About 15 years ago my critique group heard Ray Bradbury speak at a writer's conference sponsored by Point Loma Nazarene University. Attendants helped this elderly, remarkable man onto the stage and into an easy chair and for the next two hours he held the packed audience spellbound as he told stories of his youth, his successes and his disappointments.
The fact he never attended college impressed me the most. With no money for college, he attended a library in Los Angeles 3 days a week for 10 years, reading, a habit started in his youth when he read his favorite authors in the Carnegie Library in Waukegan, Illinois. We shared a love of Edgar Allen Poe's writings.
His firm belief in the importance of libraries struck a similar chord in me. When he began writing his own science fiction he had his years of reading it to fall back on. He wrote Fahrenheit 451 in UCLA's Powell Library on a typewriter rented for 10 cents a half-hour.
His remarks made me realize how easy my writer's life was, and drove home how many opportunities I was allowing to pass me buy.
The youngest member of our critique group insisted on fighting the mob to get her copy of Zen and the Art of Writing signed. I was content just to sit and wait for her while mulling over everything he'd said and how it applied to me as a writer. She returned, all starry-eyed because Ray Bradbury "asked me what I wrote."
Looking back, I'm sorry I passed up the opportunity to breathe the same air perhaps the best writer of my generation breathed that night.
On a lighter note but a related topic, I'm happy to report the City found an unexpected windfall and our local libraries are opening again on Mondays. I'd be a happy camper if they'd reopen on Saturdays, now, too.
Christmas Through a Child's Eyes
Hard hit by the Great Depression, my parents struggled at Christmas to make the holidays a happy time for their four children.
One year my grandmother gave Daddy a subscription to the Saturday Evening Post, and kept renewing the subscription until the publisher couldn't keep up with changing times and stopped publishing it. Daddy had always read everything he could get his hands on, and now he had something of his own. We were not allowed to touch the newest issue until Daddy said we could.
We all loved that magazine, and would gather around each time the mailman brought a new issue to see what Norman Rockwell had put on the cover that week. Next morning Daddy would stick the newest magazine in his hip pocket, hurry out to the outhouse, and stay for a really long time. I didn't much like to spend any more time than necessary out there, but apparently he did. I think it was because it was the only place he could go and not be surrounded by females.
The Christmas morning of 1937 is the first holiday to stay in my memory. I woke to the soft strains of a lullaby coming from beneath our tree and to the cheers of my siblings, delighted that I'd finally opened my eyes so they could get up.
Momma said, "Wake up, Sugar. Santa Claus came," and I hurried into the living room. Beneath the sagging branches of the tree we'd cut and dragged down off the hill I discovered the source of the music, a baby doll nestled in a carrying case. The noise and excitement of those around me opening their gifts failed to draw my attention from that perfect doll.
When I picked her up, her brown eyes opened and I snuggled her soft body close. And when I lay her back in bed, she slowly closed her eyes, a smile on her face as she enjoyed the tinkling strains from the music box.
To this day I have a fascination with music boxes, and still have that one. I can't recall what anyone else received that Christmas, or even if I received other gifts. That doll earned my full attention from the moment I first laid eyes on her. I fell hopelessly in love with her and named her Priscilla.
She was just the right size to fit in the arms of a towheaded four-year-old. Rocking her in my arms, I would not have to hold her long before the music lulled her to sleep. Then I'd put her down in her own little bed.
The latch on the lid was to secure her for traveling, but I didn't like locking the lid down right in her face and never latched it with Priscilla inside.
Of all the dolls I ever owned, she was my favorite. She had a cry box hidden in her soft rounded chest, but good mothers didn't let their babies cry, and I tried to be a very good mother. My baby wore panties instead of diapers, but came with a bottle I soon wore out feeding her. In my eyes she was like my own child, and precious to me.
Momma told me she'd seen the doll in the window of Pizitz's Department Store and told Santa she knew a little girl who needed that doll. She'd even thought to ask him to turn the music box on as before he flew up our chimney because her baby slept late on Christmas and my siblings grew impatient waiting for me to wake up.
As I grew older I realized our family was not a lot better off that year than we'd been the year of my birth. Daddy's electrical work had shut down for the winter and he'd been laid off again, but somehow Momma managed that wonderful gift for me.
I am still awed by my good fortune, the depths of my parents' love. I don't know what became of that doll. Most likely, I wore her out. When the suitcase wore out Daddy removed the music box for me to keep.
In the toe of my stocking that year, I found an orange and some raisins clinging to a dried up stem. Fresh oranges were a rarity at our house and I rationed mine, eating just one section a day and letting the juice slowly run down my throat. My miserly effort to make my orange last failed. There were too many sections and six of them grew green mold. Momma insisted I throw what was left away and I cried my heart out.