Many years ago, when my children were in their teens, I was inspired to write four children’s books over a period of three years. They were short works, meant to be illustrated, and I was delighted when I completed the writing of each one.
The first was about losing my daughter, Suzanne, in Alexander’s Department Store, in Rego Park, Queens, New York, when she was four years old. This was a terrifying experience that I was sure other mothers and fathers could identify with and, thank God, it had a happy ending (we found her, unharmed). I was in my late 20s when I wrote the story, probably as a catharsis and to feel less guilty that I could actually have been careless enough to lose my small daughter in that vast department store.
It brought back memories of my mother’s – and entire family’s – frightening experience of losing my young brother years ago (he was about six years old) in a county park on Long Island during a day-long outing. That time, we had police, park rangers (“parkies” as we called them then), family and strangers all on the hunt. Bobby had wandered off and dozed in the woods, oblivious to the hunt and to our panic. When I wrote about Suzanne, I know that memory deepened my own feelings and my ability to get it down on paper.
I sent the book off to children’s book publishers and received a few “sorry, but try us again” replies, which motivated me to write the next books. These were all inspired by my children and their friends and, even though they were never published, I felt proud that I captured these moments to share with readers.
Unfortunately, I no longer recall the plots of the three subsequent books that I wrote. Sometime in the years that followed, I threw all four manuscripts out. Gone, my four children’s stories – all relegated to the trash.
Why? I still don’t know why. Maybe I was moving and trying to “downsize” the amount of paper in the drawers. I might have been having a “neat” day or week. This seems to be common reason writers and artists throw out stuff. It’s possible I looked at the file folders and said, “Who cares? I’ll never publish them.” I had not yet started teaching creative writing and couldn’t observe my own dictum for the next 20 years in classrooms: “Never throw anything out!” I have journals and diaries, photographs, address books, calendars – some going back to the late 1950s. Not a hoarder (any more than other writers), I nonetheless have held onto several drafts of the novels I’ve written. I’m sure my kids will show up in my office with large plastic bags, if not a torch, right I’ve gone on to my heavenly rest.
In writing Only You, the memoir about to be released by Oak Tree Press, so much old, filed material going back to the late 1950s came in handy. I’m completing another memoir, Dancing Hussy, set in the mid-1970s, about my new life as a single mom in the Hamptons and my adventures as a belly dancer/instructor. Written in bits and pieces, over many years, I still need to see that photo, remember that student’s name, and learn more details about master classes I took in New York City. There are plenty of books on the shelves, lots of vinyl in the record cabinet, pictures of the younger, slim and beautiful Eileen in costume, a 3 x 5 card index file of every student I taught over five years’ time. Just seeing a name on a card, looking at a book jacket or playing a record prompts memories.
Suzanne and Jeffrey are much older now – in their 40s. Whether or not I created works of art, those early children’s books were about them. The stories I wrote down displayed so much love and affection, all inspired by being a mother; their mother. I wish so much I could share the work with them.
The work is lost, however, and this is a major regret of my writing life. Perhaps some of you can identify, although I hope not.