The Great American Novel lives in the Schrock household

Categorized as 08/09/10 Goshen News column

While my hatred of math began early (in elementary school), my love of reading began even earlier. When I started reading my hometown newspaper, the Hutchinson News, at the age of six and reporting what I’d read, my mother was doubtful. Then she read it for herself and saw that I knew what I was talking about.

To say that I love to read is an understatement. “Voracious reader” would be more accurate. Not having a book on hand is a crisis, right up there with the Iranian hostage deal and running out of coffee beans. It’s serious.

As a girl, I devoured the Anne of Green Gables series. I finished the Elsie Dinsmore books that Grandma Yoder lent me and read every Three Investigators volume I could get my hands on. Then I moved through the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Danny Orlis, and Trixie Belden. Which is just the tip of the bookshelf, so to speak.

I really didn’t write that much as a girl, but I do remember sitting in a circle with friends, enthralling them with scary stories. As an adult, it was Mr. Schrock and my friend, Anita, who suggested that I could be a writer.

I use the term “suggested” very loosely in connection with The Mister, who ordained himself the Billy Graham of Encouragement. Every time he pulled out his collapsible pulpit and buttoned on his clerical collar, I knew what was coming.

It got to where I could mouth his sermons right along with him. These ran along the lines of, “You have a gift and you’re not using it.” This was delivered in a pulpit voice with a stern look of reproof and conviction directed at his congregation of one.

“You should be writing a book. I’ve seen what’s out there,” he would say, peering at me to see if his admonition was sinking in.

It got to where he could mouth my liturgical responses with me. “Oh, sure,” I would sniff, rolling my eyes. “Let me fit that right in there between Mount Everest in the laundry room and the reports that are stacking up like planes over Atlanta.” Another eye roll. He would clear his throat, gearing up for my closing argument.

“If God would put the next Great American Novel in my head, I would get it out for Him. I checked. It’s not there.”

With one last reproving glare, he would pack up his pulpit and tuck the collar away, ready for the next time the Spirit fell.

While I do not have the next Great American Novel in my head, I feel at times that I’m living one. For instance, I don’t need to read “Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell to know what she’s talking about. That’s exactly what happens with the week’s supply of groceries. With four food furnaces thinly disguised as boys, it’s inevitable.

Take what happened the other week. I was preparing to assemble a pan of lasagna. Reaching for the cottage cheese, I discovered, to my great annoyance, that it was nearly gone. Dr. Johnson, the question is not, “Who Moved My Cheese?” Over here, the question is, “Who ate it?”

It’s just stuff like this that prompts a maternal demonstration of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.” Then the suspects counter with their own production of “The Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison. They claim all kinds of innocence, pointing the collective finger at our own invisible man, “Not Me.” We’re nothing if not cultured.

It’s when their father gets home and hears about it that things take a darker turn. “For Whom the Bell Tolls” by Ernest Hemingway is his specialty. Sensing trouble, the guilty parties (and their teeth) take their own chapter from Ms. Mitchell’s novel and scatter to the four winds.

“Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain is an undisputed classic. It’s one thing to read about Huck. It’s another thing to live with him. And his brothers.

The tent in my back yard is a testament to his presence here. So is the fort in the big, red barn, hammered together one summer by boys with even bigger imaginations.

In that garden over there is where two little Hucks once found what they were sure was an arrowhead. And then began digging for a buried Indian to go with it.

Yes, I know a Huckleberry or two.

“On the Road,” a novel by Jack Kerouac, is one that I could have written. I’m a mom. I have kids. Therefore, I drive. That’s my plot in a nutshell.

“The House of Mirth” by Edith Wharton is another Great American Novel. I don’t have to read that one, either. I live there.

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” could be a book about my life. Here, the little birds fly around, under, over, and through the nest all day long until I’m a little cuckoo myself. Mexico, here I come.

Yes, I sure would craft the next Great American Novel if I could. I just wish I knew what to write about.

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