Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Book in Eight Weeks! How Can This Be?

Actually, it was more like 17 years. One day in 1996, sitting in my office at the University of Florida, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, my mind wandered home to New Jersey and focused on the yard at my childhood home.

The house was purchased by my maternal grandparents in about 1920, shortly after my grandfather returned from World War I. In my mother's book, Seasoned With Salt, she tells of how her father and mother happened to come to own "Tongueslip." Grandfather Travis was then the minister of Watchung Avenue Congregational Church. One Sunday, following church service, he and my grandmother were standing on the steps of the sanctuary and she chanced to remark on the dilapidated Victorian mansion next door. With its wrought iron thistles, gingerbread scrollwork, sagging port-cochere and overgrown lilac bushes she saw it had a substantial amount of inherent charm. "What a lot one could do with that old house," she observed. From that slip of the tongue, curiosity sprouted and interest grew and within the year, my grandparents were the proud owners of Tongueslip.  It was where my mother grew up, and where my siblings and I grew up as well.

That July afternoon in 1996, my parents still lived in Tongueslip, but, in their 80's and 90's,  were both having health issues. I had decided to give up my job and return home to care for them. That July day, I was packing up my office preparing to move home. So my thoughts returned to that most special acre, nestled between the church yard and suburbia: that once-again overgrown acre of gardens, and lawns, the barn and the goose house.  I began to doodle a verse, capturing the images in words on an opened envelope.

"On the laundry lawn I see
     one brown bunny watching me..."

I'm not sure when it was that the envelope that I  tossed into a moving box that July afternoon first surfaced back at Tongueslip. But I stuck it in a notebook where it sat for another year or two, or three, surfacing periodically to be reread, and sometimes added to or revised. I have little treasures like that tucked in drawers and notebooks all over the house. Being a clutterbug, they remain, to remind be of happy days and lonely nights, of sad farewells and lost loves. I expect that almost every writer has these scraps of the past: notes and nonsense from or about old friends, old times or old loves tucked in diaries, family Bibles, school notebooks and shoe boxes.

The envelope had surfaced frequently enough that I finally put it in my most often used journal. It faced me each time I picked up that book, and served as a constant, barbed reminder of the dream of writing a book about things I love most: home and the world of nature.

When I saw the flier from the Montclair Art Museum, advertising a class in Writing and Illustrating Children's Books, I took out the envelope, typed up the words I had, and began to do some research  - after I signed up for the class on line. I'll blog later about what I discovered, but I will say now that when I shared my story with my class a few weeks later, they loved it. Kristine, our instructor, said she would love to illustrate it. I was touched, but replied that that was my job. And so I began...

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