole time. With one book, she had about 15 kids up in front, all pretending to be different farm animals.

It's been a memorable couple of days! My recent trip showed me that, although I have so many memories that are buried, I can tap into the emotions behind those memories. I used to wonder if I had anything to say as a writer because I had a nice, normal, not-quite-middle-class- childhood. No drama. No trauma. Just lots of joy. Now, I can see that I can use emotions from my childhood to write a strong, character-driven story for middle grade readers.

Sometimes I think one of the best things about being a writer is remembering how to be a kid. And, I'm thankful I have three great kids who will play along with me!

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