Influences Part 2

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I mentioned yesterday as part of this series of posts on ‘Influences’ that I’m doing this week, that a part of me felt like I was always treated like I was older than I actually was.  This isn’t entirely a fiction of my brain, I think there’s some evidence to support this.

The Youngest.

Born in ’72, I am the youngest of the ‘first cousins’. My mom has three sisters and two brothers (both deceased).  The brothers had no children that I am aware of, but the sisters have a combined eight kids, all of whom are older than I am.  My own brother (actually a half-brother as we share the same mom, but different dads), is either twelve or thirteen years older than I am (I always forget) and most of my first cousins are older as well.  I am actually closer in age to my cousin Don’s oldest daughter than I am to my first cousins, which is weird.  Actually, I’m probably in the middle between first cousin’s and their kids – either way, it’s weird.

I tell you this only to point out that I was surrounded by teenagers (or near enough to it) when I was born.

I also want to say that I was never talked down to, necessarily.  A lot of parent’s do this whether intentionally or not, using baby-talk, for example, when talking to their kids.  I could be 100% wrong here, it’s been known to happen, but I have no memory of this kind of stuff happening.  I do know that many of my cousins tell me, often and with much jubilation, that I was an absolute brat and spoiled rotten.  Given that I was the youngest, I can see this, but I don’t remember it the way they do (of course).  Doesn’t mean it isn’t true! 🙂

Strong Women.

When I was young, my mom and dad split up.  She doesn’t talk much about it.  When pressed, she once told me that her relationship with my dad was just that: Hers.  She told me that I needed to build my own relationship with him.  Kind of an enlightened way of thinking if you ask me.  I’ve seen a lot of people get divorced and typically the kids get stuck in the middle.  My mom never wanted that for me.

Following the split, we moved to California where two of my mom’s sisters were already living.  My third aunt and her family moved with us, along with my grandmother.  For awhile, we all lived together; my aunt & her husband & son, me, my mom & brother and our grandmother.

Grams worked to support her kids when she was able (later, is was difficult for her to work). When they were young, they moved to Chicago where Grams could find work.  Mom and her sisters always worked too.  I don’t remember so much from Chicago, but I know that my mom and my aunt worked as maids for hotels and as waitresses in California to make ends meet.  They worked really hard, which left my cousin and I home with Grams a lot.  Later, my aunt and uncle decided that California was not for them and moved back to Chicago.  Grams stayed with us and was a big influence on me as a result.

We took a lot of trips together, Grams and I, as she went to visit kids and grandkids and took me with her.  My other aunts worked just as hard as my mom did and I was exposed to each on these trips with Grams, seeing how they ran their houses and supported their families.

So, seeing these strong women from a very early age, had a profound impact on me.  As such, I tend to not write the stereotypical ‘damsel in distress’ stories so prominent in (fantasy) fiction.

Reading.

I don’t remember when I started to read, but again, my mom likes to tell the story of my ‘reading’ magazines.  She said that I would pick them up, open them and appear to be reading them.  I do know that I was reading at a young enough age and did well enough that teachers were impressed.

I don’t remember what I read early on; I would venture to say that it’s the same stuff we all read like Dr. Seuss.

Some of the things that I do remember reading are obviously the ones that influenced me since I remember them!

Encyclopedia Brown. Whenever my mom or my grams would go shopping, I was generally dragged along.  Often, I would ‘disappear’ into whatever book section the store had to offer or, in the case of a mall, would venture forth to see what there was to see.  This was how I found Encyclopedia Brown.

Think ‘Hardy Boys’.  Encyclopedia Brown was a boy detective, created by Donald J. Sobol in 1963, who was the son of the local police chief who setup his own detective agency in the families garage and would solve mysteries for the neighborhood kids.

I absolutely loved this series.  I think I owned all the books and might still, locked away somewhere in a box (I have so many books that I haven’t really had room to put them all out on shelves…).

The Great Brain.  Written/created by John D. Fitzgerald, The Great Brain was loosely based on Fitzgerald’s family living in the fictitious small town of Adenville, Utah, around the turn of the century.  The stories were mainly about John’s older brother, Tom, called ‘The Great Brain’.

In the early stories, Tom pretty much has it over on all the kids.  He’s intent to make money and comes up with all sorts of ways to do so – Think Huckleberry Finn.  The family is Catholic in a very Mormon town, which was interesting to me at the time as I was growing up in a Catholic household and attending Catholic schools.

The stories were fun and engaging and I could identify with the characters, always important.  I think I still have these in a box somewhere too.  I read both of these series religiously and repeatedly.

Oddly, my first exposure to what we would consider to be ‘fantasy’, came when I attended a public school for a little over a year.  This was when we first moved to California and mom couldn’t afford the tuition for Catholic school.  So I ended up at Slater Elementary, which was a year around school – a very new concept to all of us.

The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe.  This blew my very young mind.  Written by C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, chronicled the adventures of the Pevensie kids as they cross over into Narnia, a land where magic was very much real.  Needless to say, it was like nothing else I’d ever read and I was hooked.  I read all the books multiple times.

Another oddity, this would be the only fantasy series I’d read for a very long time.  More on that later.

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about two major influences in my life that you may or may not have guessed by now.

~P