At General Pershing School in Arkansas City, Kansas, I began to love writing. World War II was almost over and the boy who sat behind me put the shiny red pencil between his teeth, hissed, rolled his eyes, took it back out, and jabbed the boy beside him. I saw that a pencil is a versatile thing: writing instrument, prop for getting laughs, school-issued weapon. I loved making pencil marks on paper, but it was the lead act that interested me, not the sentence or story. If a red pencil can make someone want to write, then that’s why I write.
One day a children’s textbook publisher lined our school hallway with long tables full of books. I was stunned to see so many in one place; to smell their fresh glue, paper, ink. Strolling among the tables, forgetting the playground, I was as happy as our neighbor home from the war. If tables full of books can make a person want to write, then that’s why I write.
When my mother and I visited the first grade at General Pershing School, I watched her watching a boy bend the front and back boards of a book until they touched each other. I heard the spine crack. My mother flinched and I learned never to break a book. If covers and spine can make a person want to write, then covers and spine are my inspiration.
If a mother’s death during the fifth grade is a reason to write, then my mother’s body, spine, notebooks, and fountain pen are the reasons I write, though it would be so much easier not to.