Hit it Straighter

A long time ago, I golfed with my Grandma Eiesland to spend some time with her. She is 96 now and no longer golfs — just walks and does exercises on her own. My grandmother is one of those stoics who bore ten children like it was no big deal. She got married right before the depression hit. She and my grandpa ran off to the next town to marry. She wore her second-best dress. When the grasshoppers ate all their crops in South Dakota (even the fenceposts), they packed their five children up and headed west to my hometown, Ridgefield, Washington, where they settled to farm the rich land and have the remaining five children.

So, I was golfing with her because I liked spending time with her. To me she’s one of those legends who doesn’t see it that way. She acts like doing what she did was just doing what anybody would do — that it wasn’t any big deal. But to me, it’s all romanticised, fascinanting, and legendary.

At one of the last holes, I teed up and whacked it. The result was like many previous. The ball flew straight toward the green, veered sharply to the right, and smacked a tree.

“Grandma, what am I doing wrong? How do I get rid of that slice?” I asked.

She looked at me hard. “Hit it straighter,”  she retorted. Then, she grabbed her bag and walked off.

I retold the story to Paul and the girls. When anyone supplies excuses or whines about a seemingly unsolvable problem, one of us will inevitable say, “Hit it straighter.” Grandma’s dictum has become code for “figure it out.”

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. When I graduated from high school, I majored in writing and literature in college and landed an internship at a local newspaper. During high school and college, traveling was important too: I visited Mexico, toured Europe twice and lived in Costa Rica for a semester, wandering through Nicaragua and Guatemala.

Then I met Paul. After he arrived at my house after his states trip, Donald introduced him to me saying, “You two are perfect for each other. Paul will take you on adventures and you’ll write about them.” Adventure, traveling, writing seemed to be my natural destiny.

But we had to finish college. Then we had to work to pay for college and the babies came somewhere in the midst of all that. Suddenly, it was ten years later and I found myself up in a little cabin in the Ochoco Mountains of Oregon, 30 miles from any town, living on Paul’s teacher salary, with four daughters chirping for breakfast like baby birds in a nest. I thumbed through magazines like National Geographic Adventure and Travel & Leisure at the dining nook while my kids devoured blueberry pancakes and the new puppy misbehaved in the living room. I felt anything but travel savvy or adventurous. The only leisurely thing about my life was that I was still wearing my ugly pink bathrobe with no foreseeable moment of getting properly dressed. Once I did get dressed, if that was possible, every moment would go into maintenance like preparing something to eat and cleaning up what we ate, laundry, nursing, diapers, baths, and teaching reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic and correcting, nature study and drawing, reading aloud, vacuuming, laundry, and if I wasn’t doing that it was the interminal drive down the mountain to some activity for the girls.

Once a week I left to smash volleyballs down women’s throats — women who had time to highlight their hair and when they opened the door of the car, balls and books and garbage didn’t fall out and roll across the street. Or in the summer, I’d play softball so I could dive in the dirt and slide and hit the ball and get some kind of release.

When I drove to or fro from these excursions, I looked out of the window at the supreme beauty of where I live. That rare quiet moment would inevitably cause a a feeling to well up inside me — a feeling that made me want to weep and cry out with happiness — an unexplainable overwhelming desire to create, to express, to imitate God in setting boundaries on my universe, caging thoughts with words, corralling ideas with phrases.

Sometime up in that cabin, I decided to apply Grandma’s golf advice to my dream of being a writer. We saved for a computer. Then, I got email (Oh, joy!) I searched regional magazines for articles that I liked that I could emulate. I checked out an old Writer’s Market because I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. I only lacked an adventure to write about.

Paul always supplied that. Broke as we were, we always managed to go places for birdwatching. We packed our old, 15-passenger blue van and a trailer with tents, stoves, lanterns, books, etc. (Don’t forget the baby!), even included Paul’s sister, Anne, and sallied forth to San Padre Island in Texas for birding. It was an epic trip. We visited family and friends along the way, hooking up with a friend to bird in Arizona. It took us ten days to get to San Padre Island. When we arrived, we were so excited. We played, napped, and camped on the beach. The next morning we would begin our survey of this exotic birding Mecca.

The next morning, a tornado hit. We escaped, barely. The ocean almost washed our van away. After frantically grabbing items of our camp and throwing them into the trailer or van, we scrambled into Big Blue with wet sand blasted to our bodies and sped over the bridge with radio warnings blaring that it would soon be closed. The birds were long gone and we were due home. We toiled back across the miles, tails tucked between our legs. I thought to myself, “That’s a pretty good story.”

But I didn’t write it. I baked bread and scones, changed diapers, read classics, kissed little cheeks and prayed over little blonde heads at bedtime … and wished I had time to write. I’d open my laptop, answer my email, get mad at myself for not writing anything, try to write about anything, write about something but not finish anything, and then go back to homemaking.

Then, we decided to build a house. A log house. On our own. I stacked logs, grouted floors, painted closets, and installed shelves and bathroom fixtures while fixing dinner and helping my daughters do math, reading aloud, and correcting spelling. Right now, I think to myself, “That’s a pretty good story, too.” But I didn’t write that one either.    

It wasn’t until Paul suggested another trip to Malheur Wildlife Refuge that I decided to plan ahead. I found a regional magazine, discovered that it had a section on outdoor adventures with kids, and read the guidelines. Then, I pitched the story to the magazine editor. The editor asked me to write the story on spec, since I had no clips. He also asked me to provide digital photos in 300 megapixel blah, blah, blah! I didn’t own a digital camera! We still used a 35 mm. I had no idea what he was talking about. But casually, confidently, I replied that it was no problem, like… I do this all the time, I am an amazing professional and I totally know what you’re talking about.

I called my dad to ask about the camera lingo. Then, I borrowed my mother-in-law’s camera. I brought my little notepad that I used fifteen years ago when I was reporting for the newspaper. Boy! Was I rusty! Luckily, I met people eager to answer questions and provide information. Then, we adventured while I recorded. We birded and hiked. We took a little detour to visit some volcanic craters. We visited a historic barn built by an infamous cattle baron.

The wonderful thing when I sat down to write was that I had some parameters. I had a purpose. Somehow, setting the boundaries was extremely comfortable to me and helped me to focus and produce from start to finish. I pulled out my old tools from writing for the newspaper. Start with a hook. Finish with correct and updated information. Know your audience. What do your readers want to know? When I submitted it, the editor was kind enough to give me some positive feedback and ask some clarifying questions. He liked the photos and … he was going to publish my article. I was elated.

Life took me for another detour soon after I had that clip in my hand. I decided to go back to work full-time as a teacher. My daughters’ activity schedules got more complicated. Life didn’t get any calmer. It took another year for me to land another assignment. But I just keep telling myself, “No excuses, no whining. Figure it out. Hit it straighter.”

Today, I felt deflated. I felt overwhelmed, confused, and disoriented. I decided to look back and take stock of what I’ve done — to look at my little successes and tiny victories and pile them together to give them a bigger appearance. I’ve got several clips I can use to pitch to other magazines. I’m writing almost everyday. I’ve started a blog. Small successes, for sure, but in my busy world, they count big. It feels like I’m starting a locomotive down the tracks. It’s slow, near impossible to get it going. But as the kids get older, I’ll start chugging along. By the time they’re out of the house, I’ll be on my way. It’s a late start, but at least I never gave up on what I wanted to do.

I’ll always be thankful for those three little words Grandma said to me at the golf course. That generation — the Builders — figured it out. They hit it straighter. They made life better for their kids in difficult times. I think today, these difficult times can serve us by distilling what we really want and give us the courage, discipline, and knowledge to get the ball to where we aim it.

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6 Comments

  1. Danielle,
    I came upon your writing by surprise this afternoon, and I am pleasantly shocked! You write so well girl, I see a definite book in the works for you! What you write, and the way your write it is so interesting, and believe me…working in the library, I read tons of books that come through. I think you would rate right up there w/ some of the popular authors of today. I’ll have to chat w/ you about some of my ideas, and I want to encourage you to keep on writing, and get a book out, just like how you blog! Good, good, good! I enjoyed every minute of it:)! J.B.

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  2. Danielle, I loved your blog! My daughter Jenni has a blog, but they recently bought a house that needed a complete makeover, had a couple more kids, (She has 6 now, the oldest will be 8 next week), and started raising chickens and quail!! I’m going to point her to your blog, and maybe you’d want to check hers out (chrisandjenni.com) Maybe you could be an encourgement to each other!! She’s trying to get back to her blog, but as she’s also homeschooling, it is a struggle!! Hope we can all get together again soon, but as Mom is not in good health, it’s hard to have a reunion just now! Love, Judi

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  3. I heard a few words of a spiritual message today that talked about our ‘gifts’ from God. I think hitting it straighter is to humbly accept that the gifts which serve to inspire our dreams and quests, are all from Him. I am still trying to figure out when my will and my yet-to-be-fulfilled dreams and His will can be in accord, since the Gifts are not mine but His, and he has portioned them out to me for His will. I know that if I had pursued music as a single worldly woman I would have been consumed by it. Unhappy. Alone. I know that God formed my children in His own mind, long before I met Jason. The fact that he chose to give them to me to mother is my greatest privelege. The greatest song I’ll ever sing, simply in my own heart! I couldn’t have been successful with music if it weren’t for the gift of my family. God accomplishes so much transformation in our lives through our families. I heard a CS lewis quote the other day about how you can stand at the top of the cliff that overlooks the village you live in, but you can’t jump to get home. You have to go down and around, and even though it takes a long time, each step you take, seemingly AWAY from the direction of your home is actually bringing you closer to your ‘bath and tea’. The history that Jason and I have is studded with both trials and joys, always bringing us closer to the present. When I look back I think that everything has happened the way it has because God worked with our free will at the time, gently admonishing, gently steering…if we had the full awareness…would we have been able to handle it? I think you can not measure your successes through your own lens, I guess that is my point. You forget so much. Elsa learning to make gingersnaps and turning them into her signature cookie to make as an act of love for her family is YOUR success as a mother. She emulated your caring, your work habits, your love. Your success as a mother is precisely where you should draw your strength as a writer. God created a universe, not a multiverse, he created You, all of you, with your beautiful gift of writing and your tender mothering, and your giving nature as a loyal, faithful wife. He doesn’t put part of you on a shelf to only prosper the other part. You are not lost nor disoriented, you are right where you need to be. The diapers are a part of the story, as all the other parts. When the words are finally put to print that have been simmering in your heart these past years they will be a testimony to the beauty of all of it. Trust….

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  4. Well hello there! This was a great post and brought back lots of memories….EPIC! Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I always love reading your blogs and keeping up on what’s going on with you guys, better yet, we get to hear (or read) your thought process as well, not just what is happening. One thing I’d like to point out, that I’m sure you already know, is that this too shall pass, and when you look back on your life, you will know that you were (are) living life even now. These trials you are going through are going to be part of the life you lived and held a lot of meaning. You will have learned a lot, and even long for these times. I know you know this, but above all, the most important thing is that you are all together (most of the time) and you and Paul are close. God is first in your life, and your children are your loveliest and biggest accomplishment over the span of your whole life. These times right now are the most important, regardless of where you live or what you guys are doing to pay the bills. Love ya!

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