When I was seventeen, Nana lived in Florida during the winter months and Massachusetts when it was warmer outside. I remember the first time she left and how much it created a sense of emptiness in me. I was desperately sad and would miss the many weekends at her house in Northampton. We ate silver-dollar pancakes for breakfast, then would shop at Caldor and Bradlees. Her house is where I learned to love black coffee, tea berries from the woods of Laurel Park, and open windows in the spring. We used to hear a train in the distance and talk about real stuff like love and God.
When we were apart, we wrote to each other. They were the real kind of letters with the medium white envelopes from CVS. The letters were written in pen, black or dark blue, and you had to lick the back of the American Flag stamps. Nana wrote in small, perfect cursive. I envied her writing, but her words and their meaning are what I didn’t pay enough attention to. She wrote about the Florida grapefruit she had for breakfast, the bright yellow daffodils that were growing in her yard, and she asked about Tyler, my first-born son. He was twenty-four days old.
Our writing stopped for a couple weeks after she found out I was pregnant. I was seventeen and still in high school. She wanted me to be a career woman and own a business one day like she did. She didn’t know what to say to me, or how to complement her modern beliefs with her old-fashioned teachings. She was born in 1925, and grew up believing unmarried women didn’t have babies, especially before they were eighteen.
Of course, she warmed to the idea of a new baby, and it’s hard to resist the charms of Tyler. So, we continued to write to each other, and the words came out fast. I wrote about my upcoming graduation, being a young mom, and plain old feelings. I felt a release and also appreciated writing as an art. I cherish our writings now and refer to them when I need or want to. One common theme she loved to sneak into many of the letters was the importance of study, and to never give up on my dream of going to college. She told me to work hard and I told her I would. Many years later, here I am.
I began a memoir a couple semesters ago and have picked it back up to finish it, and even committed to doing so for an independent study in my course at Westfield State University called Career Prep for Writers. It is taught by the one and only, Beverly Army Williams, and it is, as she said, bonkers. In this course, we learn to create our brand. It includes projects like career exploration and blog writing, as well as activities such as mock interviews and resume writing. The course makes my eyes cross and my jaw throb from clenching my teeth, but I thank God for it every day.
Professor Beverly leads with kindness and joins with compassion, and the group in our class is the warmest collection of supporters and fans any new writer could have. We have all committed to a study that is forcing us to look at the future, and I see evidence of this all over social media. The people in her class have new accounts or are working on old ones. Their brands are being created and they are thriving. I see their smiling faces and new stories, and I notice them actively living. What’s funny is that this “non-traditional” (I’m pointing my thumbs at myself.) student is no different.
Now I must employ this hope and energy and get to work. The memoir was sitting stagnant inside my HP yet still she lingered in my brain, causing disruptions in my other writing and building pressure. That’s why I tasked myself with the completion of it. The accountability was imperative, and I work best with a deadline. (I don’t have much time.)
Nana passed away on June 1, 1993. But she lives in my cooking, my need to be in the woods, and in my words. So, that’s where it all started, my love of writing. I wonder where it will go, or if it’s already moving, and when I can call myself a writer. I love being a mom and fighting fire formed me, too, but one day someone will say, “Teresa, what do you do?” I will say, “I’m a writer.” Cheers, Nana.