She preferred to be called THE Rankin instead of Mrs. Rankin. It seemed odd to us in her eighth-grade gifted class to be called by just her surname, but she also wasn’t your average caffeinated teacher. She was assuredly one of those souls so far outside the box she wasn’t even in the same state as the box. Her honey-sweet Alabama accent made our small class feel like home. Best class ever.
The first half of the year our focus was on a brand-new computer in our room; no other school in the county had them. TRS-80s from Tandy/Radio Shack – a Level 2, Model II, and we named her Calfitzmus because we were a bunch of goofballs. As a class we recorded our programs on cassette tapes and, as needed, erased them with an electric magnet that buzzed up against the tape to make them blank. We spent weeks learning how to code in BASIC printed out on silver paper, and most of our programs involved making a block blink or move randomly on a green screen.
The second semester we played with language skills. In one of the lessons we approached poetry. We had to write a poem of our choosing. I didn’t have a topic yet, so I asked her to give me an idea from which I would create a masterful poem. I thought it might involve love, romance, or loftier ideals of peace or liberty. Something worthy of a Susan Polis Schutz card.
Green socks. She assigned me to write a poem about green socks.
So over the weekend I checked my sock drawer and discovered I did not own a pair of green socks. I did, however, have a pair of white socks with green pom-poms on the back. Very popular with the tennis crowd, I believe. I put them on, and they didn’t feel or look all that special. Just white cotton/terry with a green piece of yarn around the ankle and these fuzzy craft balls.
I walked around my room, dancing, sashaying, attempting to slide across carpet. I tried conjuring words in my mind about these… dashingly cute socks. I pulled out a piece of paper from my Trapper Keeper, and started to write:
(For the Rankin)
Great start, I thought. Catchy title, specific, and a dedication included. My pencil began to stir again:
Green footies; warm, soft, and cuddly.
They fit so right, so tight, so snuggly.
Joyous to your poor cold feet,
Which are so in need of nice hot heat.
Rhymes didn’t come to me easily. I’m going through the alphabet in my head one letter at a time to come up with words (feet: beet, ceet?, deet?, geet? HEAT). Of course socks keep feet warm. This was indeed perfection.
Footies - footies; everyone needs 'em.
Some people are dumb; they go and leave them.
The little green pom-poms wave in the breeze.
Too bad footies don't go up to your knees!
I suppose the part of “go and leave them” referred to the fact that they disappeared in the wash. Near the dryer we had a paper bag full of single socks, and to this day no one knows why we kept them so long. A sliver of hope, perhaps?
We didn’t have much of a breeze inland; I never played tennis or any sport that would require pom-poms waving anywhere. I pictured the pom-poms that cheerleaders held; my socks were cheering me on. “Keep writing,” they chanted.
Footies are as green as a tangy-tart lime.
You wear them at night - what a perfect time!
If in the night they fall off, don't worry.
They'll be easy to find, if they're furry.
This is probably how the socks disappeared in the first place. Kick them off, and the family dog turns it into a chew toy. Florida nights aren’t so cold as to necessitate wearing socks in bed, but for the sake of the poem, those socks were on my feet. Then I have “if they’re furry.” In hindsight, what else would they be? Rubber? Paper? What else could a sock be made of that’s NOT furry?
And the inspiring couplet to close out this beautiful pseudo-Miltonic sonnet (about which I knew nothing at the time):
If you ain't got footies, don't despair.
They're easy to find - they're everywhere.
Oh, the pride in those concluding lines. You could buy this wonderful experience anywhere. K-mart! Zayre! TG&Y! Socks galore! Anyone could replicate this beautiful feeling by simply dropping some cash at the store.
The Rankin loved the poem. She loved everyone’s poems, from John’s penguins to Robert’s bugs and Kevin’s cloudy skies. On each of our papers she drew either a heart, a flower, or some other doodle; these precursors to emojis today were better than sticky stars. Directly from her heart to ours.
Journals and diaries weren’t my style. I continued to write poems about things, emotions, and experiences. “Riding a Horse,” “After the Rain,” “The Lonely Path” and “Blanket” were added to the growing collection of theme poems that didn’t have those pesky rhymes. Capture the feeling, crystallize that moment. All those moments I kept in a folder or stuffed in a desk drawer.
It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I started putting all these poems together in one spot. I had a manual typewriter and typed each one, replete with white-out tape marks. I put these typed jewels in cardboard folders that had some funky clip thing at the top as to not damage any of them. This motley crew of writing continued to grow until I had to find bigger digs: a metal file box my mom didn’t use anymore. It had a lock and key, and I found that made them seem more valuable and mysterious.
The poems I wrote throughout college started to take on different forms. Experiments with sonnets, Japanese poems (haikai and renku), epics, and concrete poetry (try THAT on a manual typewriter) were mostly for myself, not for any classes. It was just a way to express feelings or encapsulate anger. Three years into college I finally declared my major of English Education. These poems were multiplying at a startling rate. I kept them organized by year, and getting an electric word processor made things so much easier.
My first play was called “The Anniversary Waltz,” and it mirrored reality and fantasy with a hint of dramatic irony tossed in. It started off as a story about my husband forgetting our anniversary, and then it became a play when I found a contest for it. Plays are difficult for me because mastery over conversational writing can be tricky. I had to practice writing spoken interchanges. I read novels just to study the art of conversation. Should I include slang? How appropriate is the use of vulgarity? How do I show the difference between speech and thoughts? How many different ways can I say, “said”?
For my entire teaching career, I taught literature, plays, poems, and writing, and each time I assigned any written work for one class period, I wrote with along with them, penning something different on the board each period. I wrote pieces outside of class, mostly to resolve anger and dissolve grief; writing is therapy for me. I wrote poems for other people; one for a family member after a terrible physical tragedy, one on the birth of a co-worker’s son, one for another friend’s boyfriend as a birthday gift for him.
I took a bold leap and signed up for a Creative Writing course at a local college. It was there that I started writing short stories with all kinds of prompts and formats. This was also the first time I had my work critiqued by others, and I can tell you – it stung a little. This young whippersnapper of a professor telling me my babies were deficient! I’ve been teaching longer than he’s been alive! Once the professor explained the markings and comments to me, I saw my patterns of redundancy, deformed metaphors, mangled tense – I doubled down to fix those errors. The joy of writing blossomed. My favorite type of writing is finding a photo I took and writing what happened. For example, I found a pair of shorts on the beach and snapped a pic of it. Later I wrote about how those shorts got there: an evening romantic encounter interrupted by a man-o-war and trip to the ER.
After the CW course in the spring of 2018, my mother died two months later. The grief was staggering. I worked through this grief through writing. At first, it was a collection of memories, experiences throughout her dying process, and the aftereffects. I took another CW course in the fall, and the professor noticed that all my writing took on a much darker tone. I explained why and kept writing in my merry macabre way.
Very dark short stories, supernatural, spooky, and just weird short stories became easier to write, very purging for the soul. Once I retired, I started weaving these stories that will become a novel one day. Stories of grief, family history, supernatural, and funny themes woven together in one piece. I’m still working out how to do this, but instead of one metal file box I now have a dedicated table, desk, several 4” binders, and BAGS of writing. I have notes scribbled on napkins, receipts, voice memos on my phone, sticky notes – anywhere I can keep them safe.
When I get bored, I’ll put out on Facebook “Give me something to write about.” Last October I did that, and I ended up writing about baby marmosets, sentient spiders, fairy fay, a marble angel, a hole in a cemetery, a black cat, a skull, and flat-earthers (that turned out nicely steam punk). Sometimes I have twenty tabs open while fact-checking. The last short story I wrote was inspired by a class I had been a substitute for (can’t take teaching out of the teacher). The students were completely out of control and just mean spirited. I dealt with them all – in fiction, of course – and I felt much better. My headache just vanished. So did they, in my story.
On my IRS tax form, my current occupation is “Independent Writer.” I’m part of a local writers’ group, and part of three different writing platforms. I have three different books in the making, and I’ve commissioned a book cover. And it all started 45 years ago about a pair of socks.