(I know my father worried sometimes about the amount of time i spent reading. My father, not my mother. Her first priority was that we were safely and virtuously at home, with a book or without one.) Lacking a refuge in books, would I have been forced to confront my social inadequacies and set myself to learning the skills that would have made. But then I wonder if it would really have been a fair trade. Would dances and parties and inexpert kisses by pimply contemporaries have made me happier than did. Rochester, heathcliff, the Knights of the round Table and the many other heroes and heroic villains with whom I was intermittently in love? In any event, i went on reading-and suffering-the daily agony of the pre-teen outcast.
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Too young for my grade, having been advanced by a firstgrade teacher who didn't know what to do with me while she was teaching reading, and further handicapped by being raised by a mother who hadn't really faced up to the twentieth century, i was. Still wearing long curls and playing secret games, i was too intimidated to make an effort to relate to girls who wore makeup and danced with boys. So i retreated further into books and daydreams. Books were the window from business which I looked out of mandela a rather meager and decidedly narrow room, onto a rich and wonderful universe. I loved the look and feel of them, even the smell. I'm still a book sniffer. That evocative mixture of paper and ink and glue and dust never fails to bring back the twinge of excitement that came with the opening of a new book. Libraries were treasure houses. I always entered them with a slight thrill of disbelief that all their endless riches were mine for the borrowing. And librarians i approached with reverent awe-guardians of the temple, keepers of the golden treasure. It has occurred to me to wonder if I might not have faced up to life sooner if I had been deprived of books.
He goes down to the river to have some fun. He wallows down where the mud is deep, And shuts his eyes and goes to sleep. My memories of my first five years of school are pleasant ones. I was a good student, although friend my abilities were decidedly lopsided. I could memorize a poem in a flash, but the result of multiplying seven times eight eluded me for months, until my mother printed this slippery bit of information on a card and pinned it to the wall in front of the kitchen sink where. It worked, i guess. I'm not sure whether my hatred of doing dishes spilled over onto the multiplication tables or vice versa, but I'm still not particularly fond of either. Although there were times when I would have gladly traded my proficiency in reading and writing for a little skill at something that really mattered to my contemporaries such as running races or catching fly balls, i had few problems in the small country schools. But then came the seventh grade in the big city of Ventura.
I began as most children do with poems and very short stories, and I was fortunate to summary have a fourth-grade teacher who took an interest in what I was doing. She collected my works, typed them, and bound them into a book. I loved it-and her. This early opus, while showing no great originality of thought or unique turns of phrase, does seem to exhibit a certain feeling for literature the rhythm and flow of words. The following excerpt owed its subject matter to a "social studies project" on China. The water buffalo, did you ever see a water buffalo, slowly around a rice field go, dragging a plow at every step? To plow a rice field takes lots of pep, so when the buffalo's work is done.
So i came by my storytelling instincts honestly but, as soon became apparent, their acquisition was all that was honest about them. It wasn't exactly that I was a liar. I don't think i told any more of the usual lies of childhood-those meant to get you out of trouble or get someone else into it-than most children. It was just that when I had something to tell I had an irresistible urge to make it worth telling, and without the rich and rather lengthy past that my parents had to draw on, i was forced to rely on the one commodity. Sometimes when I began an account of something I had heard or witnessed my mother would sigh deeply and say, "Just tell. At the age of eight I became, in my own eyes at least, a writer. I sometimes say that I decided on a writing career as soon as it dawned on me that there were people whose life's work consisted of making up stories. Up until then my tendency to "make things up" was one of the things that came to mind when I repeated that phrase about "trespasses" in our nightly prayers. The idea that there were people who were paid, even praised, for such activities was intriguing.
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A essay farmer who had tried photography and teaching and who loved poetry, he doted on Dessa, his youngest daughter, and effectively discouraged her early suitors. She became a schoolteacher, attending ucla when it was still Los Angeles Normal School, and devoted herself to teaching and to her father. His death when she was in her early thirties left her rudderless and she suffered what she later referred to as a nervous breakdown. On recovering she returned to work and was teaching in Yorba linda, california when she met my father. It was a romance right out of Zane Grey-the bachelor rancher meets the lonely schoolteacher.
My parents were living in Lemoore, california when my older sister, Elisabeth, and I were born, my father having accepted what he thought of as a temporary job until he could get back to ranching. But the depression deepened and, to support his growing family, he continued at a job he hated. It was after he was transferred to ventura, california that my younger sister, ruth, was born. Like my father, my mother was a storyteller. Like his, her stories were true accounts of past events. Mother's childhood was always very close to her and she had a tremendous memory for detail. She made the people and events of rural California at the turn of the century as real to me as were those of my own childhood in the 1930s.
The orphanage, losing patience, allowed the two younger boys to be adopted. But by then my father was too old to interest adoptive parents, and old enough to be of temporary interest to various people, some of them relatives of his mother, who needed an extra ranch hand. Forced to do a man's work at the age of eight, often beaten, punished by being sent out mittenless in freezing weather so that his frozen hands very nearly had to be amputated, he survived to become a gentle man with crooked hands, who loved. As a young man he worked as a cowboy, in the days when many ranges were still unfenced; and in later years he told wonderful stories about broncobusting, roundups and stampedes and, above all-horses. He sometimes said that he might forget a man but never a horse, and I'm sure it was true. As a child i knew all his horses through his stories including Old Washboard who had an iron mouth and a penchant for hunting wild horses and who, on spotting a herd of wild ones, took off, completely ignoring the desires of his helpless rider.
Fearing that someday old Washboard would tackle a cliff he couldn't handle-"the only horse that ever scared me spitless my father would say-he chickened out and sold him to a gullible passerby; just as innumerable owners had surely done before. It was not until my father was in his forties and the owner of a small horse ranch in wyoming that he was contacted by his father. Warmly received by his father's second family in California, he decided to relocate there. And it was there that he met Dessa jepson, a thirty-five-year-old spinster schoolteacher, a cousin of his stepmother. The jepsons were quakers. They had lived for many generations in maine, the first Jepson arriving there in 1720, but in the 1870s several branches of the family moved west. My mother was born in California, the youngest of six children. Several years younger than her nearest sibling, she was born when her parents were middle-aged, and on the death of her mother she became her father's housekeeper and companion. I never knew my grandfather, Isaiah Clarkson Jepson, but he must have been a complicated and determined man.
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My favorites were the ones whose lives included episodes that played well, such as noah, daniel with and Jonah. Jonah, in particular, was a role that adapted well when one had, as i often did, tonsillitis. Being forced to professional stay in bed was less of a handicap when the scene being enacted took place in a whale's stomach. But something should be said about the real people who were an important part of those early years. My father, william Solon keatley, was a tall slow-moving man, the memory of whose kindness, patient devotion and unfailing sense of humor is, to me, proof that it is possible to surmount the effects of an appalling childhood. The first child of John William keatley, a young Englishman who immigrated to America in the 1870's, and Zilpha johnson, his Nebraskan bride, my father's first few years of life were happy ones. But when he was five years old his mother died. Putting my father and his two younger brothers in an orphanage, my grandfather went to california, promising to send for the boys as soon as he was able. But for some reason the summons to a new life never came.
When I proceeded to do so, she thought I had memorized the book until she began to ask me individual words. Later when I became, briefly, a kind of neighborhood oddity-i had not yet been to school and I could read the newspaper and was sometimes called into neighbors' evaluation homes to demonstrate to skeptical guests-my mother claimed to have had nothing to do with. Actually i think she used two methods which are almost certain to produce an early reader. First of all, she read to us-a lot. And then, when I tried to horn in on my sister's reading lessons, she told me i was too young-a challenge that no self-respecting four-year-old is going to take iying down. Of course the games and the reading merged. Little Orphan Annie and the demons were soon joined by the likes of heidi, dorothy and. Dolittle, not to mention some of the more intriguing characters I met in the pages of a very fat book called. Hurlbut's Story of the bible.
complicated life histories. Often these creatures seemed to have been in need of a helping hand. I built leafy shelters for homeless insects, doctored demons, most of whom haunted closets and the dark corners of rooms. Although they really frightened me, i don't think i would have wanted to be talked out of them. They were my demons and we had a working relationship. Books and reading must have had a beginning somewhere but it is beyond memory. I seemed to have been born reading. Actually my mother claimed I taught myself after eavesdropping on lessons she was giving my older sister. Then one day when she was sick and I was four years old, i offered to read to her.
I was three years old. The kitten was nominally mine and from the mysterious depths of a three-year-old's mind I write produced a name-maryland. I can remember some of the ensuing argument-no one else thought it was a sensible name-but I can't remember the reason for my choice. Neither the kitten nor I had ever been to maryland, nor had either of us, as far as i know, ancestors from there. But Maryland she was, and she and her offspring play a prominent part in many of my early memories. And then there were games. Some were secret, some less so, and most of them grew out of a compulsion to endow everything animal, vegetable and mineral with human characteristics.
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My autobiography, autobiography, when I look back to the beginning, at least as far back as memory will take me, i see most vividly animals and games and books. People are there, too, my mother and father and older sister, but in those earliest memories they are much less distinct. I don't know what this says about my priorities at the time, but there. There were lots of animals. Although my father worked for Shell Oil, he had grown up on cattle ranches, and by dream and desire he was always a rancher. So we lived in the country where he had room for a garden and as many animals as possible. Among my earliest acquaintances were cows, goats, ducks, chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats and, a little later on, horses. I can recall in some with detail the day we acquired a collie puppy and a young kitten.