Sunday, December 27, 2009

Ghost of Christmas Past

I've spent a bit of time today trying to find a digital picture of the house we used to live in. I have a framed one on display to remind all of us how things used to be, but the scanner's not working, so I'm going to have to give you a brief description instead: It was a little, square, flat-roofed box of a rental--about 400 square feet. Twenty feet by twenty feet. And since I'm less than 2 inches shy of being six feet tall, I like to keep it in perspective by saying it was three-and-a-half of me this way by three-and-a-half of me that way. I also like to say that the bugs were just letting us live there. The windows were cracked (or BB gunned) and painted closed, the kitchen floor sagged over the dug-out basement, and the plaster walls and ceiling were peeling and had a recurring mold that I couldn't seem to bleach away. We fixed it up the best we could--repainting, re carpeting, putting up a little white picket fence--but as Mark says, it's not really possible to polish a turd. He's also the one who promised me that someday we'd look back on our years there and think of it as being our honeymoon cottage. (He's that kind of optimist.) And really, the first few years were all right. Well, except for the gang activity in the neighborhood, the domestic violence across the street, the burglary, the drug deals in the alley behind us, and the homeless people on our porch. We got two big dogs (to guard against the goings on in the neighborhood), and then we started a family. Now, as you might imagine, I've got lots of stories about living in this place. There's Dead Cat Bob and Fat Larry and...well, the list goes on and on. And for those of you who have read them, there's a lot of Sammy Keyes world created from that environment. "The Bush Man" and Hudson...they live "down the street". The Salvation Army? It's right around the corner. As is St. Mary's church and the mall and the police station... But really, I need to reign this in and talk about the reason I'm bringing this up in the first place, and that's Christmas. I love a Christmas tree. Everything about it -- the smell, the look, the lights, the ornaments--it's like a festive piece of outside in the comfort of inside. We did not have room for a regular tree in this house. With two big dogs, two small kids, and us, we barely had room for ourselves. So every year we'd store a bunch of our stuff under a collapsible table, put a table cloth that draped to the floor over it, and pop a little table-top tree on top of it. And every Christmas I would tell Mark, "This is the LAST Christmas I'm going to spend in this house!" 400 square feet felt like 200 on a good day, but around Christmas that shrank to about 100. But it takes some time to save up enough to buy your own house, and since neither of us had a job that paid a lot, we scrimped and saved and dreamt of "next Christmas". One year turned into two, turned into five, turned into ten, and meanwhile, I was getting up early in the morning before work to write a little on these stories about a girl named Sammy. I had a dream that someday I'd be a published novelist, and even though no agent or editor in New York seemed to share that dream with me, I wrote four complete Sammy Keyes books at a fold down desk, using the edge of the bed as a chair. Ten years in this house turned into twelve, and finally we'd saved enough money to start building our very own "dream house". Too bad for Mark, because shortly after we started the process of building our own house, I got my book deal with Knopf / Random House for the Sammy Keyes books. And right around the time we moved in, Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief won the Edgar for Best Children's Mystery. So of course everyone thought we were now "rich" because of Sammy, not because we'd scrimped and saved and lived in cramped quarters for a dozen years. But anyway, back to the tree. We now get a full-sized tree. (An entertaining process in and of itself, as Mark likes the bushy pine and its pine-y smell, and I love a fir and how it allows you to dangle ornaments between the branch levels. You should see us in a tree lot battling it out.) Anyway, this year we found the most beautiful tree ever--not huge, just perfect for the space we put a tree--tall and not too broad. (It is a fir, but even Mark agrees that it's the most beautiful tree ever.) We spiraled white lights through it, and hung ornaments that are all music related, with "drums only" on one side (my concession to my drummer-boy husband, for bringing in a fir instead of a pine). But the point is, since we've moved I always think of Christmases in our little rental and how far we've come. And I know that I wouldn't appreciate the tree I have now, if I hadn't gone through several years of table-toppers. And no, I don't look back on the little place as being a honeymoon cottage. I still have nightmares about spiders. But I do see the value in having lived there. I recognize that from struggle comes appreciation. I also think that trying to forget about the past interferes with appreciating the present. I don't romanticize those dozen years, but I don't shove them from my mind either; I'm not glad I experienced them, but I do appreciate how they've help shape my outlook. I'm really, really glad for what I have.

38 comments:

Mark Parsons said...

Hey, I LIKED that little house. :-)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Yeah, you and the bugs :-) (But I musta liked YOU!)

Pooja Dimba said...

:) Nice!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Awh! Love this post! It's *so* ironic because today me and my sister were talking about our old house from a long time ago. We named it Burridge, because it was *in* a place called Burr Ridge (in Illinois..) We were remebering memories of us burning the kitchen when we five.. and taking apart the *whole* brick fence by our own little five year old hands lol (my sister was 5, i was 2/3), with our cousins..And everything... And now when we go back to it to see it, its all different. Someone bought it, changed it, now its on sale again. It looks so different and we want to go look inside but we're so afraid of the memories we made in those walls to be gone. We lived in it with all our cousins (so it was a pretty big house!) and I really miss it.
So, your story made my day. Thank you! I know we all have memories in certain places and with certain people and things (like in Peoria (Illinois again) when me and my mom, dad and sister used to live there, my dad was in a terrible car accident (some lady in a red BMW hit his car) and it changed all out our lives. I was exactly five and didnt go to school yet (long story)) Right after the accident we moved here, to a Chicago-suburb. It's been years but we're still living and thats all that matters. :]
Of course I miss my old home in Burridge, and my home in Orlando, and my home in NYC, and in Peoria... but I'm okay with here now, because more memories will be made... :]
Oh, and I'm 13 now.

Thank you for the nice post! :] <3
Xo

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Did you get a chance to read those lovely 40 comments on you last week's post yet? :P 1/3rd of them ere from me, lol:)

Pooja Dimba said...

I love Christmas Trees!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Lol like my new profile pic? Some people tell me I look like a Sammy but I cant act so nI wouldnt even bother trying out if there was a movie. But the music is a different story. =]

xxCammyLoverxx said...

I feel bad for commenting so much. Should I stop?

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Hey just wondering when does the SK website get updated? It says CHC is still coming out.. lol :P

Lola Splendid Art said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Manderz said...

Hi! I sent you an email with my ideas and some questions. Hope you reply!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

I'm planning to get to the e-mails tonight (it's been crazy busy around here) -- thanks for your patience!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Huzzah! More and more people are commenting and followin/reading my Sammy Keyes fan-blog. ;D I'm so happy. :) I have a link to your blog on my fan blog so people *better read and care about your blog more than mine, because you are the real author* or *else*.. Grr. lol, jk, but I'm glad people like it! It motivates me to go on. ;)

xxCammyLoverxx said...

And I just 'shared' your blog on Google Reader, Twitter and Facebook. Always good to spread the word(s)!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Way to go! :-)

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Yep! And you wouldnt believe how much the SK Fanfiction section grew since May 2008 I think. In May 08 it was like 15, now its 122 stories. :D

xxCammyLoverxx said...

You know what I just realized? You're one of the nicest adults I've ever spoken to. :)
Oh, and, I was reading some random websites about SK13 and some said it's coming out next summer and some said its coming out from somewhere in b/w January and March and *some* said its coming out, like, near December! :/ So which one is it? :)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Hey, thank you for that. People think I'm nuts for answering fan mail (I get piles of it, and I admit that answering it is a daunting task), but I just try put myself in the shoes of the person who wrote it. I think it's a good way to live life (in general). Anyway, what I know about Wedding Crasher's release date is: "Fall 2010". But I think it's early fall. As in late summer :-)

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Woah! Theres way more SK fan blogs than you'd think of! I found like 4 new ones today! :)

Pooja Dimba said...

You are the nicest adult!
Thanks for sending me an email!!!
I brag about, how I've talked to a famous person multiple times before.
And your the GREATEST author!;)

Purple said...

Wendelin, you are the BEST writer ever. I must say, I love the Sammy Keyes story but my favorite book of all the books ever I've read is Runaway. I have 2 copies 'cause my orginal is so worn out from when I read 43 times

Purple said...

Wendelin, OMG!!!!! I just found out about SK and the WC because I didn't know you had a blog so I googled it and now I'm so happy and I can't stop talking so hold on a minute.
Sorry I'm just so happy but sad when I found out I have to wait til the end of the summer!!! Sammy Keyes series and Runaway are my favorite books. I was wondering: can you make a prequel to Runaway?
Holly is so cool. I read Runaway 43 times and I never get bored of it. I can't believe that you had difficulty with poetry cuz if you read it you'd never guess. Anyway, I can't wait til the next SK book cuz I LOVE Casey and I love how at the end of Cold Hard Cash you made Sammy fall in love with him and she didn't realize it cuz it's very realistic. Well, I just can't wait. I have 4 pairs of high top Chuck Taylors cuz of Sammy. Sammy is so cool and I like how she illegaly lives with Grams. Okay, I have to stop talking but I feel like I'm talking to YOU, Wendelin. Oh, and at school we had to do Fav. Author Posters and I picked you. Everyone's like, "Who's she?" and I'm like, "The best author in the world." And you are, Wendelin.
Your #1 fan wrote this
(Sorry it's so long)
Please Reply!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

It's New Years! (12:15 am to be exact... I'm insomniatic) but... ITS JANUARY FIRST.
The day Sammy met Casey!
CAMMY-ANNIVERSARY. <3
So I should say Happy Cammy Anniversary! <3
Have a great year!
xo

xxCammyLoverxx said...

I just made a Casey/Sammy timeline thing for the months! Like, January: they met [and whole explanation here] and in Febraury, blah blah. So please check it out when you have the time! It's on the Cammy blog...
HAPPY NEW YEARS!

Purple Monster said...

xxCammyLoverxx is right about the Cammy Anniversary!!!!! Happy Cammy Anniversary!!!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Who but me would remember/know that about New Year's? You guys! Happy New Year to all of you!

Purple Monster said...

Happy New Year to everyone!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Theres rumor that not only Officer Borsch and Debra have a wedding, but Warren and Lana have one too! My opinions on that? I personally dont think so because no one gets married that fast.. well, you never know (it *is* Lana, ahaha) ;D I really cant wait! My way to cope with waiting for books I cant wait to come out- writing and readind fanfiction, music, and rereading the rest of the series... and of course discussing with people. ;D

Helen said...

Besides opening presents with my family my favorite part of Christmas is getting the tree, decorating, and see it with all the presents under it!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Just wanted to say, Cammy Day (Dec 31/Jan 1 of course) isnt over! its now officially Cammy Week! and then Cammy Month! (and then Cammy Year!) ahaha but for meits Cammy Week and Cammy Month <3 Have a good year!

xxCammyLoverxx said...

Cant wait for your update today! xo ((Ps, Last day of winter break for us *sad face*))

xxCammyLoverxx said...

please update, I'm dyingggggg :'C

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

I'm working on it right now, but it's about the ETRTR winner (and the prizes, etc.,) so hit the hay! You have school tomorrow! :-)

xxCammyLoverxx said...

okay. Insomnia, be gone! :P

No Blue Food said...

I loved that house! I don't think my 17 year old self fully appreciated how little space it actually was for a family of four. I just loved that every house on the street was different, that the hardwood floors squeaked just so when you trod on them, and that every door, knob, tile and window had a great vintage feel about it. Then again, thinking a drawer pull is just adorable is a pretty far cry from having to live with forty year old wiring, or write novels perched on the edge of the bed!

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Hey, No Blue Food (:-)) -- yeah, it definitely had "character". With it's moans and groans and chomping termites it felt alive! Young Son HATED our new house when we moved. He missed the old house so much. It was home, you know? Many years after we moved I drove him by the old place, and he could then "see" it. You should cruise by it next time you're in town.

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Hey, Purple, aka Purple Monster! I was reviewing posts for gems for publicity and realized I never thanked you for joining / commenting. And after such an enthused entrance into the group! So thank you! I enjoyed your comments!
Wendelin

Purple Monster said...

Hi Wendelin! I'm so glad you replied! Anyway, I just wanted to say I can't wait until the next SK book comes out! It makes me VERY excited! Can't wait to see what'll happen with Sammy and Casey!!!