Fingers with prints worn away by a keyboard and a mind fried from years of writing led me to believe it was time to take a break from writing. I sensed it was time to drop the pen and permit my work to ripen, or perhaps be discovered. In all honesty, I had given up on the dream of earning a living through crafting stories. I told myself I’d return when I’m old to embellish each tale with a few minor details, and edit them if so moved.
A vacation was in order, I concluded soon after I retired as a writer. I wanted to go home and explore the terrain of Central Pennsylvania a bit more, before finishing the minor details of my next collection of short stories. I want my next self-published book to contain a collection of essays, all sharing the common setting of the enchanted land where I was born. I fear that my stories, written in haste over the past five years, lack essential elements of solid short stories. I needed to step away from the dinner table of poetic excellence and let my words digest.
As I read the masterpieces of literature from the ‘Assignment’ section of the Brooklyn Public Library during this refrain from a yet to begin career, I realize, when comparing my works to that of Homer and Steinbeck, that what enables many great literary works to survive the curse of time, is the writer’s ability to focus the reader’s attention to character detail. Vivid description of the settings where any story takes place is essential if words are to be researched, generations from now. My writing may be lacking in these elements. I need time to think this over.
The inspiration to start writing again came to me in a most unusual manner. I am convinced that life is forcing me to write, whether I wish to or not.
I was sitting in the passenger seat of my father’s Chevy Blazer last Friday evening as we slowly rolled into the Giant gas station in Huntingdon, PA. In Pennsylvania, Giant Supermarket runs a gas station in the same parking lot where almost everyone in the county shops for groceries. Families spending a certain amount on groceries at Giant Supermarket are offered ten cents off each gallon of gas. The sprawling parking lot is jammed. Cars and trucks zoom around unattended shopping carts that appear to be grazing like the many spotted cows in pastures and farms that surround this former mining town. Just making it to the pumps was treacherous for my dad as he raced past several speeding cars filled with groceries to be the next in line at the pumps. The place is a self-service, fill-as-you-go, merry- go- round. If one is too slow at the pump, the people of Huntingdon will beep.
Dad not only needed to fill up the tank of his Blazer, but he also wanted to buy a dozen or so night crawler worms at the gas station. He planned to take me fishing in a place called Blue Hole, along the river called Stonecreek, later that evening. It felt good to be off the train and smoking out a car window again.
“Is that Regina Hicks?” I asked Dad as I noticed a woman in the vehicle in front of us who looked just like my high school English teacher. She was my writing coach in high school and the reason I continue to write twenty-five years after graduation. Dad did not know Regina Hicks, but worked with her husband on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
“That’s her,” Dad reassured as I quickly leaped from his vehicle and ran to where a lady in two- inch tall, high- heeled pumps was putting a cap back upon a tank. I smiled as I approached her, neglecting to put out my cigarette. I must have appeared like one of thousands who always hound her when she’s out in public, pumping gas or shopping. School teachers like Regina Hicks, those who have worked in the same school for generations, have taught both fathers and sons. She must often be treated like a celebrity in Huntingdon, I realized as she tried to hurry away and get back inside her white truck before, I approached her to speak face to face.
“Are you Regina Hicks,” I asked.
“Yes,” she said, smiling, running delicate, crafty fingers through coal-black hair. “Were you a student of mine?” She asked, as if she had grown tired of such approaches from people and writers who had now become strangers and paparazzi.
“Not only was I one of your students, but I was your favorite student,” I said, challenging her to look deeper into my eyes. I still had a black and blue mark under my left eye from where I had been attacked by an unruly mob back in Brooklyn, but she pretended not to notice.
“I’ve had plenty of favorites,” she said, clearing the potential for embarrassment. “You look like a Booher,” she claimed.
“I’m Charlie Taylor.” I confessed, not at all upset, because I always considered the Booher boys of Southern High rough and sexy.
A reassuring, wider smile blossomed over her face. We talked for as long as we could as we held up traffic at a gas station in Huntingdon. I knew that running into her decades later was predestined—it was a sign to this struggling writer—fill up now, because we do not know how expensive words and gas will be tomorrow.
“Where do you live now?” She asked.
“I’m still in New York. I feel stuck there. Are you still teaching at Southern?”
“Yes—I’m stuck there. You know how it is. What are you doing home?” she asked.
“Going fishing with my dad at Blue Hole,” I replied, failing to mention that I was really home to gather inspiration to write.