May 2018 – “My Early Life”

I was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My mother, injured in a car accident, had been advised not to have a second child—so I was a risk. My father, a prudent man, bought cemetery lots as the doctor cautioned that one or both of us might die. I still have those lots in the Greenwood Cemetery in Brainerd—in case you need them—and obviously my mother and I cheated death and God had other plans for us.

My father was an engineer with the U.S. Geological Survey, my mother a former high school Home Economics teacher. My mom, dad, my older brother David (eight years older than me), and I lived in Chattanooga for only a short time after I was born before my dad got transferred to the survey office in Knoxville. Our new home was in South Knoxville in Colonial Heights at the end of a dead end street called Chalmers Drive. Few people had big homes then as now, but we had a fantastic yard with wonderful shade trees for climbing, a big vegetable garden, and an abundance of flowering shrubs and plants all over our yard.

Dad converted an old shed and chicken house into a wonderful playhouse that both my brother’s and my friends enjoyed. It had bunk beds, a table and chairs, and play items in it—a fun place we filled with childhood adventures. A small freight train ran by our property every day and we loved waving to the engineer and getting him to pull the train whistle for us as he passed. My young life was filled with outdoor fun—playing in the woods and fields nearby, taking hikes up Browns Mountain, coloring pictures and cutting out paper dolls on quilts under a shade tree, roller-skating and riding our bikes on the street and sidewalks, playing croquet or kick-the-can on warm summer evenings,  giggling and telling stories at spend-the-night parties. My dad helped me build a big dollhouse in the converted playhouse that I peopled with character dolls—all with rich personalities and individual stories… obviously the “writer” in me at work at an early age. My friends say I always created great “pretend” stories and dramas for us to act out and came up with great play ideas. I remember those young years growing up as good and happy days.

I became a “cat lover” in early childhood, and I always had one of more cats. My first cat was a stray that showed up at our Chattanooga home when I was a baby—a small, fluffy, yellow tabby. Mom took it in to feed it and then sent David around to the neighbors’ homes to look for its owners with no results. Looking for the kitten later, mom found it curled up in my crib beside me, my arm around it. From then on, my years were filled with many beloved cat pets. You can see a couple of girlhood photos here with some of our cats and kittens.

My love for books and stories started early, too. I read avidly, loved biking to the nearby library to fill up my bike basket with new books to read. I scribbled poems and stories later, worked with the school newspaper, and was a strong student. School was a place to learn, disciplined and ordered then, with no permissive dress codes or conduct indulged. I am grateful for that solid restrictive, but loving and encouraging, background as it paved the way for later undergraduate, masters, and doctorate studies, along with the discipline and skills needed for study and writing.

As I headed into high school, my father accepted a transfer to Arkansas, which did not prove a happy change for me. We moved to a more city environment and I missed the mountains and countryside of East Tennessee and my friends. I made some good friends and memories, of course, in those years in Arkansas but returned to Tennessee for college, eager to “come home.” I went to Maryville College for a year on an art scholarship but found the school, at that time in its history, heavy-laden with rules and restrictions, and I transferred to the University of Tennessee the next year, changing my major to education. In my heart, I wanted to write and illustrate, but my dad had closed the door to all the colleges I’d been accepted to for commercial art and illustration programs. In those years, a lot of decisions and choices were dictated by others—by parents, advisors, and authorities. It was a limiting time for women as well—in the midst of the age of domesticity—when most girls were pushed more toward gaining their “Mrs. Degrees,” marrying and staying home to raise kids, than pushed toward more ambitious career goals and dreams. Being overly ambitious then made me a bit of a black sheep. Still does sometimes.

I remember adolescence as an emotional roller coaster season with a lot of pressures and disappointments. I feel blessed that I met J.L. in my college years with relationships bouncing up and down like yo-yos. I’m grateful he doggedly pursued me, loved me, believed in me, and married me. I am sure that living with an artist and dreamer [for all writers are essentially artists and dreamers] has not been easy.  Both of us had a lot of growing up to do in those early married years, too—even after the children came. But with time and sharing our lives and dreams, we have become not only sweethearts but the best of friends.

J.L. was out of college, working in business sales, when we married, I was still finishing school and went on to get my masters, while living in an apartment near the university and later in our first house. My artistry goals had shifted to more practical educational goals and I was studying to work in higher education in career services when I got pregnant with Max. I remember with humor getting “the college job offer of my dreams” when I was six to seven months pregnant, as big as a tank and battling toxemia. It wasn’t a day and age when pregnant women were hired for power jobs—or any job. But I loved being a mother to Max and then about two-and-a-half years later to Kate, after we’d moved to our current home in West Knoxville. I found motherhood a wonderful, creative adventure, and J.L. and I sacrificed a lot for me to stay home as much as possible in those years, with me always carrying a wide variety of part-time jobs to help out economically.

In the early years as we became parents, J.L. and I also found the Lord in a new and rich way. We’d grown up in church and were believers, but we had no vital, personal relationship with God. The term for that “change experience” is not as important as finding and having this needed experience, but we were indeed “reborn” at this time. We found that faith filled all the empty places in us and began to make of us something new and better, especially as we read the Word and grew in understanding. Knowing God and growing in God is still the richest and most rewarding part of our lives.

As the children grew older I got into educational sales in the college arena, whetting my old desire to return to college work. I went back to school part-time—as I could save up enough for classes with side jobs—and began work on my doctorate in higher ed and leadership studies.  On right you’ll see me in one of my typical professional suits with my dad, mother, and brother.

I received my doctorate degree at UT the same year my son Max got his undergrad degree in art. Instead of working in college administration, as I thought I would, I ended up in teaching and taught for the next 18 years at Tusculum College’s Knoxville branch while working a variety of part-time marketing, sales, and PR jobs and in J.L.’s business. At Tusculum I taught a variety of Research and Psychology courses, including Rudiments of Research, Organization and Analysis of Research, Educational Psychology, Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Gender, Adult Development and Aging, Theories of Counseling, and Introductory Psychology. Teaching and sales pushed me forward in developing leadership skills, speaking and marketing abilities, creative initiative, and good time management competence.

It wasn’t until the children were finally grown and gone from home that life opened time for me to write—around my other work roles. So you might say I’m a “late bloomer” to the writing life. However, life before this time had strengthened and trained me to handle this new role more efficiently, developing in me the self-discipline, confidence, and initiative needed to write diligently and well—and to market my work—when the time finally opened.

So here I am now, ten years after signing my first book contract, finally writing full-time and able to really call myself a “career author” at last. I am a prime example of the quote: “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” Like a little ship, battered with life’s storms, I’m still sailing on—finally doing what I was always intended to do—and grateful and blessed to be doing it.

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