FIFTY-THREE

FROM THE TIME I WAS SWEET BABY JENNY, I HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO SPELL CORRECTLY.  I blame my older sister.  She is 3 1/2 years my senior and I pretty much HAD to do everything she could do.  I had to be JUST LIKE HER!   When she learned to read, I was DETERMINED to learn it too.  She had this crazy magic skill that could turn squiggles on paper into ACTUAL stories and I couldn't wait to unlock this magic for myself.  I would NOT be left behind to slobber on my blocks and stuffed animals.  I was ready for the Big Time and Grown Up Stuff!

I do not remember a time when I couldn't read.  It came easily to me, and I read voraciously.  I read anything I could get my hands on.  My love of stories started so early that I feel like it was planted in me at birth.  My father read aloud to my sister and I every  night, and the sound of his voice patiently working his way through a story still echoes somewhere in the chambers of my heart.  When he reads to my kids, it absolutely kills me -- and I HAVE to pull up a pillow and sit next to all of them, my chin resting on my hand, in rapt attention.  "What happens next?"

When I finally got to go to school like my big SIS, they began to teach me to read.  I could not for the LIFE of me understand what they were trying to teach me.  They put these strange pairs of letters together th, st, sp, and bl.  Where were the words?  Why couldn't I just read a book?  Phonics was a mystery to me, and spelling words "correctly" began to baffle me.  Why did gh sound like f?  Why didn't words sound like they were supposed to?

Despite my lack of success in the classroom in the early years, I wrote little stories at home.  I loved to write stories, and would gleefully hand them to my teachers, who would scrunch up their faces, as they tried to work their way through my horrible, horrible spelling.  They would pat me on my little blond head, and say something completely non-committal like, "Thank you.  This is very . . . special."

Fast forward to 6th grade, and one of my best adventure stories, "The Life and Times of a Cherry Pit."  It was a docudrama that followed the life of a little cherry pit from his early happy days on the tree, until he was cast aside, bereft of his cherry home, to languish in a trash bin.  I was entertained by it.  I knew it might have had a couple of errors spelling-wise but I turned it in, proudly.  I was hopeful that for once someone else would find my story enjoyable.  My 6th grade teacher, returned the next day, and declared to the class, "I read through your stories last night, and there was one that made me laugh so much, I had to read it out loud to my husband.  He thought it was fantastic, too."  And then she proceeded to read MY STORY out loud to the ENTIRE class.  I had never been so happy/embarrassed in my ENTIRE LIFE.

When she had finished it, she returned it to me, and leaning close said, "You are a writer.  You were made to write stories, and I hope you keep doing it."  She winked at me and continued, "You cannot spell a single word right, but you are a writer."

Have you ever had someone speak words of life to you?  I mean they say just the right thing to fill your soul.  Man, I still remember every single moment of that morning.  I remember that wink, and the sound of her voice as she acknowledged my bad spelling -- and yet this "horrible" flaw was no hindrance to her.  She could see past the mess, to what was underneath; a story written by a little baby author.  

I try to remember this every moment of every day while I'm teaching.  It gets tough sometimes, but it is so important.  The students are looking up at me with hopeful gazes as they hand me a piece of paper.  They are handing me their hope.  They are waiting to hear what I have to say, and the words that float towards their open hearts must always be an outpouring of love.

Keep writing, pals.

--Jen