When I was six, I learned how to tell a good story by sitting on the diving board of my grandmother’s pool.
Every night, Gramma would swim laps before bed. Her best friend would come over and as the two of them sliced slowly through the water, I told stories. I was obsessed with a stone owl statue that stood guard over her garden, and I chronicled his adventures with the toads and butterflies and squirrels.
As I perched on the edge and dangled my toes in the water, I played with story arc and character development.
I leaned about suspense and foreshadowing.
I learned how to utilize supporting characters to bring out the essence of your hero and how to use humor to illuminate an essential truth.
I learned how to be a writer.
After the swim, Gramma would critique the story as she toweled off, telling me the parts she loved and the parts where she lost track of the plot line. She never coddled me, never gave praise when it wasn’t due. I’d nod and thoughtfully furrow my brow and considered how I could refine the owl’s story for tomorrow night’s swim.
My Gramma knew how to use words. She came up through the newspaper world. She was one of those gutsy young broads of the late 1940s – working long hours as an editor at the place she reverentially referred to as “The Paper.”
She lived at the YWCA, and wondered if the fellas in the newsroom were saying she looked tired when they told her she had “bedroom eyes.” One day, with shaky hands, she marched into her boss’s office and demanded to be paid on par with those men. After that, they respected her more and started offering her cigarettes. She tucked them away in her purse, saying she’d smoke them later. She didn’t like cigarettes, but her boyfriend did, and the man who would become my grandfather couldn’t afford his own smokes.
Her love of words traveled through the bloodline and directly into my heart. However, unlike me, her spelling was impeccable. She slaughtered me at Wheel of Fortune.
In so many ways, she made me a writer.
And I am so deeply grateful. For that, and a million other things.
My grandmother is not here anymore, she passed away two weeks ago and I’m still learning to talk about her in past tense.
But the stone owl from her garden now stands watch over mine.
And he reminds me of where this writer’s soul of mine came from.