WRITING IS SAVING

By Charlotte Herman

 

When I was in 8th grade, my teacher, Miss Fitzgerald said, “Charlotte, you will become an author one day.”

Miss Fitzgerald liked my writing. She liked the poem I wrote about the Four Freedoms that I read on the stage at graduation. She loved the Farewell Dear Teacher poem I wrote for her when we said our good-byes.

In my senior year of high school I co-wrote the lyrics to our class song, which I’m sure nobody remembers today.

I have always loved to write. Especially poems. Poems that rhymed. Thank you, Robert Louis Stevenson, and A Child’s Garden of Verses, my favorite book.

I didn’t read a lot of books as a child, but I made up for it in college when I took a course, The Teaching of Reading. We were required to read 100 children’s books. How I loved those books. And how I wished I had discovered them earlier. But I had discovered something else, too. I discovered that I wanted to be a children’s book author.

A few years and a few published books later, my mother said, “Why don’t you write about your childhood?”

“There’s nothing to write about,” I answered. “Nothing happened.”

“Write about the neighborhood on the West Side. Write about school. Your friends. Think about it. You’ll start to remember things.”

It was only after my mother died, that I understood what she had been telling me. I climbed into my time machine and went back into my memories.

And there I was, the skinny little girl running down Independence Boulevard on Chicago’s Home Front during World War II, chasing after the oh, so cute sailors, and asking them for a date.

This became the opening scene in A Summer on Thirteenth Street.

That same little girl is being chased by a bully in Millie Cooper, 3B. She’s back again as Millie in two other books, as she’s growing up in the 1940s. Then she morphs into Dorrie in My Chocolate Year, where through her, I can once again enjoy the delight of a hot fudge sundae at Ye Olde Chocolate Shoppe on Roosevelt Road.

Writing stories inspired by my memories is my favorite kind of writing. But I’m also inspired by the memories shared with me by my mother.

In The House on Walenska Street, Leah lives with her widowed mother and two sisters in a one room house in a small Russian town. Leah writes letters to her cousins in America, as she dreams of her family joining them in a country where soldiers do not break into your house to steal from you, and where you can eat something sweet and yellow called bananas.

For me, writing is saving. Saving a time long gone, places that have changed, and people who might no longer be with us.

For me, they still live on. In the pages of my books.

Charlotte Herman is author of A Summer on Thirteenth Street, Millie Cooper, 3B, My Chocolate Year, and My Chocolate Year, among others.