An Unlikely Mentor

When I first decided I wanted to sell a book, I had been writing for years. As often happened in my life, someone told me or showed me what was possible and then, once I’d seen someone else do it, I would take it and run with it. For whatever reason, I was never the type of person to venture out on my own and try things. I didn’t just wake up one morning and say to myself, I’ll bet I could write a book.

One day, when I was in sixth grade, a friend and fellow student, who was (what once was delicately called in the South) ‘underprivileged,’ asked me to read something she’d written and to write it out neatly for her. This was way way way before the age of computers and was even before sixth graders had access to typewriters. I had a very neat and precise handwriting. Ruby did not. In fact I found her handwriting difficult to read, but by asking her questions and learning the peculiarities of her penmanship, I managed to make her story presentable. We showed it to the sixth grade teacher, who was singularly unimpressed.

I knew, even in the sixth grade, that had the story been anyone else’s but Ruby’s,  the teacher would not have been so dismissive. This teacher took me aside after Ruby and I had shown her the story, and told me that it might not be a good idea to associate with Ruby as much as I did. But that’s a different story and one I’d like to pursue at another time.

Ruby did not come back to school after the summer when we moved into the seventh grade. I missed her and obviously I thought about her a lot and still think about her, but I don’t think I ever asked anyone what had happened to her. I kind of blame that teacher for that. I wish now that I had.

But Ruby gave me the invaluable gift of realizing that I could write. I had written poems and little songs from the time I could spell, but I had never tried to put a story together. Ruby was fearless enough to do that for me. And, as I said above, once I’d seen that she could do it, I dared to venture out and try it myself.

Ruby never knew what asking me to write her story out in a neat hand did for me, but that little girl who was a friend of mine despite what ‘Teacher’ said, gave me the gift of believing that I could be a writer.

I’d dearly love to know what happened to Ruby. And if I never find out, who knows. Maybe I’ll write what I would hope her story is, one day.

Thank you, Ruby.

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