Last year, Jack Gantos visited the middle school where I’m a teacher. If you’ve never seen him in person, you should watch this before you read any further: Jack Gantos 2011 National Book Festival.
He can make anything funny. Anything.
Jack has kept a diary since he read his older sister’s as a child and knew he could do a better job. Now he has piles of diaries (a couple of hundred) full of plot ideas, real characters, and dialogue. He told us hilarious stories, including the one about the time he cut his own wart out of the bottom of his foot and plugged up the hole with a cotton ball. He didn’t confess what had happened until after he’d been painted in gentian violet from head to toe, suffering advanced blood poisoning.
See, if I’d kept a diary every day of my life, there would be no DIY surgery in it.
After his visit, I was moaning about my ordinary childhood to my friend, the middle school librarian. I said my early childhood was vague with little of interest to remember. My friend said she had a lot of memories. I went home and took out a notebook to write down the few memories I had (I knew there weren’t enough for me to use my laptop, and I type even shopping lists). I ended up with pages and pages.
Here are some bits and pieces that might be useful in a story some time:
- Getting a wig for Christmas as a ten-year-old and selling it to the teenager next door
- My mother wailing on our patio because my brother bounced a ball out of a store
- My sister drinking my brother’s pee because it was in a Cream Soda bottle (long story)
- Our dog coming home with a pound of butter in his mouth.
- Our dog coming home with a cooked chicken in his mouth.
- Our coming home to find the dog had turned the front yard into a mine field – holes and piles of dirt everywhere
- Believing whole-heartedly that I saw an alien’s shadow on my parents closet door after I’d sneaked into bed between them, scared by a nightmare
- Never, ever, EVER letting my arm hang over the side of my bed, because my older sister told me monsters would eat it
- My older sister telling me her invisible horse would trample me if I didn’t do every single thing she commanded.
- Being worried (for YEARS) that I was legally married after pretending to get married while playing Gilligan’s Island (I was always in charge, and I was always Ginger)
- Getting bitten by a snake; my mother getting annoyed because I was nagging her about it while she was on the phone; her near hysteria when she hung up and realized I’d actually been bitten by a snake
- Accidentally drinking dishwashing liquid and blowing bubbles when I talked; I had to lie down and stay still.
- Floods. Cyclones. Bushfires.
- On a parentless sleepover, lying in the dark on a foldout bed, listening to what my friend and I were convinced was a man walking around the house
- Trapping my little sister in a locked car, holding onto her hands tightly, and emitting the loudest, continuous high-pitched sound I could make. You feel differently about me now, don’t you?
- A bunch of kids in the neighborhood dragging my mother down to our secret island (just some beach across a tidal creek) to look at a strange circle of oil in the sand. Her conclusion? Aliens. I absolutely believed her.
- Getting mad at one of the local boys because, after we gathered grass from freshly mown lawns and spread it out on the wide branches of our ‘tree house’, he peed on it.
- Climbing out my bedroom window to go and play when I was supposed to be cleaning my room.
- Sitting under an old woolen blanket and pretending the light coming through all the holes was stars.
- Cuddling my German Shepherd during thunderstorms.
What are your stories?