When we were children, no one ever aspired to be an insurance salesman or a clerk-typist. We all had loftier ambitions—to be a cowboy in the rodeo or a famous movie star. Few of us ever came anywhere near realizing those ambitions.
However, in my family—two of us have come close. I always wanted to write, and at an early age, began writing stories which I surreptitiously mailed to “My Weekly Reader”.
I was receiving my first rejection slips by the time I was in the third grade. There was never any question in my mind that I would be a Writer.
When I was about ten or eleven years old, my parents purchased an old Royal typewriter. I taught myself how to type using two fingers (and had to unlearn the wrong way when I took typing classes in high school). The acquisition of a Real Typewriter brought the dream a little closer, – even though I knew nothing, at the age of thirteen, about double-spacing and word counts. I began writing “novels” which were single-spaced and rarely re-written. My girlfriends loved to read them, however, and the “novel” would be passed around in class, one page at a time.
One of the great tragedies of this period was my mother accidentally burning one of my novels. I remember tears of anguish – and cries of “I’ll never be able to write that book again!”. And, I never did, but most of the other “novels” of my teenage years have survived. In high school I wrote a novel titled “Charm Bracelet” which included a court room scene. I was aided and abetted in writing this chapter by my typing teacher who happened to also work at the courthouse and kindly encouraged my writing enough that I could write my “stories” in class as long as I completed all my typing assignments by Friday afternoon.
Those old standard typewriters were a far cry from today’s computer keyboards or even electric typewriters which came along some years later. In my 20s, I acquired a Smith-Corona electric portable typewriter on which I banged out stories and poems so hard that the typewriter often danced across the kitchen table. Occasionally I sold a short article or a poem, just enough to fuel my ambitions. What a thrill to receive a letter of acceptance from an editor! (Or even a letter – albeit with a rejection slip – of encouragement).
More practically, I typed insurance policies on the side to make some extra cash when I was a stay-at-home mother). Every poem or short story that I submitted to a magazine had to be retyped when it was returned with a rejection slip. We couldn’t even have imagined the advent of today’s computers or how they would streamline writing!
Life has a way of getting in the way of lofty ambitions, of course, and my life was detoured with marriage and the births of four sons. I spent many years working for insurance companies before finally returning to writing. When I purchased my first computer in the mid 1980s, I told myself “Now I will write”.
My younger brother Bill always wanted to be a cowboy. Cowboy as in, has horses, will ride. I have a black and white photo of him, sitting on the front porch of our house on Sutter Street, hanging onto our black lab dog “Mike”. Bill, at age six, is wearing a cowboy hat and if you look closely, you can also make out the gun-and-holster strapped to his waist. (Every year at Christmas, my two younger brothers asked for, and received, gun-and-holster sets. The pistols were cap guns; a roll of caps was inserted inside the gun so you had more than a six-shooter. It was probably a 50 or 100 shooter). We all played cowboys and Indians (the most coveted role being that of the horse). We went to Saturday matinees to see Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Gene Autry, and Hopalong Cassidy. The rest of the week we ran up and down the street, whinnying and stomping our feet. But whereas most of us outgrew any lofty ambition to really be a cowboy, my brother Bill did just that. Today, he has a farm in Ohio and more horses than you can shake a stick at. He wears cowboy hats and cowboy boots … and even though he is an engineer for a valve company (for somebody has to pay for all those horses and what they eat) – everybody calls him cowboy. And he really is.
–Sandra Lee Smith