I recently discovered this old photo of my dad and me and I treasure it. The date on the back says December 15, 1952. I was one month shy of turning two-years-old. That’s my mom on the couch beside us wearing her bobby socks and Keds. Dad is dressed in his work clothes, so he had probably just come home from work. He was a sawyer and nearly always smelled of wind and sun and freshly sawn timber.
Sitting on my dad’s lap while being read to was my absolute favorite thing as a little girl. I remember staring hard at the words—which he always pointed out to me one by one–and wishing I could make those magic letters talk to me so I wouldn’t have to wait for a big person to interpret them. I marveled at the fact that people could make those squiggles tell stories.
I hungered so much for stories that I started making them up–sometimes in strange circumstances. I learned to count by attributing a personality and character trait to match each of the first ten numbers.( I remember the number six being a rascal and constantly in trouble. Five was a sweet little girl who was always obedient.) When my mother taught me how to set a table, I learned by creating a private story that I still rely on. The fork on the left is in love with the spoon and the spoon is in love with the fork, but the knife is an evil guard keeping them apart.
When I found this photo, I got out a magnifying glass to see the book title. Dad’s choice of reading material for a two-year-old made me laugh. It was General Douglas MacArthur’s “Revitalizing A Nation.” So typical of him. Even with only an eighth grade education, Lyle Bonzo was not into light reading.
If you notice, there is a desk right beside of us. We lived in a tiny house that had once been a railroad shanty for workers when the railroad was being built through Scioto County. There wasn’t a lot of furniture because there wasn’t much room. We didn’t have television, so on rainy days, that desk became a great source of childhood entertainment. I was allowed to store crayons and paste and scissors and other treasures in its drawers and spent hours playing there.
Peering into this long-lost frozen moment of my childhood, it occurs to me for the first time the reason behind the fact that there is not one room in my house—including bedrooms—that does not have at least one small desk in it. My family has long teased me about my fascination with little drawers to store things in—I can’t seem to have enough of them—and this is probably why.
A lot of people ask me why I became a writer. I never know how to answer that, but I suspect some of that desire began right here—on my daddy’s lap—as I leaned against the rumble of his chest as he read to me, surrounded by the scent of fresh sawdust, and knowing that I was safe within the strongest, most protective arms, in the world.