Most of my adult life was spent working as an artist; that is, when I wasn’t busy being a wife and mother. My transition to writing was a gradual one, beginning with fiction classes at University of California Extension classes in Berkeley. The transition is not yet complete, but I find that the gratification I get from writing a story— short or long—is an even more exhilarating high than that of completing a painting.
As a child in small-town Oklahoma, my life was simple. We had radio, all those great radio shows from the 30’s & 40’s, and most of the great movies of the era came to town: charge: 10 cents for kids. But no television, of course, no electronics of any kind; we communicated person- to- person or by telephone or postage stamp.
I suppose any background is nurturing for a creative child, but my quiet upbringing in the Oklahoma panhandle, town population 750, left loads of time for imaginative invention. I drew pictures, fooled around with my Prang watercolor set, and made up plays with my best friend and next-door neighbor Joy Lee.
My backyard was a busy place. There I had a playhouse, and over the dog pen was a tree I cllmbed when I wanted to sulk. There was a patch of scrubby grass for turning cartwheels and somersaults, and that was where my mother killed chickens by chopping off their heads. She didn’t raise chickens, so she must have purchased live ones and brought them home. I was fascinated by the chickens’ bodies flapping all over the yard, unburdened by heads.
Flap! Flap! Flap!
On a plank stage thrown together by Mama in our (one-car) garage, Joy Lee and I performed shows, charging five cents admission to all the younger ‘sucker’ kids on the block. (We did grass shows too —those same cartwheels and somersaults, nothing fancy.) One of our plays, a musical, had a Hawaiian theme. We did hula dances, and instead of grass skirts we wore white lacy half-petticoats. I unbraided my pigtails, and I still remember how my hair streamed down in tropical opulence. Joy Lee had short red hair, but she was a much more enticing dancer than I. If enticing is the right word for a nine-year-old.
Later, we put out a neighborhood newsletter called OUR STREET with all the latest news about our pets; I had Daddy’s bird dog puppies; Joy Lee had Slinky-Poo, her cat. We wrote too about all the street games we played that summer: “It” tag, Blind-Man’s Bluff, Annie Annie Over. We made sure to list names of all the players so they would buy a copy.
At the drugstore, my talent bloomed. I copied, in large format, all sorts of pictures from the magazines my dad sold: Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, Life, Look. “Did you see this?” my dad would brag to customers trapped at the soda fountain. “My daughter drew this right off the page of that magazine!”
Other than the newsletter, I hadn’t begun to tell stories yet. Maybe a few fibs once in a while, but Mama was the one who spun yarns, to anyone who would listen. But her narratives were short, because the store’s drop-in trade usually had a story they wanted to tell her.