by John R. Erickson
I grew up in a little town in the northern Texas Panhandle. Nobody in Perryton had ever become a writer or, as far as I knew, even thought much about it.
I did very little writing until I went to college. At the University of Texas, I did well in courses that required essays, and I took some classes on writing. During my two years at Harvard Divinity School, I enrolled in a year-long class on fiction writing.
However, I have come to realize that the best instruction I received on writing did not occur in a college classroom or come from someone with a doctorate in English literature. It came from a woman who never went to college, had never written anything longer than a letter, and had no credentials that said she was qualified to teach.
She was “just” a mother: my mother, Anna Beth Curry Erickson.
She was a rancher’s daughter from the country around Lubbock, descended from sturdy pioneers who had received little formal education but had acquired a reverence for the written word. They were People of the Book, and their book was the King James Bible. They knew it well, and their everyday conversations were shaped by its wisdom and cadences.
When I was five, Mother kept me at home instead of sending me to kindergarten. That year, we homeschooled, though neither of us had ever heard that term.
During the day, I followed her around the house and yard as she did her chores: cooking, washing dishes, canning vegetables, hanging laundry on the clothes line, making beds, tending the garden.
While she worked, she told me stories about the cowboys, ranchers, and strong pioneer women in our family. She was a wonderful storyteller with a gentle, earthy sense of humor, and those stories and characters ignited my imagination.
In the afternoon, she read aloud to me, most often stories from the Bible. At the age of five, my heroes were David, Samuel, Joseph, Samson, and Moses. And more than once, she closed the book and said, “John, God has given you a talent. You must guard it and use it wisely.”
She did not know that my talent would lead me into a career as a professional writer, yet through some miracle of motherly instinct, she gave me exactly the tools I needed 35 years later when I wrote the first Hank the Cowdog book:
- 1. Respect for the written word,
- 2. Simple storytelling about admirable characters,
- 3. Gentle humor, without anger, malice, or ridicule,
- 4. Worthy role models: Moses and David instead of athletes or “stars,”
- 5. And most important, a sense that I should use my talent for something larger than myself.
As parents, we do not always know if our kids are listening to the things we tell them, but I was listening. Decades later, when I was grown and trying to figure out how to be an author and receiving hundreds of rejection slips from publishing houses, I still believed that God had given me a talent and that I should use it wisely.
If I had not believed in something bigger than myself, I probably would have given up.
How do we measure the importance of a mother? For me, that measure is seven million Hank the Cowdog books and the innocent laughter of the families who read them. When I hear people say, “She’s just a mother,” I have to smile.
My “just-a-mother” was the most important teacher I ever had.
Copyright John R. Erickson 2007. Originally published in Texas Home School Coalition (THSC) REVIEW, August 2007 and is reprinted by permission of THSC and the author.
Erickson and his wife Kris live on a cattle ranch northeast of Amarillo. He has written about his mother’s family in the book Prairie Gothic, available at www.hankthecowdog.com. Erickson and his sidekick, Hank the Cowdog, will be speaking at the THSC Southwest Convention & Family Conference, August 2-4, 2012.