My life as a writer began at age four with a song
collaboration with my sister (I couldn’t write, so she did the actual writing).
The song was called “Ding Dong the Cherries Sing,” and we forced anyone within a 12-mile
radius to listen to us sing it, over and over and over.
It went like this:
“Ding-dong, the cherries sing,
Ding-dong, the cherries sing,
Tra-la-la-la-la DING, DING!”
OK, so I wasn’t exactly headed for the Grammy awards.
. . .
My parents not only suffered through my songs about
warbling fruit, they were generally quite tolerant of my other forays into art,
music, and literature. Ear-splitting clarinet practices, countless trips to
the library, and incomprehensible early drawings. My mother still has a few
of those drawings on which she wrote captions like: “Cynthia says this is a
I was a daydreaming, shy child, and I will always
be grateful for the time and room my parents gave me to be myself.
My favorite books when I was very young included HAPPY,
a story my mother bought at the grocery store about a kitten who is found under
the hood of a school bus, PEPPERMINT, a story about a kitten nobody wants who
is adopted by a little girl (Can you tell I wanted a pet very badly?), FANTASTIC MR. FOX by Roald Dahl, and WINNIE THE POOH by A. A. Milne.
The first pencil-and-paper writing I remember doing
was on a birthday card I gave to my grandfather. I was probably five years
old, and my mother handed me a pristine, white envelope and told me to write
Grandpa’s name on the front.
And I did. In huge, gangly letters that covered the
whole envelope, I wrote “ED” in blue pen.
I was proud of it, until I saw my mother’s
face. She had meant me to write “Grandpa” in small, lady-like letters, but
since there wasn’t another envelope, she said it would have to do.
My grandfather laughed when he saw my
envelope. It was the first and only time I ever heard him laugh with complete
abandon, until he had tears in his eyes. When he looked at me all he said was
“thank you,” but he meant it, and I was proud to have written something that
made him laugh.
I grew up in rural New Hampshire beside a lake. We
ice skated in the winter and spent most of the summers swimming and cannonballing
off the dock into the water. My sister was my first friend, and one of our
favorite things to do was to turn over our rowboat and find toads, whom we treated
to surfboard rides and visits to the “Toad Motel” we created using trowels and
paper cups in my mother’s loam pile.
But we couldn’t keep the toads more than a few minutes,
so my sister and I finally (“Please, please, please, Mom? We proooooomise we’ll
take care of it!”) talked my mother into a real pet. Spotsie the turtle lived
in a tank that included a little island and a plastic palm tree, and loved bites
of raw hamburger and deep-sea adventures in the kitchen sink and the bathtub.
Then when I was in fourth grade, we finally begged
my parents into Peanut, a dog who was part Dachshund, part Pekinese, part Pomeranian,
part Beagle, and all heart. He used to sit on the stairs, watching out the window
for the school bus that would bring me home every afternoon, and he listened
to my stories and all my deepest, scariest, truest secrets.
At school, I wrote the typical book reports, Abraham
Lincoln reports, and “What I Did On My Summer Vacation” essays, but I didn’t
start writing fiction until high school. One of my first attempts was a ghost
story. After a few chapters, I was giving myself nightmares! I remember lying
in bed, staring at the dark ceiling shadows, afraid to move, saying to myself:
“This is so stupid! You wrote the story! You KNOW it’s not real.”
I never did finish that story, but I did finish many
others. I wrote plays for my Sunday School students to perform, poetry, family
newspapers, even serialized novels that I passed around to my friends while
my algebra teacher checked homework. I typed these masterpieces on a manual
Royal typewriter with carbon paper to make the copies. I still have a few of
those smudgy manuscripts, laden with strike-overs and typos.
In college, I had some short
stories published, and even won a contest with one! The prize was a whopping
$25 and publication in the magazine that had sponsored the contest.
Here’s my first review:
Cynthia Lord’s Mercury’s Fall is the most
worthy of the prose pieces. Carver-esque in style, it reveals a world of gloom,
despondency and futility, but strikes a chord within us all. Thomas Ford could
so easily be you or I, living out a totally useless life.
YIKES! Sounds dark and dreadful, doesn’t it? It
was, in truth, a partly humorous story about the disenchanted owner of a sporting
goods store who accidentally conjures up Dionysus, the God of Wine and Merriment,
in the basketball aisle (in between “gloom” in aisle three and “despondency
and futility” in aisle five).
After college, I got married and became a teacher.
I taught first-grade, sixth-grade, and even in a one-room schoolhouse. In those
years, I wrote curriculums for educational publishers.
When I had my own children, I returned to the world
of Winnie the Pooh and Happy and Peppermint, and all the wonderful new books
for children. Some books we loved to the point of the pages falling out.
As my children grew, I returned to writing fiction. Now, I get up most mornings between 3:30 and 4:00 AM. I tiptoe through my dark kitchen, flick on the coffeemaker, and sit down at my desk. That's my own time, the just-me time to open my heart and spill it across white pages. Early morning is a beautiful time, still
and dark, and I can smell the ocean many mornings when I open the window next
to my computer. Often, the sun comes up while I’m writing, and my dog, Milo,
comes in and lies in my lap. The sound of his breathing and my fingers hitting
the keys are the only sounds in the room.
I’ve come a long way from the girl backspacing over
mistakes on the Royal typewriter, reusing the same piece of carbon paper
until the letters were ghostly pale. Now I backspace on my computer, and nobody
needs to know how many mistakes I make.
Some things haven’t changed. I still love watching
words jump onto the page, and I still love making people laugh and cry and shiver
with my writing, I still love to read a great story.
I’ve kept HAPPY and PEPPERMINT and FANTASTIC MR. FOX
and WINNIE THE POOH all these years. They’re on a bookshelf behind me, to remind
me of the child I used to be, the one who liked surfboarding toads, sang the
cherry song, wrote ED on the envelope, and scared herself silly writing her
first ghost story.
She’s the one I write for.