My oldest daughter had a birthday yesterday. I had spent Halloween night in labor waiting for my contractions to get closer together. All I can say about that night was that I was pretty miserable, anxious but miserable. I’ll save you all the fancy details of having a firstborn and tell you that when she did come, she’s was beautiful! (I still think she’s beautiful.)
I also had no clue that I’d be lumped in a set of statistics that say it was a teen birth. I was still eighteen when she was born. But I wasn’t one of those girls who somehow got pregnant by a boyfriend and was dependent on parents to help me financially. I was different. I knew I was different. Suddenly I had to prove to everyone that I was different, except no one gave me a chance. I got lumped into a category and that was it.
I’m betting you’re reading this and saying eighteen is too young to have a child. I’ll agree that most eighteen-year-olds are not ready for motherhood. But I was different and here’s why. I had graduated from high school when I was seventeen. At that point, I had about two years of college credits under my belt. My husband was seven years older than I was and he had already fulfilled his military obligation which included fighting in a war. He wasn’t a kid. He was established with a decent career. We were just a few days shy of our first anniversary when she was born. We had a very nice car that was three years old and we had a new one. Three weeks after our daughter’s birth, we closed on our first house. It was brand new and wouldn’t be completed until after Christmas so the closing wasn’t finalized until Jan 2.
Try walking into a real estate office when you are very pregnant and eighteen, and ask to see some houses. No one took me seriously! I often had problems writing a check in stores because of my age.
Our daughter’s birth was just the beginning of my new life. We actually moved everything on January 1 to the new house, and the next day, my husband only took off long from work enough to sign the papers on the house. He kissed me goodbye and said he’d see in the evening. I turned in the keys to our apartment, did the final walk-through, went to the grocery store, and headed out to our house that was filled with boxes.
Great! I had food and couldn’t find the silverware! I also had no phone. The telephone company had not yet turned it on. Because it was a new house, they had to come out and install the lines. I wanted to cry as I opened boxes.
It was also bitter cold. I wasn’t used to Virginia’s weather. Somehow I had survived the hazy, hot, and humid summer here. Say 100% humidity and most people think pouring rain. Not here! Got gills? On the flip side, winter is bitter, rainy and bitter. The kind of cold that goes to your bones. I was used to snow. Our yard was one big muddy mess with a few green sprouts. I soon discovered it wasn’t grass!
Gathering up my courage I went to a neighbor’s house. I introduced myself, and asked if I could borrow some silverware until I found ours. The woman smiled politely and gave me a few odd pieces as if they were solid gold, then suggested that I help my mom unpack. I wanted to cry.
I found the silverware about two days later. I baked a cake and took to it my neighbor as a thank you when I returned her silverware. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I could make friends with neighbors by baking something. I don’t think my neighbor believed that I actually could cook. She learned. 🙂
Other people spend ten years or more saving for the down payment on a house. We had the GI Bill and still put money down and bought appliances. That first mortgage is laughable in today’s economy. My car payments are three times what that mortgage was. In fact, that house and my present car cost the same amount. That’s scary!
It didn’t take me long to realize that I was very much alone. There were no young people anywhere to be found. The few people I knew from the apartments, didn’t bother to visit or invite us to do things with them once I moved into the house. The people my husband knew from work were much older. Many had children my age. We didn’t fit.
I was lonely, very lonely. Make a phone call to someone five miles away and it was long distance. Chatting on the phone was not an option. We had dropped our money into appliances. We didn’t own a TV. I turned to books. There was a used bookstore not far from the grocery store. I’d squirrel away some change and buy books.
My life became my husband, my daughter, and books. We were too poor to do very much. I kept the house spotless, worked in the yard, waved to a few neighbors, and stayed to myself. Eventually, we got neighbors who were young. And when my daughter started school I met other parents. I was always the young one in the pack, but I wasn’t as alone.
Maybe being alone and being different was a training ground for me. It taught me to be self-sufficient and to stand on my feet. Maybe, in a way, it sealed my marriage. My husband was my best buddy. He was the one I talked to all the time and he talked to me. It also made me appreciate the opportunity to have coffee with a friend. And all that reading I did was the foundation for my writing today.
How does my reading back then have anything to do with what I write now? Well, in those days, if I bought a book, I read the whole thing. Every dime and quarter was important to me, so I was determined to get my money’s worth out of each book. That meant read to the end.
It didn’t take me long to figure out who I liked and once I found such an author, I’d read everything that person wrote and watch for new releases. Sub-consciously I analyzed what I was reading. Who kept me turning the pages. I noticed things like subplots. Who challenged me? Who wrote smooth prose? Was it all action? Was I transported to another place? Did I sigh with satisfaction or did I want to throw the book across the room when it ended?
As for reading romance…? I didn’t read much of it. And what I did was rather light on the romance. I found most romances to be boring. Romances were easy to spot. They always had a gal in a flowing dress swooning over some guy. Even the titles were all the same. They had things like Captive Heart or the Captain’s Woman in the title. She was a stowaway or was posing as someone else. Most of the time the hero wasn’t very nice to her, but she swooned anyway. (Can you see me rolling my eyes?)
Many English authors had a habit of ending the story without ending it. I hate that! But I few would “finish” the story. Also the English authors tended to tell more sagas. And many were so descriptive that I felt as though I was standing there, seeing exactly what the hero or heroine saw. So when I started to seriously write with the idea of publication, I already knew what I liked in a story, and what I wanted to emulate as I wrote.
So those days alone, were well spent. I was home with my children. They had my constant attention, yet somehow I taught them to be independent. Books became their friends, and they learned to read at an early age.
I’ve had quite a few houses since that first one. I’ve lived in the country, in the burbs, and in town. I’ve had new and old houses. Things keep changing and I’ve had to change with them. Thank goodness, romances have changed.
And thank goodness I’ve learned to live alone. When the lock on the door decided it was too worn out, I went out and bought another. It took me a few minutes to change it, but I did it. It was all a training ground back then, I just didn’t know it.