I have escaped into a vast variety of worlds of my own making for as long as I can remember.
Born at the end of World War II in Germany, I was not only lucky enough to survive unharmed thanks to my incredibly resilient mother, but I was also young enough to have absolutely no recollection of the horror of it all.
Although food was scarce and I was often hungry during my childhood, there was next to no crime in the small town where my mother and I had ended up after fleeing from the eastern war zone. Therefore, claiming the entire village and its surroundings as my playground, I spent many hours roaming through the fields and woods of the hilly countryside, before resting up in a “Heu-Manderl,” a tepee-like contraption of two poles crossed into an X, which was covered with fresh grass clippings to be dried into hay.
I would crawl in at a narrow opening at the bottom, roll onto my back, and spy through the tiny hole left at the top. Shielded from the weather – as well as people – I would lay there for hours, watching the clouds drifting, shifting, and regrouping into anything imaginable. I pictured large birds chasing smaller ones; sinister-looking monsters of all shapes and sizes hunting down a fleeing herd of fluffy sheep – and on rare occasions the sinking sun would splash specks of gold onto a particularly unique creation – highlighting it, blessing it – if only for a moment.
As I watched in awe, the cast of ever-changing characters would continue taking center stage “up there” to play out chases, battles, dances, and embraces.
As with most kids, my fantasy world compensated a great deal for what I did not have, which in those days was mostly material things. However, the intangible riches I received in those quiet moments in the countryside would be mine to keep for a lifetime. I didn’t need TV, computers, or any other digital devices to entertain myself. My unfettered young mind supplied me with everything required to create any scenario I wanted – from sad to happy, thoughtful, funny, exciting, even dangerous.
In elementary school, I took to classic poetry like a fish to water. I loved the rhythmic pattern of rhymes and soon composed my own “dramatic” ballads in tune with the tragic tales of the Middle Ages. Then, after being introduced to the work of a regional dialect poet, I copied his approach and, writing in the local tongue, I concocted some melodramatic verses to laud the beauty of our village. My mother’s best friend – my “favorite aunt” – quickly became my biggest cheerleader. Being a poetry buff herself, she did not only familiarize me with her favorite writers, she also infected me with her insatiable appetite for books in general. That woman read and read – and soon I was following her example.
“Here,” she said, “now you can capture on paper everything that moves you.”
It didn’t take long for me to embrace the tremendous joy I derived from regularly recording my thoughts and feelings.
In high school I picked up another admirer – my language teacher – who often read my stories out loud to the class. Later on, this dear lady actually tried to arrange a journalism apprenticeship for me at a Munich newspaper. Unfortunately, in those days, my family’s finances didn’t allow for me to live away from home – so this remained a pipe dream.
I kept my diary going all the way through school, and even during the year I spent in Great Britain to improve my English. However, my journaling screeched to an abrupt halt shortly after I arrived in the United States. Almost overnight, my life had turned into a roller coaster of “all work and no play.” I got married, had children, and devoted a great deal of my energy to a husband whose primary focus was on making as much money as possible. What I liked to do best gradually disappeared in the chaos of it all.
I was also keenly aware that in order to publish anything in the United States, I would have to polish my American English to a shine. So, whenever I could squeeze some extra time out of my busy schedule, I took college classes – mostly at night and on Saturdays.
That’s where I encountered a flamboyant creative writing instructor who praised my work – and encouraged me to stick with it.
Finally, after years of much effort and little sleep, I received my college degree in journalism – with honors – in English.
I had achieved one very important personal goal, but my partnership had taken a beating – and even before I finished school, my marriage ended. I still wonder if the father of my two terrific children ever really understood that becoming rich was just not a top priority for me.
As I mourned the loss of “what could have been” as far as my marriage was concerned, I turned to the one thing that has always giving me comfort: my writing.
Finally, gradually, my stories found an audience.
A hometown newspaper published a travel report of a trip to the Berlin Wall; a well-regarded local business magazine accepted a commercial article; an out-of-state magazine published a short story; then a small Arizona publisher, a local magazine, and two religious publications – one in Canada, one online – picked up some of my personal essays; and an opinion piece of mine made it into a newspaper.
Of course, with the advent of the internet, I was able to access other avenues – and as of today, my essays, short stories, articles, and poetry have been published in the United States, the UK, Canada, and online.
One of the highlights of this upward spiral was my story, “My Mother’s Legacy,” which appeared in Chicken Soup of the Soul, Thanks Mom.
I have completed three novels – two of them polished and ready to be sent out; one in dire need to be revised – and I am working on a fourth one.
And now, as a doting grandmother, I am delving into children stories as well – at this point mostly verbal ones. Giving my precious five-year old grandson the choice of looking at a book together or letting him help me weave a brand-new adventure, time and again he will opt for the latter, adding, “Oma, you tell the bestest stories.”
Those weird, wild and sometimes seemingly endless tales we concoct together may never turn up in print anywhere – but seeing my grandson’s eyes light up with those first sparks of appreciation for allowing one’s imagination to run free and endowing ordinary words with magic, serves as the ultimate incentive to keep me writing more, much more…
What a wonderful way to spend the autumn of my life.
About the Author
HM Gruendler-Schierloh submitted her piece “Making Magic” for the ‘My Writing Journey’ Competition sponsored by The Writers’ College. She is the joint winner for the September 2013 prize.
Image credit: Flickr.com_Jo and Paul’s Pics