Lucy and Ethel were at it again. My pet mice constantly ran on their wheel. It didn’t seem to matter to them that they never actually arrived anywhere, but then again, they were just mice. I put down my Goosebumps book and got out of my bed because it was too hot to sleep. It was 11 p.m, and I wandered into the kitchen to raid the ice cream sandwiches. That August day in 1989, the Southern California thermometer hit 101 degrees. The sun let off a faded orange glow as it strained to shine through the smog, and made it easy for my overeager imagination to believe I was on Tatooine at dusk. I heard the clacking of my mom’s typewriter as I shuffled into the hallway. I entered the kitchen, I saw our table had been turned into a writer’s desk again. My mom sat in front of her Brother typewriter in her curlers and flannel pajamas that she wore no matter how hot it was.
Her typewriter was a high-tech piece of equipment, and I loved it. I found it so satisfying to push the keys, and although I wasn’t really supposed to use it, I did when she was at work. I would type up memos, termination notices, and overdue library book letters and pretend to hand them out to my victims. I loved reading and writing equally, but I especially loved hearing stories read to me. As early as I can remember, my Dad would tell me stories on his knee and thus began my love affair with the spoken and written word. He would recite The Cock and the Mouse and the Little Red Hen like one of the true great storytellers, and I would feel a sincere joy as if it were Christmas morning, every single time.
If she knew I had been using it, she never let on. I wandered into the kitchen and yawned. “Hey mom, you can’t sleep either?”
“Yeah, too hot for me too.” She replied. “I’m just wasting time working on my stories,” she said.
For as long as I could recall in my short 9 years, my mom had always tinkered off and on with her children’s stories. She had ideas that nagged her because she was always writing in her journal or putting something down on the notepad she kept in her purse. She had so much to say that it spilled over in her thoughts, and she had to keep a journal which was what real authors did I was sure. She would work on several books. One about a mouse family who struggled to survive (which I suspect was inspired by The Secret of Nym), another about a pet parakeet that flew away and the little girl who stapled posters to telephone poles to find him. And another about a boy that had a pet snake and many more.
“Are you still working on the one about the mouse family” I asked.
“Yes, and I think I’m just about done. Why don’t you read it and tell me what you think?”
She finished the last page, pulled it out and handed me three double-spaced sheets. I received them feeling rather important to take on the job of being the first to read her now finished story. As I began reading it, I was transformed into a bystander in her story. Her story was so descriptive and alive I could almost smell and feel the rich, moist dirt where the characters made their mouse house. I finished the last paragraph and said, “It’s really good mom. I liked your story.” But I felt in order to do her justice I needed to provide some feedback because that is what my teachers did whenever I turned in a report. “But you’re missing a comma here and here. Oh, and I’m not sure which character you’re talking about in this paragraph.”
“Ah. Good catch.” She nodded. With that, I straightened a little more and narrowed my eyes.
“I could be your editor. You could write the books, and I’ll fix them.” I hoped she’d see how serious I was regarding my newfound responsibility. I hoped she knew how big this was for me because it wasn’t every day that I was the first to read the next classic children’s story and what’s more, edit it. She sighed with a warm smile and eyed me fondly.
“Yes, you’d be a very good editor. You have a great imagination and you have an original way of seeing the world in ways others don’t.” I pondered what she meant, because I didn’t think I saw the world in any way, except from the viewpoint of a short 9-year-old girl. But I thought it best to let my question be.
Again, taking my new role seriously I advised her. “I think you should send this to a book company so they can put it in the libraries.” The smile on her face grew somehow sad as she leaned back in her chair. The whir of the typewriter and the constant slow drip of the kitchen faucet were the only sounds I heard.
“Well, that’s very nice of you to say sweetie, but people like me don’t get published,” she said softly.
I wondered what she meant by ‘people like her.’ My mother had not graduated high school or went to college, yet was the most loving woman and the hardest worker I knew. She worked part time as a house cleaner during school hours. I had accompanied her to clients’ houses sometimes, and I saw firsthand how hard she worked and the long hours of bending over cleaning floors and bathtubs. I could never see her as unworthy of ‘getting published’ or anything else for that matter. She had a tired, far off look in her eyes. I was not sure what being published meant, but I hoped it would happen for her someday.
“Tomorrow’s a school day,” she yawned turning off the typewriter. “ Goodnight mom, I love you.” I said as I leaned in to hug her. She always smelled slightly of bleach from her house cleaning jobs and the chemicals that has irreparably ruined her hands.
“Good night sweetie” she replied as she held my face in her hands and kissed me.
Feeling brave, I said stoutly, “I would publish your stories. All of them.” I considered her a writer and believed her stories should indeed be books.
A thin smile crossed her face, and I thought I saw tears well up in her eyes as she whispered, “Thank you sweetheart. I know you would.” I hoped In had not said something to upset her as she disappeared into her bedroom.
I made my way back to my own room and I lied down on my now cool sheets and tried to fall asleep. I recalled one of my favorite books, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, winner of a Caldecott Medal for children’s stories. A little donkey found a magic pebble and unwittingly wished himself into a boulder. His Mom and Dad found him by accidentally sitting on him during a picnic. Like Sylvester, I found my mother’s presence comforting and warm. She had the feeling and glow of a lazy fireplace on Christmas Eve. Her aura could not be taught nor fabricated. I fell asleep just knowing that my mom would win a Caldecott Medal someday.
Twenty-six summers have passed, and countless books have been read since that sweltering night. I miss that old typewriter because of its simplicity and innocence. Just as with childhood, the typewriter was honest, simple, and forthcoming. It was sincere and typed what was on its mind. But it, like my childhood, had to grow up.
My mother always made me feel like I was good enough with something special to offer the world. Maybe it was her way of giving me the opportunity in her stead. Or maybe she felt like our pet mice. They ran in their wheel for the sake of doing something they loved but knew it would lead nowhere except the spot they had always been. But whatever the reason, it was alright. After all, I was the editor and I decided her stories were good enough sit next to Sylvester in the library.
Teresa Gonzales is the 38-year-old mother of 3 boys. She has been published in Perfect Sound Forever, Defenstration, as well as the local newspaper a few times.