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Coming of Age: A Writing Exercise
New Book Ideas
I always have new ideas for future books. The trick is to turn future into present. Time is always the deciding factor. I’ve got the motivation. I’m got the desire and the work ethic. I’m just short on time and no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to add hours to a standard day.
Of course, that is partially b.s. as well. I have time for other writing and I choose to do that. So maybe there isn’t a problem after all. I have made my choices so I live with them.
My normal procedure when I get one of these ideas is to write an introductory chapter, save it as a Word document, and then let it ferment in my brain for awhile. When I have time…if I have time…if I make time….I return to it and see where it will go.
I thought I’d share one with you. It’s obviously not finished. I have no idea if it ever will be. Right now it’s just a young newborn colt trying to get its legs under it. Standing up unaided would be quite an accomplishment for this colt at this time.
Anyway, enjoy! If you’re looking for an ending you’ll be sadly disappointed.
Tacoma, Washington was a city waiting for change in 1961. Most people who lived there at that time could not give voice to what they were feeling. It was a rumbly in the tumbly as our friend Pooh would say, a sense that something was about to happen, but whether it was good or bad they could not say.
At that time, in that year, Tacoma was the plain girl sitting in the corner of the gymnasium at a high school dance, resigned to being the perennial wallflower, somewhat satisfied with her life to date and more than a little apprehensive about her life to come.
The city’s history was a mixed bag of good and bad news. By 1961 it was tired and in need of rejuvenation, in need of vitalization and in need of shaking up. Again, it’s doubtful the citizens would have said that. They were locked into the business of living, the day in, day out grind of rise and shine, tote that barge and lift that bale, all the while tending to families and mending white picket fences. The Fifties of Ike and Mamie were gone. The logging industry was drying up, as was the smelting industry, the fishing industry and any other industry cemented in the stale past. The population had flat-lined, the downtown core was looking a bit dreary, and there was an ever-present smell of decay.
Still, there was hope. A new couple occupied the large white house on Pennsylvania Avenue three-thousand miles away, and Ike and Mamie they were not. They brought youth to the color screens of American televisions, and they seemed to symbolize the change so desperately needed. Threats, some real and some imagined, rose in the distance like storm clouds over the Pacific, and school children practiced duck and cover, but for the average Tacoman, life just plodded on. Barbecues were held, church was attended, family gatherings were dutifully attended and stories, some truth and some pure bullshit, were passed down from one generation to the next.
I turned thirteen years of age the year Tacoma turned eighty-six. I doubt either of us will forget that particular birthday year. It was a coming of age.
A Hot Summer
Looking back now, several things are burned in my memory. It was a hot summer by Tacoma standards. In July it hit ninety-nine degrees. That’s a scorcher for us weather-pampered Northwesterners. August seemed to be in the eighties daily. Great baseball weather and we all loved baseball.
The other thing I remember clearly is all the roadwork and public utility work that was done that summer. Huge trenches were dug to lay new pipe. Dust seemed to cling in the air for three solid months. It was a traffic nightmare for drivers. It was a playground for us kids.
It was the summer Karl and his family moved into our neighborhood. He and I became instant friends.
A knock on the front door. I answered and found Karl grinning at me.
“Let’s call some guys and go play ball at the park,” he said to me.
I grabbed my glove, bat and ball, told my mom where I was going, and walked with Karl the block to his house. Our phone calls netted five more players, all of whom promised to meet us at the park in a half-hour. Jefferson Park was a mile down the road, a straight shot down Monroe Street. Our Keds sneakers kicked up dust as we walked. Ten a.m. and already hotter than Hades.
I picked up a clump of dirt and tossed it at Karl. “Spahn goes for three-hundred today,” I told him.
“He’ll get it. Nobody can hit that curve of his. Sure wish I could be there to see it.”
Karl had three sisters. One of them, Eva, had just turned twelve. Blonde hair, blue eyes, damn cute and I had a crush on her. “What are your sisters doing today?”
“You mean what’s Eva doing, right? Why don’t you ask her yourself? You chicken?” He nailed me with a dirt clump and ran ahead.
Truth was, Karl was right. I was chicken. Girls confused me back then. Eva was way too pretty….pretty in an intimidating way…and I had no clue. Talking to her was painful. The thought of doing anything other than talk was way beyond my comprehension. Still I had my image to uphold.
“Nah, I’m not chicken. She’s too young and besides, girls are a pain in the butt. Why bother, right?”
Karl wasn’t buying it but he let it drop. Friends were like that back then. They knew just how far to push and then they backed off. Kidding around was fine but there were limits. He gratefully changed the subject back to safer ground.
“Do you think Maris can beat Ruth’s record? He’s got forty-eight now. Only thirteen to go.”
I was shaking my head. “No way, Jose. He’s going to choke big time. You just watch and see. Hey, did you see the bomb shelter the Peterman’s are building in their backyard? I’d hate to have to live in that tiny room underground for a month until it was safe outside.”
“Are you kidding me? Lisa Peterman is a good looking girl. That would be the greatest month of my life. If the bomb drops I’m running to their house and begging them to let me stay with them.”
We laughed the rest of the way to the park. When we got there the other guys were waiting for us. We played a game of Pick-up for three hours, the heat forgotten as we ran the bases with reckless abandon, just kids being kids, testing our own limits and learning about ourselves along the way.
And there was so much learning to do.
I woke up early that morning. A thunderstorm the night before made sleep restless at best. By seven I was dressed and eating breakfast. There were three more days of summer vacation and I was determined to make the most of them. I told my mom Karl and I were going for a bike ride, took my Schwinn out of the garage, met Karl at his house and then we pedaled off for a new adventure. I had to be back home by three to mow the lawn. Dad got home at five and there would be hell to pay if that lawn wasn’t mowed, but that still gave us seven hours to explore.
There was no micro-parenting back in those days. Parents thought nothing of their children going on bike rides to the far corners of the city. That day we rode to Point Defiance, a large park seven miles from our homes. We had lunch there, played on the beach, tossed rocks in the water, looked at the older girls in their bathing suits, and then decided to go check out the college and watch the coeds moving into their dorm rooms. Summers were for girl-watching and we were very willing participants.
The Puget Sound College was located in the north end of Tacoma, surrounded by a residential neighborhood of working-class people. Tall evergreens stood guard throughout the campus and provided shade on that warm day. Karl and I parked under one of those trees, leaned up against the trunk and watched the lovelies as they moved furniture and other belongings into Adams Hall.
“I can hardly wait for college,” Karl said as one beautiful blond after another paraded in front of us.
“Heck, Karl, you’ll have to pass high school first, and with your grades all bets are off.” I punched him on the shoulder to let him know I was kidding. “I don’t know, buddy. It all kind of scares me. Things are changing too fast, you know? Nuclear bombs are being tested. That’s scary stuff, man. And have you ever heard of a country called Vietnam?” He shook his head. “Well my dad says there’s going to be trouble over there. I guess President Kennedy is thinking of sending troops over there. I don’t even know where it is, but my dad says no sweat, we’ll kick their butts, but I don’t know. Seems like all we hear about is war or the chance of war. And I heard that somewhere down south there’s trouble starting up over Negroes not getting the same rights as whites.”
“You mean they don’t already? Hey, it’s weird, you know, but I never see any Negroes in our neighborhood. Why is that do you suppose?”
It was one of many mysteries that summer in Tacoma.
On the way home we were riding hard down 14th Street when we came upon several police cars parked in front of a home. There had to be at least ten police officers standing on the lawn of the brick house, and another twenty neighbors standing nearby. We pulled to the curb and stood looking at the action. After about ten minutes we spotted another friend of ours, Pete Vinich, so we went over to him and asked him what was happening.
“Some little girl went missing. Her mom woke up this morning and the girl was gone.”
“What was her name?” I asked Pete.
“Ann Marie Burr. My mom knows her mom so that’s how I found out. She just vanished. Went to bed in her upstairs bedroom last night and this morning she was gone. Nobody heard or saw anything.”
“That’s freaky,” I said. “Come on, Karl, I’ve got to get back home. Good seeing ya, Pete. See you at school on Monday.”
When I got home I told my mom about Ann Marie.
“Oh my goodness! I know her mother from church. Oh, those poor people. They must be worried sick. What in the world is happening? Who would do such a thing? I better cook a casserole for the Burrs and take it to them. You mow the lawn, Bill. I’m going to make them a meal and then go to the church and light a candle for that little girl.”
The late summer turned cold in the following weeks. The evenings were considerably cooler. The trees changed colors earlier than normal. Nature imitated life as change spread its shroud upon us.
Thanks for Reading
The fermentation process has begun. What will happen to this story is anyone’s guess at this point. It might take wings and fly. It might die a natural death of disinterest. We’ll just have to see what transpires.
For those of you who aren’t aware, this is based on a true story. On the night of August 31, 1961, Ann Marie Burr was kidnapped from her bedroom in Tacoma, Washington. She was never found. It has long been believed that she was the first victim of serial killer Ted Bundy who was a 14-year old paperboy in that area at that time.
It should also be noted that this is a “bare bones” first chapter. There are no character or scene developments here. This is how I write my first drafts. The storyline takes center stage in first drafts for me; in-depth development follows in the second draft. The first decision I’ll have to make is whether this will be fiction or a memoir. If fiction, I’ll need to change Ann Marie Burr’s name, obviously, but that’s a decision that will come at another time.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)