This month’s blog theme—Trains, Planes & Automobiles—provides me an opportunity to share a fond childhood memory.
I grew up in Keokuk, in the southeast corner of Iowa. My aunt & uncle lived 400 miles away in Spirit Lake in Iowa’s northwest corner. Given that Iowa had no diagonal roads in the late 1950s—it still has dang few—it took a LONG time to tack across Iowa by car. With Mom at the wheel, it took even longer, since we drove at posted back road speeds, stopped to visit sites like the Little Brown Church in the Vale, paused to chow down on meatloaf sandwiches, and visited, oh, a dozen filling station restrooms since Mom, my sister and I seemed to keep different bathroom schedule.
All of this is to explain why Mom decided to put her ten-year-old daughter (me) on a train to Spirit Lake when I begged to travel a week ahead of the rest of the family so I could attend Camp Foster, a really cool YMCA camp with canoeing, archery, and all kinds of fun stuff.
The travel plan sounded straight forward. Mom would drive me the first 100 miles to put me aboard a passenger train for the remaining 300 miles. Then my aunt and uncle would collect me. I didn’t have to change trains, and the trip was slated to take maybe six hours. The conductor assured Mom he’d take care of me.
Turns out I was the sole passenger in the only passenger car. All other cars were filled with passengers who mooed. So the passenger car got bumped at our first stop, and I got to ride in the caboose. Fortunately, I knew how to play poker, the conductor’s game of choice.
About three hours in as we approached the engineer’s home town, we encountered some sort of mechanical problem. The engineer took me to his home, where I played with his red-haired daughter Zelda—I can still picture her. The engineer collected me hours later when whatever problem existed was fixed. And I went back to playing poker in the caboose.
Of course, I was oblivious to the fact that my mom, aunt and uncle were frantic that I was hours late. My aunt finally reached someone who told her that one little girl and several hundred head of cattle were headed her way—just a little late. I had a blast. The trip was almost as much fun as Camp Foster.
Maybe these kinds of experiences are why I remain a “seat of the pants” author, who never outlines a novel before she starts writing. I like the freedom to veer off in different directions as new plot opportunities arise. It keeps the writing fun.
So do you go with the flow when the unexpected happens? Does your willingness to improvise/adjust have an impact on how you write?