The other day I work, on my break, I began doodling in the margins of my notebook, and my mind drifted back to the days of old, when I sat in an elementary classroom drawing fairies around my words. My thought process drifted further, and I pondered my earliest memories of writing.
It may not be my very earliest, but a memory that sounds out happened in 6th grade. One of the really cool girls at school – and of course, what is better than talking to one of those really cool people? – told me that she liked to read too. Hmm, maybe I should backtrack a bit. In 6th grade, we needed to keep track of how many books we read. Every night, my mother and I read a book. I also read a book on my own and when I stayed at my grandmother’s house, she read me a book as well. Having people read with or to you counted. I ended up reading the most books in my grade – if you know me, that might not surprise you. Even now, I keep a book in my purse and read every chance I get.
So, back to 6th grade. Since I had read the most books, I won the prize of a hardcover Goosebumps book. It was three books in one, woohoo, the books about the evil ventriloquist dummies. I expect the reading program thought I would be thrilled, but my mother wouldn’t let me read scary books because of a ghost story I read in 4th grade. To this day, I have nightmares from that book (CHRISTINA’S GHOST, for those of you interested). She took the Goosebumps book away and stored it in the cellar for “later on.” Being 25, I’m sure I can read it now, but I’ve moved on to other genres and its still waiting in the cellar.
You can imagine how other people in my class were jealous. Why didn’t they get a book? So this cool girl comes up to me and tells me she likes to read, too. Well, good for her. Everyone should like to read! I recall asking her what books she liked and she told me the Mandie Shaw series. Her grandmother, or someone, bought them for her because her name was Mandie.
That day, I made my mother drive me to the bookstore to buy a Mandie Shaw mystery. At that time, my town didn’t even have a bookstore, but luckily the mysteries counted as religious fiction, and we did have a religious store. They had a Mandie book! It was from the middle of the series, but I got it anyway. It had everything I loved in the book – slight romance (hey, it is written for Middle Grade), historical fiction (turn of the century time period), mystery, animals, and Native Americans. After that book, I was hooked. My grandmother drove me out to Syracuse, the city about an hour away that did have a bookstore, and I bought every Mandie book they had. The ones they didn’t have? We ordered them and drove back out to get them. I still remember the books fondly, and have them all, including the first book in the sequel series, written for young adults. Sadly, the author passed away before she could finish the series, but I like to think Mandie married her childhood sweetheart, Joe. That, however, is for another day.
Another side topic: I spoke to Popular Girl about the Mandie books. What did she think of Mandie’s white cat, Snowball? Which of Mandie’s crushes did she like the best? Did she like how Mandie finally found her long-lost mother? The answers? Well, Popular Girl couldn’t say a thing about them and then ignored me. So…I’m thinking she never actually read the books.
Mandie is Southern, so she says “Y’all” a lot. I fell in love with that word. The poetic drawl, the way it just rolls off your tongue, how it looks on the page. I started using it in my writing (I wrote books even them) and speaking it in everyday speech.
It came time to write a persuasive essay for class. My 6th grade teacher wanted us to prove why we should or should not have homework. I wanted to say we shouldn’t have homework. Homework, when I did it, took way too much time. How much did you really learn answering some questions after lugging your science textbook home? I walked the three blocks home, and having a backpack full of textbooks could be downright painful. Guess what word I wanted to make sure I used in the persuasive essay?
I wrote lots and lots of “y’all” all over this lovely essay, which was, of course, written in my horrendous 6th grade scrawl. After we had our rough draft, we had to show it to the teacher for the okay to type it up. The teacher sat at his desk and we made a line. When I handed him mine, his eyes bulged.
He circled “y’all” with his red pen, or pencil, or marker. Let’s just say whatever he used was thick and red and dark.
“What’s this?” He laughed and scowled at the same time. “Why would you use this? Its an ignorant word. You’re trying to prove we shouldn’t have homework by using bad grammar?” He circled all of my lovely “y’all” and then Xed them out. He must’ve really hated that word.
It stunned me. How could my new favorite author use such horrible language in my precious books? I went home practically in tears and asked my mother if I shouldn’t be reading them because they clearly weren’t appropriate. She assured me it was just a word. She called it “slang” and claimed the teacher was wrong for calling it an ignorant word. In fact, she wanted to go in to complain to the principal. She called it slander against those who did use the word in everyday speech. I’m not so sure that counts as slander.
I’ll never forget the way the other students laughed at me. One boy said I belonged in remedial English. The teacher made me change my essay to why we should have homework (he shouldn’t have given us a choice if he was going to make us choose that one). To this day, I still enjoy using “y’all” when I write. It still counts as a fun word.
So, that was one of my traumatic events (yes, to a little girl, having her new favorite word marked up and called wrong is traumatic) in the history of writing. What are some of yours? Maybe next time, I’ll share my traumatic 3rd grade ghost story…