I began writing letters to my grandmother, my touchstone. That was when we drove graded roads through orange groves, pastures and cactus forests from Phoenix to Mesa. A long distance phone call on the only land line phone in the house was a costly event involving a telephone operator. Postage stamps cost less than a nickel. My parents moved us from a remote suburb of west Phoenix to Los Angeles. They called it a fresh start.
I learned as a young child that Grandmother saw right through a story to the truth. I mostly wrote fiction, so most of my writing never left my tablet. Fiction was nice. Outside of discussing the weather and describing the nearby landscapes, truth was rarely nice. I actually mailed an average of one letter to Grandmother each month.
I also wrote to my classmate Lanie about an exciting California lifestyle, most of which took place somewhere between books, black-and-white television, the drive-in movies and my imagination, all created from different hiding places in my parents’ house.
In writing I was somebody people liked. In print Grandmother didn’t notice a runny nose, crusty red eyelids, or dirt under the fingernails of a fat girl. From describing our new home far from Phoenix, I began to write to Grandmother about the lovely sunsets over the ocean (that I’d yet to see except on tv). I described the cars along Sunset Boulevard which was actually Leffingwell Road.
Grandmother always replied with her newsy updates. After some time she encouraged me to write more. I’d developed a knack for making my stories believable.
In my stories I was anyone and anything I wanted to be. I wrote about a smart, pretty, stylish, popular girl that blended into our neighborhood. In reality I could not see myself as anything but my mother’s stand-in cook, maid, and babysitter.
Early into adolescence I began to see myself as my characters and in 1966 the whole world began to change.
As my world grew with more characters, both genuine and those I imagined, I eventually realized many others felt entirely alone. Within that realization my awkward style became less gangly. A seasoned adult in Chicago, reading became my passion and writing became my touchstone. Ultimately, sharing with others and encouraging them along became my purpose.