There are times when all of us look back over the high and low points of our life. Ideally, the highs are much more prevalent than the lows, but not always the case. I know in my own case, I could have been a cat I have lived so many lives. Some I am proud of, some I hope no one ever discovers.
In high school, I was middle-of the road popular, had auburn hair, big ole brown eyes and a quick wit. I was a class favorite I suppose, got along well with most I attended classes with and the teachers seemed to place me in their top 20% of students. Grades were decent, I did have to dig a bit in some cases, but usually came out well when tested. I had several boyfriends over the four years of high school, and loads of girl friends. All in all I had a great high school experience.
I loved to read, was actually an avid reader since the grade school years. In fact, I made friends with the librarian at Westhaven Elementary in my third grade year and she always let me check out more books than was commonly allowed in a week because I read them so fast. I would start with a topic such as women in aviation, then read all I could about girl pilots like Amelia Earhart. When no more books could be found on the shelves, I would switch subjects or take on a particular author such as Louisa Mae Alcott or Emily Dickinson and read everything the dusty ole shelves held. I had a kind of lonely childhood, a bit hard at times and characters such as the Bobbsey Twins or Trixie Belden became my whole world of escape from the difficulties of the world around me.
When I entered high school, I was given a list of clubs I could join during orientation. While most of the high school girls gravitated toward the pep squads and Tri-Hi-Y clubs, I involved myself in the annual staff or newspaper club because I found that reading was second only to writing. I adored writing and would spend hours upon hours spinning tales in my free time, writing lyrics of songs for an unknown guitar player, or make up diabolically morose stories about my “sworn enemies”…of which there were truly few.
My created world became much my real world when the days grew long and hard.
A high school class I took changed my life in many ways. My teacher was Jan Knight, and she was already a writer of sorts. She taught us the honing of our skill and we put together a book of poetry and prose that year in high school. We excitedly bound it all into a book that was sold to friends, family and patrons of the school. I felt “published”, and it lit the fire of journalism forever in my soul. That book sits on my bedside table all these years later.
As time went by, I majored in journalism in college at Memphis State (now University of Memphis…I have no idea why the name change was necessary). I also took night classes in creative writing from time to time just because I couldn’t get my fill of writing during the day classes. One class was conducted by Ed Weathers. At the time he was a writer and editor for Memphis Magazine. He gave us basic skills and information for the first part of the semester, then the final part of the semester was putting together actual pieces for possible publication.
I was never so excited when Ed asked me to stay after class one night. He had my submission in his hand and it didn’t have any marks on it. I actually thought at first he was going to turn it back into me to do over again. “This is an excellent piece of journalism, Rhonda”. My knees were shaking, and my mouth went dry. I was stunned, because this was a really big deal to me. He then said he was going to take it, with my permission, back to the main editor of the magazine and suggest it be fleshed out for a piece to run in the next month’s issue.
When I got to my car that night, I had to sit for a few moments, the tears rolling. I knew my life was about to take a turn in a wonderful direction, if I let it. When I got home to my new husband and told him what had happened, he was very happy for me and took me out to dinner, which we rarely did at that time because finances were so low. As happy as he was, I knew he didn’t really get the importance of this one moment in my life, and never would. It was my big break.
I continued to write for Memphis Magazine, and several articles were published. I also wrote for Mature Living Magazine, Modern Maturity, Highlights for Children, Humpty Dumpty Magazine and others. I received my share of rejection letters as all writers do, but I was making a bit of money and doing what I loved so those really didn’t affect me. Marriage rolled on, a baby came, and suddenly there were just not enough hours in the day to write, read or anything else much.
I made a choice to be a mom, and placed my first calling on hold for many years to give my life to my second (in chronological order only) calling.
As I raised my daughter, homeschooled, participated at church over the years, I thought often of returning to the writing field. I did dabble here and there with church publications when they fit my schedule, but that was not often. I dedicated myself to the tasks at hand and loved every minute of those years. When time came that Samantha grew up and left home, I once again thought about taking up my pen. But things, people and situations got in the way and I veered off my true life path quite a while. I guess those years will be fodder for an autobiography, or not.
After my divorce and remarriage, I opened a business and became associated with a business group in my hometown. One of the group members was involved in a magazine start-up. My ears perked up when he presented the BLINK Magazine prototype, and told it would highlight leaders of our community, places to visit and so forth. It would be a really comfortable writing space for me since most of my work had been human interest stories and I loved to interview people. I talked with the editor after the meeting and he asked me to submit a few pieces I had written recently. I hesitated, then was honest and said I hadn’t written in a while but I knew this was something I was supposed to be involved in. I guess Jim saw the hungry look in my eye because he placed me on staff as a writer without looking at any work at all.
I spent my days running a large residential cleaning company and spent my nights and weekends interviewing high caliber community leaders. I wrote cover stories and inside issue pieces about local chefs, hospital administrators, the yearly regional festivals, people in the arts and theater. I was in my element and as time went on, I felt more and more that my day job was really just a way to pay the bills so I could do my real job, as a writer. My day job almost became an annoyance as I longed to get home and write.
One fork in the writing road for me came with my interview of Preston Lamm. He had come from an accounting background in college, got bored with it and started to pursue his greater interests. Over the years he had developed many properties in Memphis and the surrounding area and rubbed shoulders with people of class and wealth, and was known as a premier builder and business mogul. He was about to open an upscale restaurant in the area and he was my assignment. I had always gone on the interviews alone with only a photographer in tow. This time, Jim, the editor said he was coming with me. I don’t know why, but this worried me for days before the interview. I didn’t sleep, I researched and researched until facts and dates concerning my subject were all running together. I was certain I was going to make a fool of myself and Jim was going to be there to try and save the day if I did. I didn’t know why Jim wanted to be there unless this was a really big deal and he didn’t want me to blow the interview. I knew I had to find a hook, something to pull Lamm into my camp, and drag Jim back over with him. I had to do something unexpected.
On the day of the interview with sweaty palms, I met Preston Lamm. I could tell he was a little gruff, maybe a bit obnoxious if the need arose, and I was secretly terrified, but plunged into the interview. It went ok, no major stumbles. I could feel my adrenaline rise and fall many times as he answered my questions and I could hear the mild boredom in his answers and see it in his eyes. I could tell he had been interviewed to death, he felt this was nothing new, I was just another hack wanting a story, asking the same old dry questions.
We got to the end of our time and I said I had one more question. He looked relieved, leaned back a bit, crossed his arms and said “Ok, shoot.” I pulled a photo out of my briefcase and slid it over in front of him as I said “This young man is coming to you as a mentor. He is asking for your best piece of advice concerning his future, what he should do, if he is pursuing the right path for himself. What would you advise him, knowing what you know today?”. He looked down, and was taken back. He let out his breath, kind of coughed and said incredulously, “Where…where did you find this?”
It was a black and white photo of an 18 year old Preston Lamm, right before he started his first construction job out of high school, before college detours into accounting, before marriage and kids, before all of it. I told him I had researched for other articles about him, but had randomly run across this in my search and wondered if he would have had his dream job years earlier if he had turned away from the norm, and followed the road less traveled, the harder road, the road more challenging.
“Well, I would have to say, having hindsight, I would tell this young man to follow his dream rather than following what makes the stable money or satisfies family, or obligates you to a standard. I was the lucky one, I was given a second chance to do what I longed to do. Most are not afforded that second chance. They have to see into the future, 20/20 and without blinders on.”
I have never forgotten that advice, although I haven’t been able to implement it, as yet, in my own life to a great degree. If I had a choice right now, as much as I love what I do as an estate liquidator and seller of vintage items, I would lay it all down to write…day in and day out. I could find no greater contentment than to find myself like Jo March in Little Women….scribbling away with pen and ink in a drafty attic and crying over a half eaten bowl of russet apples, as fall leaves fly by my dormer window.
Maybe one day, it can happen for me. As I get older, my eyesight does get a bit better every day. If I look at my own graduation photo, I can almost see that journalist shining through. One day maybe I will have enough of the mundane and reach for my star regardless of the consequences. True happiness won’t really cost me a lot…just a notebook, an idea, heeding my own inner advice, and perhaps my one moment in time.