Of Pilgrims, Plymouth & the Roots of a Writer

A long time ago the Pilgrims sailed, to find a brand new land.

They wanted to worship God themselves, not by the King’s command.

So begins an eight-verse epic poem written by yours truly, Vicki, in November of 1971. I was a fourth-grader at Norfolk Elementary School in Massachusetts, steeped so deeply in the lore and legend of the Mayflower, Squanto and Governor Bradford that I felt as if I, too, had planted my shiny black-buckled shoe upon the famous Plymouth Rock.

Pilgrim Shoe, 1970's Style

Growing up in the Bay State it was hard to avoid the Pilgrims. The wide-brimmed hat sported by Pilgrim men (called a capotain) was on signage for our highways; the state flower bore the same name as the Pilgrims’ sturdy ship; and Plimoth Plantation, the living history museum replicating a 1627 English village and Wampanoag settlement, was the default class trip for hordes of school children, including those of us from Norfolk Elementary.

It’s not surprising that a young girl who penned poems, short stories, soap operas, and magazine advice columns should turn her attention to the most famous immigrants of all.

Capotains Were Everywhere

What is surprising is what happened after I wrote the poem.

I’d given it to my teacher, Mrs. Lovell. I remember that she had long blonde hair parted down the middle and favored gaucho pants. She took it to H. Olive Day, our principal, a short, squat, buxom woman with a thick Boston accent and a battle-axe manner. Miss Day meted out corporal punishment like Squanto spooned succotash, but that’s another story…

I recall the din of the gym, set up with hundreds of folding metal chairs, and the eagerness of my fellow classmates for the dismissal bell. First we had to suffer through Miss Day reading the Governor’s proclamation about the Thanksgiving holiday, and then… I was ushered by my teacher up to the front of the assembly. No doubt I was wearing a plaid skirt. The microphone was adjusted and I spoke.

Did I read the poem slowly, emphasizing the dramatic near-starvation of the Pilgrims? Or did I hurry through the verses, eager to get back to my seat? Those details are gone.

Here is what I do remember: clutching my typed poem in my hands, sitting through the rest of the assembly and knowing, deep in my core, that I was a writer. It’s a feeling as solid as Plymouth Rock itself, and one that has stayed with me all these years since.

When was the moment you knew you had a destiny? Was a teacher or a parent involved?

Looking forward to your comments, and wishing my fellow bloggers and our readers a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Our Thanksgiving hosts 2010, Will (my brother) and his wife Lucia, along with daughter Lexi and Daniel

 

My mom, daughter Lexi, and son Nate, Thanksgiving 2010

 

A near deep-fried turkey disaster at my brother's in Portland, Thanksgiving 2010

 

 

 

 

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4 Responses to Of Pilgrims, Plymouth & the Roots of a Writer

  1. Gina Gentry says:

    “Here is what I do remember: clutching my typed poem in my hands, sitting through the rest of the assembly and knowing, deep in my core, that I was a writer. It’s a feeling as solid as Plymouth Rock itself, and one that has stayed with me all these years since.”

    Being an aspiring writer myself – I love this! Happy Thanksgiving!

  2. Sarah Graves says:

    I’d suspected I might be a writer for quite some while. Then at Bread Loaf — yes, I was lucky enough, I’m so grateful now that I did that, so long ago — Hilma Wolitzer told me flat-out that I was. It was quite a moment. John Gardner was there that year, too, and Richard Wilbur, and…well. A cat may look at a king, and I did, is all I can say. Vicki, thank you for reminding me of that astonishing time and place.

    And…you wrote advice columns? What kind of advice columns? I’ve always wanted to write those!

  3. Barb Ross says:

    Sarah, I’ve always wanted to know someone who could say, “Then at Breadloaf…”

    Like Vicki, I was very young when I first believed I was a writer.

    Later, in my teens, James Michener came to town to give a lecture. He was old even then. Afterward he took questions. In the middle of the Q&A he looked straight at me and asked, “How is your writing going?” I hadn’t said a word about wanting to write.

    Thank you both for bringing back that long forgotten memory.

  4. Vicki Doudera says:

    Sorry I was traveling Tuesday and couldn’t respond. Gina, thank you for your comment and keep it up — you will succeed! Sarah and Barb, great to hear your stories. Hopw everyone is having a good Turkey Day. We are in NC visiting Ed’s parents. — it’s not Maine, but it’s pretty!

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