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Smell the Coffee: Not a good source of material

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- My childhood was the bane of a wannabe writer.

It was normal.

My parents didn't smoke or drink. We ate breakfast and dinner together. Went on walks in the woods. Played board games and card games regularly. Camped in a tent. Sang songs in the car.

My sibling aptly played the role of the typically torturing big brother, although his abuse generally involved nothing worse than finding my favorite stuffed animal swinging from a noose. He terrified me with tales of creatures under my bed and that sort of thing, but if he hadn't moved to Ohio as an adult, he might have remained a halfway decent driver and I wouldn't have as much to write about, brotherwise.

It was all just so normal. We played kickball and had a treehouse and caught lightning bugs in a jar. We even had a big sandbox where one of the silly neighborhood cats used to hide its collection of stolen Tootsie Rolls. (Much as I loved Tootsie Rolls, and much as my brother swore they were OK to eat, I never could manage to wash off all the sand before they would melt.)

Anyway, it was watching a movie called "Happythankyoumoreplease" that got me thinking about the whole family-as-material thing. In the 2010 film written and directed by Josh Radnor ("How I Met Your Mother"), the main character, a writer, takes in a very young, semi-abandoned foster child, Rasheen. The kid has been passed around so much he doesn't even know when his birthday is because it's never been celebrated.

At one point, the writer says to the kid, "My great shame as a writer is that I'm just this suburban kid with good parents. I was fed, clothed, carpooled. Hardly Dickensian, y'know what I'm saying? I mean, you -- with your situation -- that's a goldmine. You've got tons of material."

Whatever my childhood lacked, material accumulationwise, my adulthood has made up for.

At times, overcompensated.

For instance, I've learned it's simply not possible for me to have a normal pet. When Celeste was little, I got her some fish. They grew hair.

One of our cats (a neutered 22-pounder with a few extra toes) has developed a fetish for fondling women's breasts. He can be relentless.

We have one dog that fears the outdoors, another that will lick the floor (or the couch or the wall) for hours on end, and a third that forgets who my husband is every time he leaves the room.

And then there's my daughter, Celeste. She's been my biggest (and favorite) source of material for nearly a decade and a half. The other night I went up to her room to find her sketching one picture after another. I flipped through the stack. She had conveniently provided titles, in case the art was too abstract. Among some of the titles:

"Front half of cow."

"Back half of cow."

"Back half of cow under water."

"Lady with bangs (I was going to name her Debbie, then didn't.)"

"Dog with socks on its ears."

"Dead moose."

Last year, a friend's mother gave me a box filled with old blank postcards from all over the world. Celeste picked through the cards, then went online and found addresses of total strangers across the U.S. to send the cards to.

A sample from one with a picture of the Washington Monument.

"I wanted to tell you I finally made it to the top and to ask for your forgiveness (and my dog back). Are you still mad I ran over your parrot? I really couldn't help it. He was behind my car and I couldn't see him! Please forgive me."

From one featuring a picture of otters.

"When I saw this, I thought of you. I remembered how much you love otters. We need to talk again soon. Much love, Bobo."

And then there's my husband, Geoff, whose public persona would have most believe he's a serious, professorial sort. Which he is. In a twisted sort of way.

Celeste was working at the kitchen table when she asked for his help spelling "aesthetic."

Geoff was eager to assist, and volunteered the information in a way she could understand: "A, as in amyotrophic. E, as in elegiac. S, as in synchronous ..."

My childhood might've been the bane of a wannabe writer.

But my life is now a gold mine.

Reach Karin Fuller at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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