Do you know what this is?
If you grew up on a farm, you do. For those of you who didn’t—it’s a tractor pin. You slip this pin down into a connecting hitch on a tractor so you can tow wagons, etc. behind you. My dad made dozens and dozens of these throughout the years he owned a welding/machine repair shop in the farming community where we lived, and this tractor pin served as the catharsis for a story about him that is now published.
The Fourth edition in the Series of Stories About Growing Up in and Around Small Towns in the Midwest (Shapato Publishing), *Make Hay While the Sun Shines, came off the presses last week.
Before dad’s business sold after his death, my brother collected several of these pins from the shop, and he had this one chrome-plated. He recently made a gift of it to me. (Thank you so much big brother!)
Shapato editor Jean Tennant requests submissions for her popular Midwest Series be kept to around 1,500 words.
When I started drafting I ran into things I hadn’t counted on. Deep, sad things, and by the time I finished drafting there were 15 pages strong. That’s just a tad over the 1,500 word mark, so I had major decisions to make, and big time cutting to do.
At times the process brought tears. I hadn’t counted on that. I was just going to write a story about my dad the machine-shop owner and welder, right?
I wrote about the hardships he and his twin sister knew as kids because of an abusive alcoholic father who quickly abandoned the family. I worked through their being separated from their mother who had to work at what jobs she could find in town, often leaving them alone on the farm together to care for each other, or with neighbors—who my dad didn’t feel comfortable around. (Was there more to this than anyone ever told me? I’m never going to know.)
I walked back through the story about the time all they had to eat were rotten eggs—and yes, they did eat them. When you’re hungry—you eat what you have.
I wrote about the day he died. The roads were treacherous and slow that February afternoon and it took the ambulance 5 hours to get out to where he’d died and collect his body. On top of a wretched sounding childhood, this seemed like the ultimate final insult that, for me, still stings.
I wrote about the dirt and dangers inside a welding shop with dangerous chemical fumes. I wrote about foul-smelling manure spreaders that he crawled under to repair, and I revisited the nasty conditions of working in a machine repair shop—with no air conditioning in the summer and those frigid winter mornings until his heater caught up. All this so I could have pretty dresses and shoes—and food and all that good stuff that hardworking parents provide for their offspring.
And through all that writing I realized I never told him that I understood just how hard he had to work for his family — because I know I didn’t fully comprehend this until later in life.
I know this is a common affliction for the young, selfish and stupid, but it was damn hard to work through in that draft.
Of course, I did not put all of this in the story that appears in Shapato Publishing’s latest edition, but I used it all to help me find and shape the story that I submitted.
Some days I had to set the piece aside. The deep stuff was too much. I’d shut the file down and leave it. I’d pick it up again several days later, and eventually I whittled it down as I figured out what I wanted to say.
What I wanted to tell the world was about his creativity that balanced “Between Iron and Paint,” the title of the new story. I mucked through a lot of “stuff” to get there.
If you think you can whip out a story quickly, maybe edit a few words here and there and call it done, you are doing yourself a great disservice.
Your first draft—your second try–your third look—simply will not be enough to give you a finished piece.
Sometimes there will be tears—or anger, as in my case this time around, but eventually you end up with something you are ready to put before the world.
Neither of my parents lived long enough to see me publish, but I’m hoping they have some idea of it from wherever. They both inspired so much of it.
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. – Robert Frost