The first thing I wrote was when I was four years old. My brother Robert was in first grade, which I considered to be highly unfair. Robert was born in January 1951, and I was born in December of the same year. In my opinion, where he went, I went. We were Irish twins, I was told; I was ten-and-a-half months younger than Robert and we shared the same year. My mother insisted that I add the “and-a-half” to the number, as if it somehow made a difference. So Robert went to school, and I stayed home, looking out the back screen door for him. I would run out when I got a glimpse of him, and race to hug him. He generally hugged me back, if no one was watching.
He did his homework on the kitchen table, with Mom on one side and me on the other. As he dutifully learned the ABCs, so did I. As he learned to add and subtract, so did I. I expressed the thought that I should go to school then, because I knew as much as Robert. It didn’t happen. So I continued to stare out the back screen door, waiting for my brother and wishing that I was with him.
One day he came home and said that there would be a Visitor’s Day at school, and he could bring me to sit beside him for a day. I leaped around the kitchen, and then waited for the day to come. On that day, I put on my best dress, and let Mom come my hair without complaint. I skipped and chattered the whole two blocks to school.
The day was magic. I got my own piece of lined paper and a pencil that had been sharpened in a pencil sharpener. The point was perfect for writing. We were told to write a letter to someone we knew. I looked around the room; I knew everyone there. Heck, I knew everyone in the whole town; it was a small farming community, and I was related to half the town. But I saw that Ralphie Edwards was a visitor for the day, and was sitting by his sister Linda, so I decided to write to him.
In my best form I wrote the letter. I didn’t know how to make words, but I knew that a bunch of letters put together formed words, so I wrote a combination of letters, interspersed with little drawings of birthday cakes, kittens, and apples. I wrote until I filled the page, and looked proudly at my work. We all carefully folded our papers and put them in a giant envelope. The teacher would “deliver” them later that week.
Ralphie never wrote back. I waited and waited for a reply, but then gave up.
As Robert learned to read and write, I was with him at the kitchen table, and understood the mysterious connection between letters and words. It was a lightening bolt moment that would lead to more and more bolts and flashes of comprehension.
I have since written volumes and tomes (most of which are in my files and boxes), but it all started with that letter to Ralphie.