Driving home that afternoon, we passed him on the roadhis long, angular form cruising on his board. He didnt see me, but for that one flash of time, I had taken in his face. Long enough to decide I loved this boy.
To my brother and me, our parents went by their first names, Valerie and George. In all the years we lived with them, I dont think we ever called them Mom or Dad. It said a lot, our not using those names for them. Im not sure I ever felt I had parents. Not parents as you normally think of them, anyway.
Its an odd feeling, growing up in a family where it seems like the adults are the ones who need to grow up. Even when I was very young, I felt that way. They just seemed so unreliable to me. They were so wrapped up in themselves they sometimes seemed to forget they had children.
I was five or six when George quit his job selling ad space at the newspaper in Concord, to write a novel about life on another galaxy where the people wore no clothes. This was the only thing I remember about Georges book. Even when I was little, this fact shocked me. Georges goal was to become a world-renowned writer, which was why we left New Hampshire, the place I was born.
Valeries father had just died, and her mother was dead already, and since there were no brothers or sisters, she inherited what he had. This wasnt much, considering her dad had been a steelworker all his life, but it was enough for George to decide to quit his job and sell the house and live off that money until his ship came in as an author. His goal was not to be simply a writer but an author. I never understood what the difference was.
Meanwhile, wed live in Valeries fathers old place, just outside of Pittsburgh. Even then I remember thinking, what if this ship doesnt come in? I had heard George telling the story for this novel of hisit was something he liked to do on long car rides when we were going somewhere, as was often the case, but every time he did, my mind would wander, which didnt seem like a good sign. My brother, Ray, also a lover of fantasy, had read me a couple of J. R. R. Tolkien books by now, and C. S. Lewis, and though they were never really my style, either, I could tell a good fantasy from one that made no sense, meaning the kind George was writing.
As for me, as soon as I could read I gravitated to nonfiction, biographies mostly, of people like Annie Oakley and George Washington Carver. Also true stories about animals and nature. My all-time favorite was Ring of Bright Water, about a pair of otters. I loved it that the illustrations were photographs. I worried that while we were waiting for that ship of his, George would spend all the money. If he didnt sell his book, then where would we be? I was in the third grade at this point, but as it turned out I was right. Where we would be, and were, was in a trailer park in Pennsylvania, and after that, a house in Vermont without indoor plumbing. Its unclear to me now how George and Valerie decided on these places for us to settle down, for a while anyway. We never stayed for long.
We were living in the Vermont house when George announced that he was going to become a country-and-western songwriter. He had an idea for a romantic ballad that would be perfect for Les Paul and Mary Fordthough by the time he got it together to record his demo, they were getting divorced. But even without the problem of the singers relationship, there seemed to be some pretty big obstacles to this plan.
Dont you have to know how to play the guitar or something if you want to write songs for people?
I said. He thought this was a good idea, and bought one, along with a book on how to learn to play guitar in fourteen days. I did not find this reassuring.
Excerpted from The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard. Copyright © 2010 by Joyce Maynard. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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