I always felt it was my sister who was the creative one. My idea of creative was to color in the spaces between the lines in someone's old composition book.
But Nan! Nan made teensy bunny families out of clay, all with different facial expressions. She drew cobwebs so intricate, it took a magnifying glass to find the spider.
Later, she did creative school projects: A paper on ancient Rome that was shaped like a scroll; a talk for Public Speaking on Catalepsy and Premature Burial. As an adult, she even had creative adventures: When someone tried to mug her, she pulled a knife on him. When a poisonous snake tried to bask on her patio in Florida, she hacked it to pieces. And whatever happened, she could make a story of it.
All this time, meanwhile, I was leading a quiet life, minding my kids and sponging off my counter tops. One day, I opened my high school yearbook. "I hope you do write," my Senior English teacher had penned 12 years before. I picked up the phone and called Nan.
"I just remembered. I wanted to write when I grew up."
"You should!," she replied.
"But you're the storyteller. I was waiting for you to do it."
"I'll never do it, T. Go for it."
So I went for it. In 1980 I wrote my first column and brought it to the local paper. It felt like coming home.
Since then I've written over 700 columns. They're stories, is all: Some funny, some sad.
And just now I've made from them a book.
At first it was hard organizing it all. There were so many categories to consider.
There was the section named for the joke that asks, "What goes Ha Ha Bonk? A man laughing his head off." It deals with the strange braiding, in this life, of the grim and the hilarious.
There were family stories, involving all the adventures we have with those closest to us - like the Winter Night Hike your child makes you go on, when it's so cold your hair freezes, and your nostrils fill with a thousand tiny pencils of ice.
There was When Will Dad Become a Woman? (What one of our little girls asked on first hearing of the great Bra-and-Period Mystery) treating the vast differences between males and females.
There was Thy Kingdom Come I Will Be Dumb, on what we learn, adult and child alike, and how we learn it. And last, there seemed to be a section about those moments we all witness when the petty and the striving fall away, and something eternal shines through.
My readers gave me the selection, with 14 years' worth of letters. My little neighbor Will gave me the title. ("I Thought He Was a Speed Bump," he told six or seven stunned mums and dads after running his tricycle directly over the tummy of his reclining playmate.)
"I Thought He Was a Speed Bump" came out last month and appeared on cue in various bookstores.
What I realized, after assembling it, was how silly it is to think you must be creative to tell what you saw. We all see things, and we see them in our own way. Writing down what I saw each week has caused me to stay more awake somehow, on the lookout, at all times, for examples of the funny, or the absurd, or the heroic in those around us. These stories are not hard to find.
In the meantime, the adventures continue: Nan was bitten on the lip by a scorpion last month and took pictures of herself in which her whole head looks like a giant Dunking Munchkin. On the phone last week, she told me a fresh tale about a Jacuzzi, a glass of Chablis and too much bath oil, in which the glass fell into the tub, shattered and surged, round her naked form, in a hundred lethal splinters. "What a way to die," she says was all she could think.
With material like this, the next book should be easy.
©Copyright 2002-2011 Terry Marotta, All Rights Reserved.