I’ve been at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, a whole week now. It seems like yesterday my husband and I were unloading his truck and my car in sickening humidity and heat (it happens every year on the day I move in). I’m in the same apartment I was in last summer, a guest house used for faculty. I like being upstairs because it’s quiet and the big trees outside my windows make me feel I’m in a treehouse. I have two bedrooms, a living room, a bathroom (yay! very important after life in a dorm), and a kitchenette. I’ve turned one of the bedrooms into an office. It’s heavenly to work any time I feel like it–after supper, in the afternoon, early in the morning, and not have to get up and put in a load of laundry or feed a cat or clean up a cat mess or sweep or any of the hundred chores we do every day.
This summer I’m teaching the genre and writing of picture books. I have eleven terrific students–a few were in my class last year, some I’ve known from being on the campus five years, and some are brand-new. A nice mix. We’ve had our first two classes and I already know I have a terrific group. We did a lot of overview and survey this week. Next week we start analyzing structure.
There have been a number of events, as well. My agent, Tracey Adams, was the first guest speaker. She gave a wonderfully inspiring talk, which is not hard for Tracey to do because she truly loves her work and is passionate about the books she represents and children’s books in general. We went out to dinner together with some other people before her talk. Afterwards we sat up in my apartment and talked (too late for both of us!), and then went to breakfast the next morning. I loved having a chance to get to know her better.
Hollins is an all-girl liberal arts university. However, it sponsors co-ed graduate programs, like the one in children’s literature. Those take place on campus in the summer, making it convenient for teachers and librarians to attend. The school was founded in 1842 and there is one original building–the springhouse. You can see the founding year engraved on the steps of the main building. The long porch of that building is lined with rocking chairs. I’ve spent many lunch hours eating my sandwich and reading in one of those chairs.
Yes, it’s heaven here, which is why people keep coming back. I told the program director when I applied to the program that I would never leave, even after I graduated. I’d hide out in the attic of one of the buildings if I had to! Fortunately, I don’t have to do that!
As you can see from the monumental mess in my office, it’s that time again . . . time to leave for Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia (about 4 hours southwest). This is my fifth Hollins summer. I began my MA in children’s literature in the summer of 2005. Finished my classes in 2006. Returned to finish my thesis in 2007. I graduated that fall, marched in the May 2008 commencement and was back one whirlwind month later as a member of the faculty in the same program.
This summer I’m teaching a class in the genre and writing of picture books. My students will read, analyze, write, storyboard, write, read, make dummies, write, learn, write and–I hope–have fun. I look forward to seeing some students from last year’s class, old friends, and new faces. The summer program is packed with events, lectures, potlucks, and field trips. Me, I tend to stay on campus. I have plenty of work besides my teaching: researching a new nonfiction project, working on my new midgrade novel, finishing the cover of Scrapbooking Just for You (my spring 2010 nonfiction book for girls: my cover may not pass muster–I’m not a designer!), and–if my editorial letter comes–start revising Iva Honeysuckle.
Meanwhile, it’s pack, pack, pack, then drive, drive, drive, then unpack, unpack, unpack. My blog will resume next week from Hollins University.
Imagine my surprise last week when I found a mysterious box on my porch. My husband said, "What have you ordered?" I said, "Nothing!" (That week–Amazon deliveries are pretty frequent.) When I opened the box I found this beautiful teacup and saucer and a sweet note from my friend Tamra Wight.
Tamra had read my post about the autograph books I’d found out antiquin’ and how women also used to exchange teacups and saucers or pretty handkerchiefs as gestures of friendship. Tamra’s husband’s aunt Peggo (love the name!) had a collection of teacups. In Tamra’s note she said she could hear Aunt Peggo telling her to send me the one with the blue flowers. And that there just happened to be one box in the storeroom that was the right size, already filled with packing peanuts. It was meant to be, she said.
And that’s how this delicate teacup arrived on my doorstep. I love the unusual, dainty pattern and the shape of the handle. It fits perfectly in my fingers and the saucer is just the right size for a couple of Pepperidge Farm Brussels cookies. The cup is so special, I’m taking it with me to Hollins University next week. When I sip tea from it, I’ll think of Tamra in Poland Spring, Maine, running the Poland Spring Campground with her husband and children. I’ll think of friendship, full to the brim.
Tiny Little Librarian (doesn’t she sound so cute?) at Tiny Little Reading Room awarded my blog the One Lovely Blog Award. I’m flattered and pleased since Under the Honeysuckle Vine is fairly new (and had three false starts!).
One Lovely Blog Award goes to new blogs and blogging friends.The rules are: Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who granted the award and his or her blog link. Pass the award to 5 other blogs that you’ve newly discovered.
So I’m passing the award to some blogs old and new that I enjoy:
Jama Rattigan’s Alphabet Soup – bears, food and children’s books–doesn’t get any better!
Checkers and Me – children’s books and life in Minnesota
Bear Swamp Reflections – reading, gardening, eating, and life in the country
Pam Garrison – a mixed media artist’s blog, mostly about journaling
Scribbling in San Antonio – “everyday” family life. This blogger also has a blog on vintage children’s books, Vintage Kid’s Books My Kid Loves.
I’m supposed to put the lovely rose-filled teacup picture on my sidebar, but I’m too inept to do that. Maybe someone who uses LiveJournal could advise? Meanwhile, I’m delighted to pass along the roses!
Today The Old Blue Pickup Truck is officially published. I wrote and sold the book in 2002 . . . seven years later, it’s finally here! And I’m thrilled. I love illustrator Jenny Mattheson’s crayon-bright illustrations. They remind me of drawings I did in third grade of farms with ducks swimming on ponds and pigs rooting in pens.
The Old Blue Pickup Truck is the companion book to the popular The Big Green Pocketbook. Both are based on true events. In The Big Green Pocketbook, the narrator goes to town with her mother. They run errands and the little girl collects small things to put in her purse. But she leaves the purse on the Trailways bus–and her whole morning is lost!
I always felt I wanted to give my stepfather a book, too, about the different sort of errands we did together. So nearly ten years after the publication of Pocketbook, I wrote Pickup Truck. (Books often take a long time to get born!) This time the narrator and her daddy spend one spring morning running errands in the Old Blue Pickup Truck. Old Blue takes on different personas depending on what they are doing (the truck is a restaurant when they eat breakfast in it, etc.).
In real life, my stepfather’s ’55 Ford was dark green and the inside passenger door handle didn’t work. He hopped out to let me out when he dropped me off at school. Once one of my teachers came up and commented on what a gentleman my stepfather was to help me out of the truck every morning. My stepfather and I both cracked up.
This is a book for truck-lovin’ boys and girls and for little girls and their daddies everywhere. Keep on truckin’!
When my mother was a girl, she cut off Nancy Marsteller’s hair. Also the fur collar of Nancy’s coat. I never knew why Mama had it in for the doctor’s daughter, except that Nancy had "banana curls" and my mother didn’t. When my mother was a young lady, she was said to be "the prettiest girl in Manassas." In 1935, she was elected to Dairy Queen’s court at the annual Piedmont Dairy Festival. I’ve squinted at a faded photograph from The Washington Star, a newspaper evidently desperate for news back then, but couldn’t find my mother among the line of princesses.
That event was held on the grounds of Annaburg Manor (now a nursing home). In its heyday, Annaburg, built by a wealthy German brewer from Alexandria, had a caretaker’s gatehouse, a pond with swans, a stone tower straight out of Rapunzel, and beautiful gardens. In this picture, my mother, age 18, is posed in front of the abandoned manor house. She made that two-piece satin dress, hand-stitched that row of looped buttonholes for those slippery gumdrop-shaped buttons. She was slim, pretty, and had marvelous legs (to the end of her life, actually). Her slip is showing, which I find endearing.
When I was ten or so and became aware of my mother as a person and not just my mother, she didn’t look anything like the girl in this photograph. She was a hard-working cafeteria lady–hauling huge stainless steel pans of potatoes she peeled and mashed by hand, then serving 600 bratty middle-school kids. She worked alongside my stepfather in our enormous vegetable garden. She sewed our curtains and my and my sister’s clothes, and her own, when she had a length of cheap material and a few extra hours. She sewed my Barbie outfits (much to my dismay–I wanted store-bought "ensembles" as shown in the little fashion catalog), staying up late at night to turn tiny sleeves with a pencil. My mother’s arms were big and strong, her hips square, but her legs were still attractive, tapering down to "racehorse" ankles.
When my mother died, a little over a year after my stepfather had passed, I was 35, a year older than my mother was when she had me. My mother’s death hit me like nothing before or since. I remember when her mother, my grandmother, died. I was ten and my grandmother had been sick for years. My grandmother wasn’t a nice person, even when she wasn’t sick. But my mother told me time and again that she missed her mother terribly. When I asked why, she said, "You always need your mother."
A few months after my mother’s passing, my husband took me to see "Our Town." I knew Wilder’s play intimately and knew I’d be in trouble, but he had bought the tickets, hoping to cheer me up. During the last act, I started to cry. Not dainty weeping, but noisy, messy bawling. I melted into my seat, sobbing. The shoulders of an elderly gentlemen in front of me were shaking–he was crying too and I wondered if he had lost his wife. In the play, young Emily has died in childbirth. But she wants to go back to her life, just for one day. The people in the graveyard warn her to pick an ordinary day. Emily chooses her twelfth birthday. But before she can get through the event, she realizes people don’t ever "realize life while they live it . . . every, every minute . . ."
It’s hard to realize "every, every minute" of life while you’re in the middle of it. Most of the time it seems so mundane and some days, downright unpleasant. On those days, I long for my mother. If only I could call her. She was right, like she was about so many things I’m just now figuring out–you always need your mother.
I have given much thought what I would do if I could go back and relive a day in my life. It wouldn’t be a specific day, but an ordinary day in June. I would be ten or maybe eleven. I would do all the things I did in the summer after school was out: eat, draw pictures, work on my stories. After supper, I would take an old quilt out in the back yard and read my library book. I would be able to hear my stepfather chopping weeds in the garden and my mother washing dishes in the kitchen. Robins would sing and swallows would swoop overhead until twilight closed in. Then my mother would call me inside.
I’d go in the kitchen and sit down while she checked my head for ticks. Then she’d tell me to wash my feet and go to bed. Sometimes she’d come in after I was in bed. That particular night she wouldn’t. But it would be okay. I’d fall asleep, knowing that when I got up the next morning, she would be there.
Friday my husband and I went on a little drive in the country. Well . . . we were headed for one of my favorite places, Through the Garden Gate, in Mechanicsville (near Richmond). Half of the building is an antique mall, the other half is separate shop devoted to all things shabby chic, cottage style, and vintage. As you can see in the photo, there is eye candy everywhere you turn.
I picked up a McCoy fan vase, a pair of braided chair rounds, and some kitchen utensils in the antique part. On shabby chic side I snatched up a pair of autograph books. I have a small collection of these, one dating back to the late 1800s. I had an autograph album in grade school. The pages were different colors and, if a friend wrote something special, she folded her page corner to corner. I had few friends in grade school, so my entries were of the "Yours till Niagra Falls" variety.
The two autograph albums belonged to the same woman, Bessie, who worked in Richmond. The first is dated June 4, 1942, and labeled, "Tea Room Friends, Miller and Rhodes – City." Bessie apparently worked in the tea room in the downtown location of this department store (now long gone). The books are inexpensive, but feel wonderful to the touch. The paper is smooth with rounded corners. Sample entries: "To a very gentle girl, best of luck." "Bessie, it’s really been swell knowing you and working with you. Gosh! Who am I going to pick on?" "Remain as sweet as you are and I’m sure good luck will be yours, eventually." (This made me wonder why Bessie was leaving the tea room job.)
The second autograph album is dated 1946-1949, "My Friends of the D.M.V." The flyleaf reads: This book becomes a treasure rare, If but a line or more you’ll spare. Eunice wrote, "Isn’t it aggravating and don’t it get your goat/To get in the bathtub and then forget the soap." And from Mildred, "Leaves may wither/Flowers will die/Some may forget you/But never will I."
All this brings me to a discussion at a scrapbook event I attended last weekend. The subject came up about finding old teacups at yard sales. I said women used to give hand-painted or pretty teacups and saucers to each other as friendship gifts. I remember as a child visiting homes of older women who proudly displayed their friendship cups in a china cabinet. Girls also gave each other fancy handkerchiefs as a token of friendship. What do we give each other now? I asked the ladies at my table.
We text each other, someone replied. An electronic message with no vowels. "Sm may 4get U/Bt nvr will I." Hardly a treasure rare. Please, somebody, send me back to the 1920s. Gosh, that would be really swell.