When I was a child my mother was constantly telling me to “stop staring”, she would say “it’s impolite” and give me a look that let me know worse things were to come if I didn’t stop.
Later, when she discovered that I was writing about the people and things I was staring at she began to take a different approach. She still maintained it was impolite but she began asking questions and allowing me to discuss what had caught my eye - It was in these brief conversations that I believe she learned I was not staring at the obvious and that my ability to embellish would have made O.Henry blush. I’m pretty sure this is how she eventually devised the game ‘Car Story’ - because we were always in the car when these conversations took place.
Car Story went like this: on any given day winding our way around country roads, soft drinks clutched in our thighs, hands out the windows dipping and rolling like little birds in the summer heat she gave us each, my brother and I, fifteen minutes to tell a story. She made up the rules which were simple and fun: #1- You must lie (this was the ONLY time we didn’t get in trouble for lying) and #2- you must ‘bring on the buckets’ – this was my mother’s favorite term for lots of drama. Whoever told the best story was ‘Car Famous ‘for that day and got to choose dinner that night. It was in my best interest to win – I hated peas.
Since I never knew when my mother was going to holler out “Car Story!” I was constantly prepared to give my best at a moments notice. Everything I saw or witnessed became a potential story and consequently, out of necessity, I became a writer. I began carrying a tiny memo book and a pencil everywhere I went and my mother who somehow understood, no longer scolded my staring. She simply moved me quietly along after a few moments, nodding and shrugging politely to the offended. Now I’m not sure my mother knew exactly what she was doing with that little game, to her I’m sure it was just fun and she was all about The Fun. So I don’t think she ever really believed those silly afternoons in the car could possibly turn into my life long pursuit in the art of writing. Though later, when I was falling in and out of college she was the one that said “….. Why don’t you write? You have always been a writer, don’t you remember?”
And when I remember the words fall to the page like Rains of Imagination - threats of Idea Flood loom large upon imagined horizons - words - my tiny Calibri ships- rock and toss adrift between great waves of winking Ideas - Heaves of Adjectives and Synonyms my mounting, pounding wail of Verbiage - Emotional Release reduced to a simple distaste for peas.
And when I don’t remember and nothing works, when the page stares blankly back, taunting me into believing I am only a dreamer. I get in my car, drive to the nearest convenience store and buy a bottle of soda. I roll down the windows and speed dial my mother. We talk about my job, my grandmother’s new found dementia, my father’s surliness and my brother’s children. Sometimes she tells me stories of her childhood or she will say: “Come for dinner, we’ll have peas……. Hey Nan? CAR STORY!”
Somehow she always knows.
And I will win again, me and my Peas of Inspiration amusing her Pearls of Wisdom.