During this community-building event, each family works as a group to recount a treasured family story. Funny, poignant, inspiring, the results are illustrated stories that unwind on long paper strips. Refreshments and reading follow.
One participant, Lisa West of Portland, OR, recounted her experience for an online writers' newsletter:
That Girl... One Last Thing by Lisa West
The other night, my family had a free weeknight, our first in a long time. No practice, no Girl Scouts, no social events, nothing. I'd planned to make a nice dinner (to us a nice dinner is anything that doesn't come from the freezer section of the grocery store or a drive-up window). After that, I thought we'd watch a movie together or maybe play a hotly contested game of Clue, or have a Nintendo tournament. To say I was looking forward to a fun evening with my kids would be an understatement.
As soon as I picked up the kids that evening, my daughter Alex asked, "Mom, are we doing anything tonight?"
I cringed. "Well, I'm grilling some chicken for dinner, and then I thought maybe we'd play some Nintendo."
"So we're not doing anything, then?"
"Yes, we're doing something: I just said we're having chicken and playing Nintendo." Their friends think it's so cool that their mom plays Nintendo, but my kids are not impressed. They've figured out that I actually bought it for myself, and it was just a happy coincidence that they'd been asking for one.
"But we don't have to go anywhere?" I couldn't tell if she was happy to be staying home, or if she was leading up to something. I shouldn't have wondered. She's always leading up to something.
It turns out Laura McGee Kvasnosky, author and illustrator of the Zelda and Ivy books and many others, was doing a presentation at the school that night. Since Alex wants to be an author and illustrator, she really wanted to go. Although I usually enjoy meeting authors, I wasn't terribly enthused about giving up a free night with my family for it.
"But Mom, she's a writer! I want to meet a writer!" she told me.
"Honey, I'm a writer, and you already know me," I replied, maybe a bit defensively.
"No, I want to meet a real one."
What's that they say about a prophet never being accepted in his hometown? I think it goes double if the prophet happens to be your mom.
When I was in high school, the author S.E. Hinton, who wrote, among others, The Outsiders, came to visit. I was (and am) a big fan of hers, and was hoping to get a chance to meet her. However, she only met with a small group of students, selected by a few teachers. For whatever reason, I wasn't in the group. Not that I'm bitter.
So, of course, we went to see Laura McGee Kvasnosky. I dragged my feet, but we went. It may have had more to do with S.E. Hinton that anything, but I didn't want Alex to miss the opportunity.
When we arrived (late) at the school cafeteria, Laura was already talking. There were only about 15 families there, each taking up one side of a cafeteria table, which was covered with butcher paper.
As we sat down at our table, I was silently scolding my kids (you moms know what I'm talking about) for taking too many cookies at the refreshment table. Laura was talking about family stories, about how every family has them, and they're interesting, and they should be shared with others. After a while, the families were instructed to talk and come up with a true story from the family folklore.
Our family debated about which story we should tell. We eventually decided to go with the drama of our dog Riley being hit by a car. Over the next hour, we all illustrated the story, then Alex wrote the words.
When everyone was finished, Laura encouraged us to walk around the room and look at others' creations. There were stories of lost pets, broken-down cars, a sleepwalking brother, and a dad who had some sort of pancake accident. Some were funny, some were sad, but all were interesting.
It gave us a chance not only to spend some time on a family activity, but also to see some different sides to the people around us – the parents I see at class parties, soccer practice, and PTA meetings, and the kids my daughters see in school, at basketball games, and Girl Scouts. That night, at least, I wasn't just the single mom who coaches sports. I was someone whose dog had been hit by a car. The man across the table from me wasn't just the husband of Alex's drama coach; he was someone who had lost his father just a few weeks before.
Laura came over and read our story, and talked to Mackenzie and Alex for a while. She seemed very interested in what they had to say, and she complimented me on how nice they are (of course, had to get that in here). She helped us roll up the huge piece of paper containing our story so we could take it home.
As we were leaving, Alex grabbed my hand and walked me back to Laura. "I just want to tell her something," she said.
"Okay, but let's hurry," I said. "I'm sure she wants to go, and we need to get home, and I'm tired."
When Laura turned her attention to us, Alex said, "My mom's a writer, too."
It was a great night. There was an inspiring talk by a writer, a chance to get to know some of the people in our community, and my daughter introduced me as a writer.
It wasn't exactly like I'd planned, but I couldn't have asked for a better evening with my family.
Copyright © April 5, 2001, Einkwell New Media, used with permission.
Read Lisa West's weekly columns at www.einkwell.com.
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