One of my grandma’s friends, Sally, was going through her old papers recently when she came across a scrap from September, 1998. Apparently when I was little, my nana would take me with her to visit Sally, a retired schoolteacher who was fascinated by the stories that came pouring out of this jabbering toddler. One in particular evidently demanded recording:
This is Mother Land – It’s a place for mothers with fevers. Would you like to have a seat on our bench? Rule number one is – I’m going to explain to you about mothers with fevers and babies with colds. This baby has no cold. This baby has a cold that is SO bad – This is a big sneeze – a really big sneeze. The mother has a fever. It started in her head. The arrows show where the fever goes. It went down to her belly button. It went down her arms to her hands. It went all the way down to her toes.
Age 4, 9/22/98
This subject matter probably had to do with the fact that my baby sister had been born not eight months previously. I don’t know why I never explained what Rule Number One was, but I’m curious as to what my four-year-old self would have said! Similarly, I kind of want to know if the bench was a real piece of furniture or just a figment of my overactive imagination, and if I was actually drawing arrows on some kind of diagram while I said all this.
My parents always said I was telling stories my entire life. As my mom liked to tell people, I didn’t start speaking in sentences; I started speaking in paragraphs. I chuckled along, happy that my parents didn’t mind that I wanted to major in creative writing and work as a writer. But to see it written down is to see proof that I really have been doing this since I could talk. Sally’s beautiful handwriting, left over from a day when penmanship was as important in schools as the Pythagorean Theorem, captures my four-year-old imagination’s ramblings, setting my sentences down far more coherently than I probably said them at the time. Even though I can’t quite make out the narrative arc of this particular “story,” I can see the roots of one of my favorite fiction-building tendencies: fantasizing and describing new places and cultures, building a whole “land” out of thin air. This is where the magic begins for me, the words that will spill over into every part of the rest of my life: a four-year-old jabbering away.