I always thought that someday I would write the Great American Novel. At the time I decided this I was reading JOHNNY TREMAIN, which I loved. What I hadn’t decided in the third grade was…should it be about history (next to reading, my favorite subject) or about my daddy. I loved reading historical books, but I loved my daddy more. One thing I knew I would never write about was me. Look how long I’d already lived and nothing wonderful or interesting had happened to me yet. While I waited for something to happen, so I could write about it, I worked in the movie studios, met a gazillion great actors, rode on a fire truck, and went to school.
I took violin at the Los Angeles Academy of Musical Arts—I was not going to be the next Itzhak Pearlman. Mommy and I rode the Red Line Streetcar. My auntie Mimi came with sometimes. One time I fell getting off the streetcar and slipped down the gutter drain. Auntie Mimi saved me from disaster by grabbing my long curls and yanking me out.
I took tap dancing from Willie Cohan–Anne Miller was safe, no Music City Rockettes in my future. I can still do a ball shuffle…but that’s all I can do (then and now).
I often went with my daddy to his fire station and hung out with the firemen he worked with. I sat in the fire truck and read, made ice cream with the cook (my talented chef daddy, Jack), and watched black and white tv from the old theater seats that had been donated to the station, Palms 43, Los Angeles, California. Sometimes my daddy and I went across the street from the station to the Tootsie Roll factory and got a crate of candy for the firehouse to give out to visiting kids. Believe me, I ate more than my share.
I took Piano—not a Hogie Charmichael, either. Not even a Snoopy. My mom got a note from my teacher thanking Mom for letting me quit.
I took ballet from Nico Charrise—no “Silk Stockings” lead dancer name Syd. No tip and toeing through life for me. The first day I tried toe…I broke one. I can still feel Nico lightly hitting the back of my legs with his stick and yelling, “Right-right-right! And no back-knee, Stefff-fanny!”
After what seemed like a lifetime of waiting for something to write about, my indecision began to bug me. Did we say “bug” in the 40s? Then in the 6th grade, as part of the art committee for our Simon Bolivar presentation, I made most of the slides. My portrait of Sen᷉or Bolivar was great, fantastic, and got me a big fat A+. A light went on. Why wait for something to write the Great American novel about…I would paint the Great American painting. I had seen Grandma Moses’ pictures, and people thought she was amazing. I wasn’t all that impressed. I could do better. So, what did I want to paint about? I sat down to wait for an inspiration.
I entered the Miss La Ballona Creek Beauty Pagent—chubby, pig tails, tone deaf—what was I thinking? “Do you have a talent, dear?” Let me think… Violin, tap, ballet, piano, singing, whistling, wood burning…. “Reading!”
I moved back to LA and got a 9th grade boyfriend—but I doubt any other girl wanted him. For a long time (last 1/2 of the A9),I was in Jr. Hi Love Land…That’s Disneyland with hand holding and a little lip touching. Then we went to Hi School… Love and heartbreak followed me!
While I was still waiting to become a better painter than my little brother, Stevie (the commercial artist), I went to College, fell in love twice, my one true love was killed, taught school, got married, lost my daddy, had three children and seven Grandchildren, studied children’s book writing, found my life-long writing partner, became an author and editor, put a ton of get-up-and-go into SCBWI, lectured and taught writing for young people, wrote a tv series, edited a kid’s magazine, met my true soul sisters, lost my mama, Sylvia, divorced, became religious, got published in every genre for children I can name, and gave up my non-starter art career.
AND, I still can’t decide what my Great American Novel will be about. History? My daddy? My mama? Certainly not an autobiography. In all these years, what have I done that anyone would want to read about?
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