Friday, March 9, 2018

How to be Obnoxious in 25 Easy Lessons

I laugh every time I tell someone I wrote a book when I was 9 years old entitled How to be Obnoxious in 25 Easy Lessons.

I had no writer’s aspirations at 9. Not really. I was more interested in my little shoe box full of paper dolls and the Littlest Angel Doll that came with a trunk full of tiny clothes.

On this day, in my brother Mark’s words, I was “pestering” him and my mother while they stripped paint off furniture meant for my French Provincial bedroom. I am not sure what “pestering” actually meant. I do not remember myself as the pestering type. Perhaps I asked too many questions. Or wanted to help. But, this is what I looked like. Would you trust me with paint stripper? (although I have just carved out a pumpkin here and am still holding a sharp knife.)

The one of a kind book is long gone, but my recollection goes something like this:

1. Stand close enough to your brother to breathe down his neck while he slathers paint stripper on a piece of furniture.

2. Put a frog in his bed.

3. Blame him for everything.

And so on…

But this story is not so much about being obnoxious as it is about books in general.

Luckily, my childrens’ book collection survived several moves and throwing out of things: Little Golden Books like Mary Poppins and The Poky Little Puppy and my first ever chapter book, Elmer and the Dragon, who flies Elmer everywhere and eats skunk cabbages when he can find them.

My parents read to us every night, and soon I knew The Little Red Hen by heart. When my father was in Korea, he sent home a 45 recording of himself reading The Little Red Hen, so we wouldn’t forget him or the sound of his voice. He paused after saying, “Who will help me plant the wheat?” etc., to give us time to chime in with, “Not I,” said the pig, the duck, the cow…

Our house was filled with books: art, music, novels, biographies. Our father was our Google, our Wiki, our arbiter of grammar and the Chicago Manual of Style. If he didn’t know the answer, he could usually find it in his impressive library full of now out of print reference books and encyclopedias. The big dictionary on the oak swivel stand was one of the few items we three siblings seriously discussed at the time of his death.   

“Who gets the dictionary?”


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