Lucky me. I was born in a time and neighborhood where children were free to play. My friends and I ran, biked, explored. The entire Midwood neighborhood on the edge of Charlotte, North Carolina was stage for continuing games of pretend. Cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, British and American, Yankee and Confederate armies romped through woods, across fields and creeks, up and down streets until the good guys prevailed or softball and hopscotch season arrived. If it rained, we took our imaginations indoors and drew Superman comics or played tea party with our dolls.
Then I grew up and went to the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, where I majored in history and economics. My involvement in a series of strikes by textile workers at Cone Mills in Greensboro led first to graduate work at Cornell with a master’s degree in Labor Union History and then to several years of union organizing in the South for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Textile Workers Union of America.
After marriage and the birth of my son and daughter, I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was a doctoral candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, taught in a Boston public school, designed database applications, instructed Harvard economics professors and administrative assistants on use of computer hardware and software, and was assistant editor for an economics journal. Whenever I had my fill of academia, I’d get real jobs — stitcher, machinist, assembly worker, typist, candy maker, waitress, paint stripper, solderer. (Cambridge was a big manufacturing city back then.) Evenings, weekends, and whenever I was unemployed, I did the work that really mattered—organizing for social and economic justice—first with Students for a Democratic Society, then the radical feminist Cell Sixteen, the Cambridge Tenants Organizing Committee, and City Life-Vida Urbana.
For these groups, I did a lot of writing and editing; so when I moved from Cambridge to a farm in rural north central Florida, I began writing for the Ocala Star-Banner and Gainesville Sun, then founded the weekly Williston Pioneer, where for ten years I worked 60-80 hours a week, reporting, writing, editing, designing ads, laying out, mailing, and sweeping the floor.
Then we had a drought, a terrible drought, and the water in abandoned limerock pits on my property dropped…and dropped some more. The smallest pit dried up. The largest could barely wet the feet of thirsty alligators who gathered from miles around. At the height of this drought, my daughter, son-in-law, and eight- and ten-year-old granddaughters came to visit. We ran and played in the woods. We built a fort of cedar saplings. We swung on grapevines and bellowed like Tarzan. And we imagined what the evaporating water would reveal when the last of it dried up. Old tires? Cable? A rusty steam shovel? A skeleton? Emily, the ten-year-old, and I began to write a mystery—lot’s more fun than reporting on city council meetings and high school graduations; so once more I changed occupations.
Charlotte’s Midwood is now cleared of woods and cowboys. And Emily’s all grown up with a professional job in the city, but I’m still playing make-believe with imaginary skeletons. The murder mystery has grown from a novel into a trilogy — in four parts. I should have finished it long ago.
When we were kids playing Americans against Nazis or cops against robbers, there was this one argument we had so often we gave it a name. If one side made a poor decision and gave the other side an advantage, the loosers would call for a “do-over.” That meant we would go back to where the loosers decided to chase the winners across the desert on horses and they could change to camels or move the scene to the Alps. Of course, the winners would object and we’d spend the rest of the afternoon arguing. Our games of pretend were rarely won or lost.
That’s been my problem with writing my stories—do-overs. They’re so easy now. Just hit delete and jump back a chapter or two, undo a week’s work. My poor heroine is hit with one complication after another and every time she makes some progress towards solving a mystery, the villain hollers “do-over! do-over!” and I have to delete another ten pages.
So I’m giving myself a deadline: end this game by suppertime, even if my heroine can’t make everything come out exactly like she wants it.
I get only one do-over. It’s permitted because my fingers were crossed.