Friday, January 26, 2018

Straw Men, Foxes and Monsters—the Markers of a Writer’s Imagination

I was a weird kid. Sometimes my imagination really got the best of me.
Before we moved from Pennsylvania to North Carolina, when I was about four or five years old, my parents talked about foxes, rabid foxes that is, and how numerous they had become. According to what they read in the newspaper, rabid foxes had invaded the city streets of Philadelphia. Well, that IS ominous news, even for adults.

Of course, I had no idea what rabies was, but I did absorb the feelings of my parents about the danger foxes were to people. Naturally, foxes became a source of fear for me. Their size, in my imagination, grew into mammoth proportions. Somehow I developed the idea that foxes sought out people, especially children, to prey upon and eat.

About this time, we moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Maybe moving to a place so different from what I knew had something to do with my increased fear of foxes. I started to have nightmares about them. I worried about foxes coming out of the woods to get me. My mother was hanging clothes on the line one day in the back yard. The woods bordered our backyard. I felt the fear come up in me that a fox might be lurking in those woods. I asked my mother, “What would you do if a fox came out of the woods to get me?” Mom answered, “I’d grab you up and take you in the house.”
Although I’m certain Mom wanted to reassure me that she would let nothing harm me, it validated for me that foxes were definitely something to fear. I wouldn’t sleep without a night light.
In those days, we had a little amusement park nearby. It had a small zoo, mostly comprised of animals from the wilds of North Carolina. Pop was concerned about my fear of foxes. He said I was building “straw men” and then becoming afraid of them. I didn’t really know what he meant back then. Anyway, the family went on a trip to Airport Park one evening, and Pop took me to see my monster, or straw man, in the flesh. I was terrified. And then I saw it…a sweet little fox only a little bigger than a house cat. What a relief! The nightmares stopped after that and I began to love foxes. They became a kind of special symbol to me. When my husband and I bought my first house, Pop gave me a framed limited edition of a fox print to hang on the wall and a brass door knocker shaped like a fox.

The reason I wanted to share this story from my personal history was to show how a budding writer might very well start with a big imagination and empathy. It may not be obvious back in their early years, but later on, kids just might start telling stories and then writing them because they have those two qualities already in place just begging to come out.

Were you a kid with a big imagination? Did you build “straw men” and then get scared? Did you sense other peoples’ feelings? When did you realize you wanted to become a writer?

Diverse stories filled with heart

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