Before the book came the hobby. In January 2003, I was was in my second semester of my MFA at Vermont College. That semester I wrote several board books. In order to understand how the genre worked, I needed to illustrate them. I’m not a good draw-er, so I found myself cutting out pigs from construction paper with manicure scissors. I needed sturdier paper. Then I discovered a brand-new store called Cropper’s Corner. It sold nothing but scrapbooking supplies. Heaven! Rack after rack of beautiful patterned paper. I didn’t know what to do with that paper. I bought one sheet of vellum sprinkled with tiny foil hearts.
As I was reveling in the cardstock section–like walking through a rainbow–I noticed women in a back room. They sat at tables, talking, and working on projects. They looked like they were having fun. I thought, "I’m in school and I have contracts. I can’t go there." But I did. I learned that when scrapbookers got together, it’s called a crop. Soon every Friday evening I was at the Corner, sitting in my place at "The Island," the table so named because if you needed anything–anything at all!–somebody on The Island would have it. Needed a hammer? Go to Teri. Wanted the perfect shade of pale blue chalk? That would be Pamela.
Crop night was sacrosanct. Most of us went every single Friday unless we were in childbirth or breathing our last. The store held special weekends, too. National Scrapbook Day was actually a two-day morning-to-midnight marathon, a blast with fab goodie bags, food, games, prizes, costumes. There were overnight New Year’s crops, Black Friday crops (my favorite because we were snug inside having food brought in while we created and the rest of the world went insane), once-a-month crop weekends, and the Birthday Bash (store’s anniversary). We even "borrowed" the store on Sundays to celebrate each other’s birthdays with private crops.
In time, I went from someone who couldn’t operate a trimmer to store designer and teacher. Here are some of my projects:
Oh, how I loved the family that ran the store and the gals that became my family at The Island. We went out to dinner on Friday nights. It was such a wonderful way to let the week dissolve. And then . . . the store went out of business. By then I had earned my second degree and was teaching at Hollins. I came back from my first summer of teaching to learn the store was going under. I felt a pain under my heart. All those years . . . all of us . . . what would happen to us?
The Island met a few times at a library, but already we were losing our center. Pamela bravely started crops at a nearby hotel. She does a wonderful job, but for some reason, the Islanders drifted apart. Everyone has gone in a different direction.
I closed the scrapbook studio in my house in 2008 and turned it into a 1920s sitting room. I still maintain a mini-studio in the walk-in closet. And I still "scrap" in the evenings, sitting on the floor. It’s not the same, though. I pass the empty building that housed Croppers Corner and think I can hear the laughter from the back room, the catcalls we gave the poor UPS man when he wheeled in a new shipment of product. Someone is making a Starbucks run. Somebody else is running to Michael’s–does anybody need an extra coupon?
Outside the store, it grows dark. Inside, the scene is bright with scraps of colored paper quilting the floor, incandescent with creativity and the glow of friendship.
Oh, how I miss it all. Ladies, thank you.
This post is dedicated to the members of "The Island": Connie, Sioux, Pamela and Teri. And to LaJune Lundquist. Without your friendship and encouragement over the years, I would never have attempted the book!
Back in 2003, I did a little book for Lerner called Big Rigs. It was part of their Mighty Movers series in their Pull Ahead Books line. (I used to call Pull Aheads, Pull-Ups.) I was asked to do this book and it suited me because my brother-in-law drove tractor trailer trucks most of his life. Even so, I found writing the book a challenge to fit its young audience. Like, how to describe a fifth wheel (what the trailer part hooks to on the tractor part–interesting, eh?)
The book is illustrated with photographs and I remember sorting through dozens and dozens of shots. I needed a picture of a truck driver in a truck stop, so the photo team at Lerner (or someone they hired) went out and found a very photogenic bearded trucker who raised his coffee cup in salute to the photographer. One of my favorite pictures.
Anyway, the little book has done pretty well. It’s in paperback and also a Spanish edition. So I was pleasantly surprised when the editor in chief at Lerner emailed me a while back to say that Big Rigs had been chosen to be re-released in their new Lightning Bolts line. I didn’t have to do a thing, she said. I figured they’d take the insides of my book and put a different cover on it with the new Lightning Bolt logo and that would be that.
Yesterday I got my comp copies. You could have heard my jaw hit the floor in four states. First, the original book is about 6 by 7 1/2 inches trim size. The new book is 8 by 10 inches. As you can see it has a bright red cover. Different truck on the cover. I flipped through the pages. The photos bleed from edge to edge–in the old book, there is lots of white space for the text.
The more I looked through the book, the more I realized I didn’t recognize hardly anything! My original text was the same, but graphics had been added to explain terms. Most of the photos had been replaced with new ones. Gone was my sweet bearded trucker hoisting his coffee mug. In its place is a photo of a man reading a book with a shelf of books above his diner booth. I like the idea of truckers exchanging books at truck stops. The "Further Reading" section has been updated with newer titles and websites.
When I look at the new Big Rigs On the Move in the new Vroom-Vroom series, I’m astonished. The way they retooled my book reminds me of yanking a tablecloth and not disturbing the dishes on the table.
Amazing. A new/old book and I didn’t have to lift a finger.
I still miss Coffee Guy’s smile, though.