Katie Mays was exotic to me. A year older than me, she lived next door in the house on the river. Well, technically Duck River looked more like a creek behind Katie’s house. Our homes were across the street from each other, with my gravel semicircle driveway facing her nicely paved stretch of a driveway that seemed to go on forever when pedaling a bike down it.
Any time I got to spend with her seemed like an upgrade from my life. I’m not sure if it was because she was in a different grade or because her family was richer, or a combination of both, but it felt special to hang out with her. She taught me how to use vinyl album covers to build a Barbie house, hang upside down long enough to feel the sensation of almost passing out, and jump on a trampoline. She even had a practice tennis half-court.
But it was one particular play date that changed everything for me. Her plan was for us to create our own books. With some blue-lined notebook paper and crayons in hand, we spent an afternoon being authors. I had never felt pure satisfaction and accomplishment before stapling the spine of my masterpiece when we were done. I stared at that creation many times and still have it in a box in the garage.
I wanted to be a writer from then on.
I refer to myself as the Oops Baby, despite my mother’s protests. That’s because I was an unplanned pregnancy, one which my mother embraced and my father balked at. I was a cute plaything for my near-middle school siblings, who had already enjoyed the spoils of middle-class nuclear family ballgames and vacations. Those would cease as I grew, and it wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I saw how little time was given to helping me find my place in this world. So, I had to find my own voice, and that little book written with Katie was the first stone on the path I would walk to where I am now.
My first professional writing opportunity came before I was on the radio in Atlanta, with an article in Southern Voice. Of course, that turned into the paper you are currently reading, a place that will always be the foundation for any writing I complete moving forward. And on this holiday of love, I look not toward romance for reflection, but love in the form of appreciation for the things I’ve often taken for granted. I realize now that life’s best memories aren’t from orchestrated and forced ceremonies or schemes; they’re from the little moments that seem irrelevant at the time. These unknown seeds planted for later bloom hold the key to the rich life everyone is seeking.
If Katie happens to be reading this, thank you for that little writer’s conference back in the 1970s. To me, it was the best idea you’ve ever had.