In the third grade, my elementary school held a poem writing contest to celebrate Arbor Day. As much as I would like to say I wrote a poem, won the contest and decided right then that I would one day be a writer, that isn’t what happened at all. I wrote a poem, that much is true, and it did gain the attention of the judges, as well as the entire school.
I will never forget standing in line one day and realizing something was going to be different for me. Teachers were whispering, pointing, and I overheard my own teacher say to another, “Yes, that’s her.” This is third grade, mind you, when the world is a fair and caring place, where good deeds are rewarded, only bad condemned. I knew I had done nothing wrong, but for some reason, I had an overwhelming desire to wet my pants.
My teacher had called my parents and they were waiting after school. We sat in the classroom and listened as she explained that my poem was disqualified from the Arbor Day competition. Although she had sworn that I wrote it while sitting in her class, the judges did not believe her. They said there was no way that a third grader could have written it.
I’m not trying to say it was that good. I described apple trees as pretty and oak trees as witty and they whispered to flowers in anticipation of spring showers. I’m not even saying I didn’t get any help on the poem, as I pointed out honestly. I mean, how many third graders can actually spell ‘anticipation’? But aside from a spell checker, it was my work, and aside from my teacher, my dad and possibly even my mother, no one believed me. Of course word got around school that I was a cheater and a liar and the rest of third grade was pretty much miserable. But aside from that, I learned a very important lesson. Life is not fair.
As a teenager, I wrote for my own entertainment. Instead of leaving notes for friends or my parents, I would write a little story which frequently brought a smile and often the comment, “You should write.” My response, “I don’t like rejection.” Truthfully, it never was the rejection that bothered me, it was humiliation that I wasn’t too excited about, and my only experience with writing had been just that: humiliating.
Although I know it is silly to hang on to a childhood memory for so many years, the pretty apple trees, thirsting for the first rain of Spring, haunted me for a long time. How many books have I written that never made their way beyond my own pen and paper? At least three. How many stories have I written that I eventually threw away, not wanting to share with anyone else? Hundreds.
As my own children were growing up, I made a point to let them know that life is not fair. However, I would add, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop trying, because one day, you might actually get your due. When my father passed away in 2000, I found the infamous Arbor Day poem, tucked away amongst his papers. As I held it, an elementary poem on a piece of gray paper from a Big Chief tablet written in the D’Nealian cursive of a third grader, I knew that by saving it, he was telling me the same thing. Keep trying, you just might get your due. I started writing again the next day, and haven’t stopped.
My stories, essays and articles have since been published in a variety of venues and I have received several awards for my work. Every time I feel the slightest drizzle, I remember the trees and flowers of my childhood, waiting for the rain that would give them new life. They have been patient, and so am I. Life may not be fair, but if you keep trying, you just might get your due.
And as for the poem? I wrote every word.