Tuesday, August 7, 2018


I think about my childhood a lot. It’s the curse of the kidlit author, because no matter if we’re writing fantasy, historical fiction, nonfiction, or any other sort of book intended for younger audiences, we are always mining our early years, if not for events and characters, then for perspective.

My memories, of course, are colored by the intervening years. There are the exaggerations I have come to believe, dreams conflated with reality, simplifications and embellishments, and the blatant lies I choose to tell myself. But mostly they are true.

For example, one day in the late sixties (I think I was about fifteen), my father, Tuck, arrived home after a long day at work. As was often the case, one of us seven kids—probably Bob—had left his bike in the middle of the driveway, preventing Tuck from pulling into his usual parking space.

Tuck got out of his pickup truck, picked up the bike, and threw it up on the roof of the garage. He got back in his truck, parked it, and never said a word to any of us about the bike.

Three days later, the bike was still up there.

“Dad,” I asked, “aren’t you going to get the bike off the garage?”

“No,” he said. “It remains as a monument to my stupidity.”

The next morning when I got up the bike was back in the garage.

With Tuck and Elaine, 1972
It was typical that Tuck never said anything to Bob—no yelling, chiding, or extracted promises. There was little scolding in our household. The bike on the garage roof was sufficient. Most of us kids were perfectly capable of climbing up there and bringing the bike down. But we didn’t, for the same reason Tuck left it up there.

Around that same time that I took up cigarette smoking. I kept it from my parents. Although I’m sure they could smell it on me, they never said anything. I would buy a pack of Camels for thirty-five cents from the vending machine at the bowling alley, and hide them on top of a rafter in the garage where no one would ever think to look.

One day Tuck was in the garage looking for something. He came back in the house and tossed me the pack of Camels. “You left these in the garage,” he said.

That was my smoking lecture.

A few years ago, Joel Shoemaker was writing a book about my books, and he interviewed my sister Amy by email, asking her about her memories of our childhood. He asked what our parents had done to “rein (Pete) in, or give him advice.”

Amy replied, “The question made me laugh. I read it to my mom and she laughed too. She said, ‘Advice? I don’t think any of you got advice!’”

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