I grew up in a rural Vermont town with an eclectic mix of residents influenced by the local liberal arts college. Several of those residents sprinkled their influence on me throughout my life, and in retrospect, I wished I had appreciated or taken more advantage of them at the time. The white marble sidewalks where I walked to school; were the very streets that Shirley Jackson wrote about in her book The Lottery. The house she raised her family and died in (before I was born) was on the way to the College, the same route we would pick up an elderly gentleman in the rain; a poet whose translations of Pablo Neruda later opened my eyes to the rhythm and beauty of words. I studied Spanish literature largely due to his influence.
As a teenager eager to leave the confines of the small town, I babysat for Nick Delbanco’s children, I believe I was more the back-up babysitter than the ‘favorite’. I vividly remember him picking me up in a huge white convertible with red leather seats. He was barefoot and happily relaxed. I was mortified as a teen to be seen heading down main street in the open car with this old guy (he was likely in his mid 30’s). It wasn’t until much later in life, I read that he was the mysterious subject of Carly Simon song ‘You’re So Vain’. Whaa?
That same summer I was furiously saving to leave town; doing it in a big way by heading out to live for a year with a family I had never met in Bogota, Colombia. I was making big life plans and that’s all I could talk about. On one of my babysitting gigs, I got a late night call that friends would be arriving to the house, perhaps beating the hosts home. It was a small town, I knew just about everyone so this didn’t concern me. These were the days before we were all worried about abductions and babysitter murders. When I got that call, I had already let a man into the house and was having a chat at the kitchen table with Bernard Malamud, author of The Natural. He was interested in what I wanted to be and I knew I wanted to be a writer ‘someday’. He laughed after disparaging me for letting stranger in the house, and told me the secret of being a writer was to “just write..”ok
Oh to be my sixteen year old self again, what I would have asked of all of them!