My Husband's First Writing Assignment (edited to final form)

Discussion in 'Family Life - Stories, Pictures & Updates' started by rebbetzin, Jun 4, 2012.

  1. rebbetzin

    rebbetzin Songster

    Apr 4, 2008
    Tucson AZ
    Some of you may know, my husband's company is in the process of moving to South Carolina. He decided not to go. And now he will soon be unemployed after over 30 years with the company.

    He decided to go back to school. And wants to do something different. He thought being a Paralegal might be interesting. So... he is takng a two year course of study. Right now he is in Summer School. This was his first assigment for Writing 101.

    I think it turned out pretty good!

    Sometimes You Just Have To Ask

    Here is a personal narative I just wrote for my Writing 101 class. It hurt to write and that is the kind of thing you share with friends, so here it is. Enjoy:

    Sometimes You Just Have To Ask

    There I was, a twelve-year old boy, on the day of the big race, tearing into the soap box derby racer that I, all by myself, had designed, built, and painted. I was laying into it, with a big claw hammer, as though it had perpetrated some unspeakable evil against me. My family, grandparents, uncle, and two sisters, just stood there, at a distance, transfixed and stupefied. Apparently, none of them could muster up what it took to do anything but stand there and watch the spectacle, with eyes like saucers and lower jaws resting on their chests. My first, and last, soap box derby race had just been run, and lost. I was so heartbroken, that we didn’t wait to see who won the derby. We just loaded my racer up and brought it back to where we lived: an apartment above my grandfather’s art supply and picture frame shop, in the Five-Points barrio of El Paso.

    A little less than one year had passed, since I had come home, alone, and found that my mom had taken her life. She had arranged for my sisters and me to spend the night with our next door neighbor. I didn’t want to sleep over there, but my mom had insisted. When I came home, I found the house strangely in disarray. Feeling something wasn’t right, I kept searching. In addition to the pill bottles all over the floor and the lipstick messages scrawled across all of the mirrors, I found my mom in the front seat of her car, in the garage, with all the doors closed. She was already gone. I managed to make the necessary phone calls to get the police and my family into play, before I came un-glued. My dad wasn’t available, since my parents had been divorced for four years. We were in El Paso, and my dad lived over two thousand miles away, in Chicago.

    Finding my mom like that left me feeling isolated and confused. No one ever took me aside and asked me what I was thinking, or helped me even to know what to think. I was just left to work it out for myself. As far as I could tell, it was “all my fault.” My grandfather, my mom’s dad, opened his home to my sisters and me, but I overheard him telling my grandmother that it was “just not handy to have to take these kids in, just when we were going to retire.” I was given a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear, and food to eat, but I never did feel welcome, or wanted. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t wanted. He just never said anything to lead me to any other conclusion, right up until he gave me a one-way plane ticket out of town, the day after I graduated high school.

    The ride home from my first and only soap box derby race had been silent. At least that’s how I remember it. I suppose it could have been different, had I been in a mood to talk. But I wasn’t. I was thoroughly ashamed of the work of my hands. Three days earlier, things had been different. I had actually been kind of proud of what I had created. But, when we pulled up to the staging area, on the day of racer inspection and impound, I saw my own racer framed against what my competition had brought to the party. If appearance equated to speed, I had already lost.

    At its core, my racer was likely very much like the others, built upon a good foundation of frame and mechanism. Unfortunately, the finish left much to be desired. To make the body of my racer, I had used mostly what was available in my grandfather’s art store and picture frame shop. I had stretched fine chicken wire over the racer, to provide a foundation for the body…still good there. But, the closest thing to body putty I had available was artiste-mix paper-maché. Not knowing the material I was using, and having no input from my grandfather, I thought I could just lay in the paper putty and sand it smooth after it had dried. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It turned into a lightweight substitute for concrete. Sandpaper had absolutely no effect on it, no matter how coarse the grit was, or how hard I rubbed. The results looked awful, like something the cat had coughed up under my bed. The derby rules set an upper limit on what could be spent to build a racer, and I had pretty much hit that limit. I couldn’t just strip it and start over, so I did what I could. I stretched wet brown construction paper over my failed body putty scheme, and glued it down. As the paper dried, it shrunk mostly smooth. I then sprayed it with gold spray paint from an aerosol can. It actually took several cans, since paper is apparently quite thirsty. I stenciled in a lightning bolt on each side, along with the name of my sponsor, my grandfather’s art supply business.

    When we arrived at the derby inspection and impound, where all racers were inspected for adherence to the rules, and where they would have to stay until the day of the race, I got my first look at what I was up against: racers with fiber-glass or laminated wood bodies, needle-nosed and smooth, with professional paint jobs. I couldn’t have been more ashamed of how mine looked. Ashamed as I was, I still had hope that my car would fare better in the race than it looked. “It might still be OK,” I thought. I really had no idea, however, because I had never run it down any hills. There had been no practice, no advice, no instruction…nothing. There really wasn’t anywhere in El Paso where one could run downhill racers safely, and the only input I got from my grandfather was his allowing me to take my materials from shop inventory. My very first test run was, in reality, my very first actual race, which I lost, right in front of all of El Paso. I was devastated, but not beaten. There was next year, and this was not going to happen to me, “ever again.”

    All the way home from the race, the only thought my head had room for was, “I’ve got to get started getting this car ready for next year, starting with getting that nasty body-work off of there.” I didn’t know exactly what I was going to use, but, my car was definitely going to stop looking like one of my cat’s hairballs…immediatamente (now, if not sooner)! As soon as we got my racer out of the truck, I wheeled it over behind my grandfather’s warehouse, picked up the biggest hammer I could find in the shop and laid into her. I knew what I was doing, and why, but nobody else did. The problem was that nobody bothered to ask. I was just old enough to race in the soap box derby, and I knew I had a couple more years to improve, and I fully intended to do so. However, when I got up the next day, and went out to continue my work, my racer was gone. It had been quietly and discretely disposed of. No one ever told me what happened to it, or why. It was just…gone. The incident was never spoken of, and my grandfather never tried to participate in, or encourage, any interest of mine again.

    Over the following years, being left to figure things out on my own, and to find my own way, I found myself increasingly on the outs with most people in authority over me. My own way, as it turned out, led me to smoking cigarettes and marijuana, drinking, and staying out all night. My philosophy was, “As long as I keep my grades up, who cares what I do?” No one, especially my grandfather, agreed with my philosophy. Neither was it possible to do so, seeing that no one bothered to ask me what my philosophy was, or to offer me a better alternative.

    In my later teen years, I was pretty much incorrigible. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, if I wanted. I continued to keep my grades up, but no one could figure out how or even why. No, I didn’t cheat. You see, it was the peak of the Vietnam War. I saw the body counts every night on the news. I saw the draft looming over me, like a vile green cloud of death waiting for me to inhale. The television commercials exhorted every day, “Be all you can be…in the Army”. As far as I could tell, my destiny was to, “Be all I could be,” alright…a smoking rib-cage with an arm and a leg hanging out of it, lying in a rice paddy somewhere. I just had to get some living in before being sent to Vietnam to fulfill that destiny. My grandfather was just not big enough to forcefully shape me into something other than a “horse’s ***,” as he put it. He never really tried to find out what I was thinking, or to really help me to see things differently. It didn’t appear to matter how I saw things at all. Finally, to put an end to my bad influence on my two younger sisters, as soon as he could find a suitable termination point, my high school graduation, he bought me a one-way plane ticket. Then, he looked me in the eye, shook my hand, and sent me two thousand miles away, to my father saying, “Come back when you’ve made something of yourself.”

    As it turns out, and just in time, my favorite president, Tricky Dick Nixon, stopped sending draftees to Vietnam. I didn’t have to go after all. As soon as the war was over, I signed up for the Air Force, certain I could get in and out before the next war. I was right, but I still had the seed of suicide, planted by my mom, to deal with. As I approached my thirtieth birthday, my mom’s age when she took her life, I was contemplating joining her. Instead, I gave my life to my Creator. After a couple of years of being dealt with by Him, I came to see my grandfather in a different light. I had never seen my grandfather as a man who had lost his baby girl. I didn’t really know how he felt or what he was thinking. I too, never thought to ask. Now it’s too late for either of us to ask. If we had, what a racer we could have built…together.

    Pictures of the Soapbox Derby Racer

    Last edited: Jun 7, 2012
  2. turney31

    turney31 Songster

    Sep 14, 2008
    palestine texas
    Oh my, what a wonderful, heartstring tugging, sad story. Very well written, I might add. I just want to scoop that little boy, young man up and hold him close... The pics are great!
  3. rebbetzin

    rebbetzin Songster

    Apr 4, 2008
    Tucson AZ
    Yes, it made me tear up, and I had heard parts of the story before, but never all put together as it is here.
  4. EweSheep

    EweSheep Flock Mistress

    Jan 12, 2007
    Land of Lincoln
  5. redhen

    redhen Kiss My Grits...

    May 19, 2008
    Western MA
    He did a wonderful job...he writes very, very well. :)
  6. sourland

    sourland Broody Magician

    May 3, 2009
    New Jersey
    A story too close to home. [​IMG]
  7. gg706

    gg706 Songster

    Jul 5, 2011
    [​IMG] Good job! Very heartfelt story!

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