I was always looking for ways to amuse myself during the summer between the third and fourth grades. I might try to see how high I could get the swing that hung from a limb on the big tree in our backyard. Nearly every day I lined up small rocks and, if I had them, pennies, on the tracks that ran down the middle of Wyoming Avenue in front of our house and waited to see what happened when the GR Suburban trolley rumbled over them. If I was feeling even more devilish, I might lurk behind the bushes and railing that surrounded the porch of the duplex we rented and aim my peashooter at our elderly neighbor, Grandpa Franzoni, as he cat-napped on the outdoor sofa. On more tranquil afternoons I flipped the pages of Hardy Boys novels, listened to Phillies games on the radio, or rode my bike to a nearby park.
Or, better yet, one of my neighborhood pals, perhaps Hallie Walker or Liz Griffin, might stop by and, if my mother wasn’t busy, we’d have enough for a game of Authors. Authors was a simple and addictive card game. Instead of suits, the 52 cards in its deck were divided between 13 poets, novelists and playwrights, each represented by four of their works. The competition was heated, the desire to acquire a quartet of Hawthorne or Tennyson cards intense, and the cards in our deck were thin and worn from repeated shuffles. Mostly we played the draw version, where if frustrated in asking another player for a particular card, say Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, you took the top card from the pile left after the deal. It was very unlikely, but if Ivanhoe surfaced on that draw, you were back in the game and might seek Kenilworth or The Lady of the Lake. If not, another player would begin seeking the cards she needed to fill out a set, possibly Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men.
Great writers and their works were the stars of Authors and even then I realized their faces would not have been on those cards unless they had done something of great importance, something extraordinary. Over the years I read and reread many of the books that appeared on those worn cards, gained an appreciation for what those men and women had done, and realized that their world, the writer’s world, could be a very special place. When I began to write, I did so for all the usual reasons: a passion for language, stories bubbling up in my head that needed to be told, a dream of seeing my name in print, and simply because I somehow knew that I had to. But foremost, I believe, I began to write because one summer long ago I had played a childhood game and discovered that writers were important and writing was special. It was a lesson I learned from those cards and have never forgotten.