Many years ago, I read a memoir titled One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty. I loved the book. I loved the book so much that when a student failed to return it to me, I bought it again. I enjoyed the way Eudora Welty described her town, her clock, her books. That’s the way a writer should begin, I thought, cocooned in a blithe world that nurtured her later profession.
I began another way, and I suppose I’m writing about my beginning because of a very sad ending. As some of you know, my mom passed away in January. I hardly know what to do with myself, so I write because it’s always helped me understand the world when the world seems senseless.
I didn’t have a lot of books, or even a special book Mom read aloud each night, but I did have access to a bookmobile. I still remember the feel of its black rubber floormat on my bare feet and the cool nubs on my calloused summer skin. Luckily, our librarians weren’t sticklers for shoes because I browsed barefooted. Uninhibited. The books I found were secret lives I lived, and no one read or enjoyed them but me.
I also had a beautiful lavender bedroom with a scrolling wall border of cursive letters of the alphabet, which I followed around the room with my eyes when I couldn’t sleep. A single window faced a cornfield that was my backyard, allowing for the cheerful smells of fresh dirt and grass.
These might have inspired my love for reading and writing. Or they might be what I remember. I come from a large family, and having something of my own was rare. Though as for that, I owned neither the books nor the bedroom. I had to bring the books back to the library, and my sister and I shared the room.
Mom was my first reader, and when she discovered I liked writing, it was a welcome surprise. Like reading, it was something I did in secret. But she understood its personal nature, for she, too, was a writer, though she wouldn’t have considered herself one. She devoted most of her life to her five children and full-time job. Writing was a hobby and one that didn’t get much of her time.
It was nearly that for me except for a happy coincidence. After three years of marriage, my husband’s work moved us to a college town, and I quit my full-time job and enrolled as an English major. Mom was thrilled, for in many ways I was doing one thing she’d always wanted to do. Write.
Eventually, I also had children, two daughters, but college put me on a path from which I would not veer. I wrote for school, I wrote for fun, I wrote and never stopped. Mom read everything—published and unpublished. Romances, short stories, mysteries, essays, blog posts. The sad truth is, if she were here, she’d be reading this right now.
Every writer should be so lucky to have someone like Mom, who nurtured my craft more than any old book, or clock, or town. Someone who thinks you’re gifted. Talented. Smart. Perfect. Because chances are, people won’t think you’re perfect. They will critique your words, your plot, your characters, your setting, your covers. They will take the thing you love and discard it like a worn shoe. And at the end of the day, you’ll need someone to pick it back up again and convince you it’s precious.
Until one day that someone is gone. Then you’ll realize she was precious, more precious than any piece of writing. But because she believed in you, you’ll keep on, because writing is not just a beginning, but an ending also. And while her life has ended, her encouragement has not. You will hear it every time you summon the nerve to put the pen to page.
And that’s another kind of beginning, too.