The Star-News


Keeping track of the years in mini-biographies

Sat, Aug 31 2013 12:00 PM Posted By: Richard Peña

I think most writers, be they of the poet laureate type, or the hack version like the rest of us, has this tome, an autobiography if you please, stashed away somewhere in his files yearning to be free.

It occasionally sees the light of day and a few pages or perhaps just a sentence or two is added to it with the promise that in a day or two a greater effort will be made. But there it sits, gathering dust while the precious days are passing by.

Some years back I started a project that was going to encompass most of my life. It would be divided into phases, like most works of this kind, and would give the reader a full, but perhaps confused, idea of what that life was all about.

About five years ago I finished and had published the first phase titled “The USS Detroit Years.” The Detroit, you might know, was the naval vessel that I called home for more than six years. It was the unit that gave me my start as an adult and taught me those things that were going to carry me through the balance of my adult years. That book, by the way, met with more positive reactions than negative which might have been the catalyst for continuing the project.

The second part of this volume is titled “The Prospect Hill Years,” really, those growing up years that carry me from the time that I can remember to the time when I went into the Navy.

I have spoken to a number of persons regarding those first remembrances. I think that, in the case of most of us, those “first recollections” are more likely based on old black and white prints that we have seen in the family photo albums or anecdotes handed down from previous generations. In any event that is the conclusion that I have reached in my own recollections.

This portion of my biography is – like “The Detroit Years” – laced with anecdotes. They are actually incidents as I remember them. I have extracted a small portion of one of those sketches as an example, and will pass it on to you for your perusal.

“I do recall going to school for the first time. This actually, is the first incident that I truly remember. I have sometimes written, or related, about a decision that I made that might have changed the course of my life.  In those days kids who were seven years old had to be in school.  My birthday was in November.  The following incident, for whatever reason, I remember distinctly.  It was September and I was six years old.  My mother came to my bed that morning and asked me if I wanted to go to school.  Perhaps it was the uncertainty of what school was like or simply that I was too comfortable in my little nest of a bed. Whatever it was I said no.  And since I was only six years old I did not have to.  Of course, one year later I had no choice.  I was seven years old and had to enter the first grade.  What I have often mused about in the ensuing years was what turn my life would have taken had I gone to school a year earlier. I have imagined all sorts of scenarios. In later years I studied the thinking and philosophies of historians and all of them agree that something like what I imagined is sheer speculation, and speculation has no place in history.”

The balance of “The Prospect Hill Years” is sketches and remembrances similar to the above.  Whether it will – or not – meet with reader approval is sheer speculation and we already know what that means.  One thing we know for sure.  It will not meet with anything if it stays locked up in this machine.

By the way, on Bonitafest day I will be at the Kiwanis table signing and pitching my book, “The Morning Paper and a Cup of Coffee.”  Hope to see you then.


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