Learning the alphabet launched me into my writing career. I started small. One word at a time at first. I spent hours with my box of crayons drawing simple block letters and putting them together into words. I started with three-letter words: cat, dog, hat—the usual Dick and Jane vocabulary.
NANA became my doodle word. I wrote NANA with crayons in coloring books, with No. 2 pencils on grocery bags, and in colored pencils on the scraps of paper. In one of my coloring books, I had not bothered to color in the images with any my crayons. I wrote NANA in big letters across every single page.
After exhausting every scrap of paper at my disposal, I turned to a bigger canvas. I uncapped my mom’s tube of fuschia lipstick and wrote NANA on the wall of my parents’ bedroom. NANA in big letters, small letters, and medium-sized letters. When my masterpiece was finished, I stepped back to admire my work and colored myself pleased.
My mom, however, saw red. I could sense her anger the moment I heard her growl out my full name. Gulp. I was in big trouble. With a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stood for paddle--as in getting a paddling.
I briefly entertained the idea of tossing my Barbie into a suitcase and running away from home, but I ended up crawling into Mom’s presence to face the music. It was the most sensible choice. I didn’t own a suitcase.
“Susan, who did this?” Hmm. Was there an outside chance she didn’t know? Seeing a very slight possibility there was a way out of a spanking or a sojourn in the infamous “Naughty Chair,” I lied.
“I asked you a question, young lady. Who did this?” She towered above me, hand on her hip, tapping one foot and pointing a finger at my impressive mural. (Yeah. Just like you see in cartoons.) Since she happened to be wearing the same color of lipstick as my letters, I briefly considered asking her if she was the culprit. But even at the age of five, I knew I couldn’t get away with that one.
“Well? I’m waiting.” Taking a deep breath. I looked up at her. “Nana?” As if my 50-something grandmother would sneak into my parents’ bedroom, equip herself with one of Mom's Max Factor tubes of lipstick, and write her name all over wall.
Okay, so I was lousy at lying. Mom knew it. I knew it. And if memory serves me, my brother, sister, dog, and my Sunday School teacher knew it. I don’t even think Mom had time to threaten me with “Just wait until your father gets home” before I turned and made a beeline to the Naughty Chair. For what seemed like hours, I sat in a corner contemplating what I’d done, and evaluating nearby walls that the potential to be a very nice canvas—should I choose to return to a vandal’s life.