Ten writers for children. All with something to say.


"Waltzing With Grandpa" by Edie Hemingway

One of my favorite childhood memories was dancing with my grandfather, and I managed to work this scene straight from my childhood into ROAD TO TATER HILL:

On the morning of August 7th, I lay in bed, knowing that it was my birthday of course, but thinking it would probably not be much different from any of the other days during the last few weeks. Oh, I knew Grandma was baking my favorite angel food cake with orange glaze drizzled over it, and there would be some presents. Bobby might come up to eat dinner with us. But Daddy wouldn't be home from Germany, and Mama wouldn't suddenly become her old self again. That much I knew for sure.

Something was different, though, and it wasn't just the smell of bacon. It was sound. Not the clanging of pans or an electric mixer buzzing away in the kitchen, but musical sounds. The house had been silent for weeks now, as if a cloud of red dust from the road had clogged our ears and throats. Even though Mama smiled once in a while, there was still no laughter or singing or music in the background, the way there always was when Daddy was home.

But yes, it was music. Not a record of Mama's favorite piano sonatas or a symphony orchestra. This was Grandpa's music. The tunes he'd waltzed to as a young man. The kind he had ice skated to--once even with Helen Hayes before she became a famous actress.

Flinging back the covers, I didn't stop to get dressed or to grab my slippers from under the bed. I ran out to the living room with my nightgown fluttering around my ankles. Grandpa was leaning over the open hi-fi set, the jacket of the record album still in his hands.

"Grandpa, it is you."

He turned around, grinning. "I thought this house needed some waking up," he said. "May I have this dance, Annie Annabel? Miss Eleven-year-old?"

"Oh yes, Grandpa. Yes." I composed myself, held the skirt of my nightgown out, just like it was a fancy ballgown, and curtsied.

Grandpa bowed low, reached out his right hand, and swept me into a waltz pose. He bent to my level, while I danced on my tiptoes. We'd done this before, though not for a long time. I knew the moves. Only Grandpa would dance with me like this, whirling around and around like those wonderful ballroom dances in movies--where you could go on forever in joyous motion--forgetting everything...



It's as hot as always in Puerto Rico.

Lisette takes three showers a day.

One before school

One at lunch time

One before bed.

So skinny she is I think

she'll disappear

along with the soap

down the shower drain--

I wish.

I, on the other hand, don't

let anybody, including me,

comb my hair

wash my hair

cut my hair.

Showers? On Saturdays--

if there's time

if it isn't raining

if, by chance,

I don't have a green cold.

The sugarcane fields are burning.

Ashes fall down on our porch,

an inch at least.

I take off my shoes and socks

and skate as if in the Unites States.

As in snow, I fall.

Ashy nose

ashy hands

ashy feet

I go to bed.

"Pig" Lisette says.

Pigs have fun;

pink clean sisters don't.


Early Memories

When I was very young (before I started school) I told my family that I had an especially good memory. I told them I could remember before I was even born, when I was just a little piece of lint who lived underneath the table in the hallway.

My memories of life as lint have long since faded, but I still have strong memories of my years in elementary school. In kindergarten, when art time was done, Miss Gustafson would play a few notes on her piano as a signal that it was time for music. All of the other students would put away their crayons and join her for singing. Except for me. I would keep drawing.

What made a big impression on me was that Miss Gustafson never scolded me for not following directions, the way that she might have scolded one of the other six Davids in my class. Instead she always allowed me to keep working on my drawings until I felt I was finished.

One time we were asked to draw a picture to represent the season of winter. The other students quickly finished their drawings and ran off to enjoy free time. I remained at my table, deep in concentration as I meticulously drew individual lights on a house decorated for Christmas. Another kindergardener looked at me and said, "You don't have to do all that work," then ran off to play with the giant wooden trucks.

His comment baffled me. Of course I had to do this. I was an artist. And thanks to Miss Gustafson, I already felt like one.


Turning the Clock

March 4, 2009 we turned the clocks ahead. We finished our evening meal without
consuming a single watt, and lingered, relishing our newly “saved” hour as dessert.
Next door a ball bounced. Since childhood this day has marked the beginning of
playtime after supper—rolling down grassy hills and games of tag in bonus light.
“Not it!”

Hypnotized by the ball’s rhythm and golden light, I turn back
my clock and am four again. A picky eater, I hide unwanted
sandwiches behind the stove or in the closet with regularity.
Once I refuse to eat the Chow Mein Mom dishes up from the can.
I fear the oozing brown sauce and unnamed chunks that swim
in the noodles. I make a face. I pout. No amount of sitting at
the table will get me to change my mind.

Big brother Dave is excused. It is summer and he runs outside
to rejoin the game we left off earlier. I am sent to my room. No dessert tonight, but
worse, no play. I plead, but am banished to bed. I am not sleepy! Laughter and excited
screams reach and tag me, “You’re IT!” The sounds retreat. Alone, I cannot tag back.


Childhood Comforts

My teens often tire of me bringing up how different life was when I was a kid. I realize that, for better or worse, the world is a different place now and there is no going back. Still, there are days when I can't help thinking about things in my childhood that still appeal to me now. Maybe, like peanut butter and banana sandwiches, it's simply because I still like them. But other things because they make me feel like I'm reconnecting with a few moments of my past.
As a kid, I read a lot. A lot. Like I was always bringing stacks of books home from the school library. Some of my faves from there were Nancy Drew and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. On Saturdays, the Merrillan library was open, and I'd bring a stack home from there. They had older books, and I spent hours with the Five Little Peppers and the Wizard of Oz series.
But, like any kid, I liked to watch television. We got two local channels: NBC and CBS. ( Once in a while, the weather would be just right and we'd get a fuzzy ABC) Every day after elementary school, I'd get home and watch Star Trek. Star Trek started at 4pm, and we stepped off the bus at about 404pm, which meant we always missed the very beginning, arriving just in time for the theme song and the rest of the show. (I was in college before I finally got to see the beginnings of all those episodes.)
Yesterday a channel had a marathon of Star Trek episodes. Just like pulling out a book from my childhood, watching Star Trek has that reminiscent quality for me, and I can't resist. And when I think about the YA books I'm writing now, with their sci-fi/speculative elements, I think they completely come from that part of me which went running from the school bus every afternoon, dying to see what life or death situation Kirk and Spock and Scotty would have to save the Enterprise from.
So maybe, when we're looking hard for inspiration, we only have to look back, and it'll be there.
Comforting, isn't it?