Last week I had the privilege of speaking with Jan Karon. Jan is responsible for writing the much loved series of Mitford novels, 14 in all, including her most recent, To Be Where You Are. She is a #1 New York Times best selling author who didn’t decide to focus on writing until she turned 50. One of the things I found the most interesting in our conversation was that she knew she was going to write novels from the time she was ten. She can remember very vividly where she was when the thought or vision came to her and she knows she was only ten when it happened. It got me to thinking about what I’ve known since I was ten. Maybe you’ll have a chance today to think about the same question.
Picture: Laurie at 10-years-old with her brother and grandparents.
When I was ten I knew that my mom and dad loved me, they told me that God loved me too (which I had to find out for myself as I got older). I knew that most kids in my school didn’t love me so much. I was unpopular and because my family moved several times when I was growing up I was often the new kid in class. I was extremely thin which always made me a target for bullies. I also had very dark hair not just on my head but my arms and legs as well. This gave the bullies even more ammo. I remember once when I was a teen-ager a young woman who I worked with literally gasped when she saw my arms and said, “they look just like a little mans.” Body shaming is different than other types of teasing that kids endure. It sends a message that you are not lovable simply because of what you look like, of how you were created. I spoke to a woman once who confessed that she never thought of skinny kids being teased because she was overweight as a child and had always been ridiculed for being heavy. Having been teased thru-out elementary and well into middle school for what I looked like created self image issues for me that follow me to this day. It is the one thing I knew when I was ten that changed my life long perspective the most, well, second only to knowing I was loved by my parents and God. I can’t imagine how kids survive who are constantly reminded by their peers that they have no worth and then have to go back home to parents who do the same. I also knew I loved books when I was ten. Some children cuddle up with stuffed animals at bedtime, I would pile in bed with all my Children’s Literature books, which I still have, there were over 20 of them, it was a series.
Not very comfortable physically but very comforting emotionally to me. As an adult, I still feel the best when I go to sleep, if I have a small stack of books on my nightstand. My husband and dogs would probably protest if I piled them all in our bed like I used to when I was young. I liked stories so much that I used to write them and act them out at family get-togethers. One tip for anyone else who enjoys this, if you have multiple characters in your story, it’s always easier to get cousins who are younger than you to participate. I’m sure there were many things I knew when I was ten but I’ll leave you with one more. I knew I loved music. My mother was a wonderful piano player, she played “by ear” as some say and I could always feel her emotions when she played. Her side of the family was very musical so when we would get together for holidays there was always alot of singing involved. When I was ten my mom used to take me to elder care facilities to sing to the residents many of whom didn’t get alot of visitors. She would play the piano and I would sing. We’d go downtown to the homeless shelter and do the same. This was a shelter for men where they had to sit thru a short meeting before they could eat and sometimes we were the musical entertainment. To this day I’ll be out somewhere maybe at a store where they have music piped in and suddenly I’ll hear the Moonlight Sonata come on and think of my mom. Hearing live music being played in your home when you’re growing up gives you a huge appreciation for it’s power, I’m sure it’s one of the reasons I love playing music on the radio so much. I remember once when I was only four, I was supposed to sing a solo in church and as we were sitting in the service waiting for the invitation to come up to the front, I started getting very nervous and whispered to my mom that I didn’t think I could do it, I was too scared. After much cajoling she promised me she would get me a new dress if I did it. So I did. I think I forgot some of the verses but I sang out loud on the choruses and I got the dress. It was red with a little pocket on the front, the pocket was a man’s face, he had a handlebar mustache and rosy cheeks, for some reason I thought he was a barber. Strange what we remember isn’t it? My books and music were a wonderful escape for me growing up. When the world was unforgiving and unkind I could always go to my bedroom, close the door and read a book or put a story on my record player like Peter and the Wolf. Some days music was the better elixir for whatever was bugging me. Either way, I could be surrounded by a world of my choosing for just a few moments, it was magical. Now take a minute and think about that question for yourself. What did you know when you were ten?