Timeline Story: 2. First Contest Submission and the Writing Bug

This is the second post in a series sharing my Timeline Story, a look at the events, experiences and occupations that have contributed to shaping my business and writing life to the present. The first post is found at this link.

As the days in elementary school began to pass by, I grew increasingly fond of books and words. Learning to write words down on paper gave me a sense of power and fulfillment, even at that early age.

Most things came easily for me, and I found myself experiencing pride and elation over good grades. Not to mention having a good time.

It wasn’t until sixth grade that the writing bug bit in a serious way.

Our teacher announced an essay contest among all sixth graders early in the year. The contest was sponsored by the Hermitage Auxiliary Foundation, an arm of the Hermitage Museum and Gardens.

The contest required an essay on a topic closely related to the history of Andrew Jackson. The three top winners would be presented at The Hermitage, home of Andrew and Rachel Jackson in a ceremony with photographers from a local newspaper.*

My excitement palpable I found it hard to wait patiently to head home and get to work. I chose to write on Jackson’s role at The Battle of New Orléans, the last major battle of The War of 1812. Major General Jackson’s reputation was boosted because of his actions and the result of this battle, opening his path to the Office of President of the United States.

Battle of New Orleans with General Andrew Jackson | Attribution: History Channel
Battle of New Orleans with General Andrew Jackson | Attribution: History Channel

I submitted my essay and waited, and waited, and waited. Often being among the first to submit creates what seems like interminable waiting. But I felt I had a good essay and, therefore, a good chance of coming in among the top three. I was ready!

Finally, right before Christmas holidays, our principal announced the three winners. Third place went to a boy in another grade. Second place to my friend, Linda, in my classroom. It couldn’t be possible that I’d win first place. So I sat back and waited to hear who had won the big prize.

And then I heard my name called, and the principal invited me to the stage. I experienced my first stage fright then and there.

The three of us attended the ceremony at The Hermitage on the coldest winter day that January, January 8th, the actual day the war ended in New Orléans. We received monetary prizes as well as certificates of accomplishment, not to mention the cookies and cider waiting inside out of the cold.

It was then I knew with certainty that some day I would write. I had no way of knowing what I would write or when but write I would. Here the dreams of my journey to writing began.

UP NEXT: The third installment will bring the high points in my writing throughout high school and college.

*Somewhere, but I don’t know which somewhere, are copies of newspaper photos and my original certificate, perhaps misplaced during my mother’s move several years ago.

Timeline Story: 1. How It All Started

This post begins a series of posts sharing my Timeline Story, a look at the events, experiences, and occupations that have contributed to shaping my business and writing life to the present.


 

During what we call today the preschool years, it all started–with paper dolls. Yes, paper dolls. As you may have read in an earlier post here and my bio here, my father had a long career in printing and publishing. Post-World War II, the publisher contracted with a company for printing paper dolls. This meant Daddy brought home proof pages to me before the paper doll books ever made it to the retail shelves.

One set which lingers in my memory was the paper doll book issued following Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. I sat in front of our first TV fascinated with the princess’s coronation and parade. Not long after, Daddy brought home proofs of the paper doll set his companQueen Elizabeth II Paperdollsy had printed. I looked in awe at the realistic images on those galley proofs. At that time, I didn’t know a galley proof from any other proof or even a book of paper dolls. But for me, it was excitement to hold the paper dolls  before any of my little girlfriends.

And something else caught my attention. The smell and feel of ink bonded to paper. When I asked Daddy what I smelled, he replied, “My life’s blood. It’s how I make money to care for our family.” Then I asked about the feel. Daddy told me what I felt was like fine silk, only not made from caterpillars but trees.

Today, I believe the smell and feeling of those first memories near the printing and publishing industry run through my veins. Those senses began my love of seeing words in print and the feel of the paper in my hands.Example of grade school handwriting paper with alphabet

Soon I began school. My mother had beautiful handwriting and despite her poor hearing and eyesight, someone in her short educational life must have spent a good deal of time teaching her to write. Mama was insistent that I spend time each day on my “writing.” Then “writing” meant copying the letters of the alphabet over and over.

Dad at a linotype machine around 1953

Finally, one day in the first grade the teacher told us we were going to learn to write words. This was exciting. I knew words were what Daddy read to me from my Little Golden Books and the Sunday funnies. But how did a person make a word on paper? At Daddy’s printing business, words were put on paper by big presses. I couldn’t possibly do that–I was only six years old.

But I began writing words on paper. It was magical! With a pencil and paper, I could write words. Maybe some day I could write a story, maybe a book. I couldn’t wait to see where this new ability to write words would take me.


UP NEXT: 
My first essay submission and its impact on my writing today.