Firsts

Think about some “firsts” when you were growing up. I remember a surprise birthday party, a first. (I didn’t have another surprise party until I was in grad school.) The first time my mother went away for a few weeks in the summer. The first time I saw a dead person in a casket. My first, and gradual, understanding of what alcohol did to a person. The first time I used my fists and hit someone like I really meant it. The first time I kissed a girl like I really meant it. The first time I got stitches. The first time I smoked marijuana. The first time I saw a handgun. 

I. You might start writing right now. Or you might carry this theme around for a day and see what comes to mind

A few years after he went to New York and started his work in advertising, my son came home for a weekend visit with a skateboard under his arm.  He said he rode it to work. Over the next day or two, he stepped outside the house and rolled around the neighborhood on it. It was a nice board, almost three feet long, with the same lines as an actual surfboard and heavy duty wheels underneath it. I’m pretty sure he called these wheels “trucks.” He rode it with no protective equipment, no helmet, no wrist or knee guards. His mother was not happy. 

“Wanna take it for a ride?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

Note: When I write, I think of stuff I want to come back to and say more about. To keep from forgetting, I take a few notes. Here, for example, writing about sidewalk surfing, I thought about summer vacations and took the notes below, planning to say more about them in writing these day or the day after that.

Lake City. The twins. 
See you in September. 
How bout a kiss? An invented story.
Davie and his board. 
Gabriel and hover board.

II. Keep writing. If what you wrote about in the previous session isn’t finished, return to that “first” topic and say more. Sidewalk surfing and the Jan and Dean song reminded me of all kinds of stuff I want to remember and describe, so I kept going with that. What would I want a reader to know about that time? about that experience? What was cool and interesting?

“Grab your board and go sidewalk surfing with me.” We did what most industrious kids living in farm towns thousands of miles from Malibu. We made our own skateboards

At that time you could buy a cheap pair of roller skates that you clamped to a pair of shoes. The skates came with a “key,” a little wrench thing that tightened a clamp on the front and back of the skate. Lots of kids had these all-metal skates. They were terrible. We threw the keys away and took the skates apart. Obviously each skate had a front and back axle. From a pair of skates you could make two surfboards. You also needed an actual board.

Our dads must have lumber lying around. We found planks. We had saws and screws and screwdrivers. These were not precision creations. No one wasted time using a square to make sure the wheels were mounted perfectly straight on the boards. We just slapped them on and went for a ride. It was a joke. The song was a joke. In the chorus, a refrain repeated: “But your buns, bust your buns now.” There must have been a lot of bun-busting. 

That was my first and only skateboard. Along with Jan and Dean came the Beach Boys. They were all California all the time, singing about surfing, cars, and girls. In Michigan you couldn’t quite get close to this, except in your imagination. Along with Jan and Dean came the Beach Boys. They were all California all the time, singing about surfing, cars, and girls. In Michigan you couldn’t quite get close to this, except in your imagination.

III. Another first. Get to it. One thing can lead to another when you write. You are reminded of vivid memories. You return to places and times where stuff happened. That’s why I take notes when I write. So I don’t forget. So I can come to a topic and write about it. Here, the water and sun, the music, and girls.

Write about another first. Don’t worry if it’s related, if it all connects and flows. You can worry about connection and flow later. Capture a time and memory that calls to you, that you think it would be fun or important to eventually share with a reader.

It wasn’t really love. And it wasn’t the first. But the vague and thrilling possibility of having a girlfriend swept over me one summer up at the lake.

That’s how we said it in our family.  Up at the lake. We’re going to the lake. That meant Lake Missaukee, in Lake City. For 3-4 consecutive years my mother and brother and I spent 3-4 weeks in the summer, staying in a 22 two foot house trailer in a county park. The trailer had four bunk beds in the back, two on each side, along with a kitchen that had a four-burner gas range and sink with a faucet that was connected to park water access by a rubber hose. The water always tasted like rubber. The trailer also had a little dinette like a diner booth, with seating for two on either side of a table. Just outside the door was a sitting area covered with an awning, where we had a wood picnic table the park provided and a couple folding chairs. 

IV.  One story leads to another. Have you been taking notes? Are you remembering your proper nouns and names of people, places, and things? Tell one more story, capture one more vignette. Another first.

One hot summer afternoon my brother and I did something stupid.  When we walked from our trailer to the beach and back, or from our trailer to the park restrooms and back, we passed trailers with sixpacks and cases of empty bottles left in plain sight at other campsites. Usually in their cardboard containers, usually underneath the trailers to keep from getting rained on, they were there because they were returnable. Each bottle returned cashed in a two cent deposit. “Twenty bottles, 40 cents,” my brother said. He would later become an accountant.  We could use that money to buy snacks, bottles of Royal Crown Cola, Payday candy bars, licorice or wax lips at the park store. We must have taken paper grocery bags our mother kept.