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My Manilla Indian
by Willma Willis Gore
I was a "soda jerk" back in the days when "jerk"
was a respectable job title for teenagers earning spending money
by dispensing ice cream and soft drinks at soda fountains. Home
for the summer after my first year at college, I was re-hired for
the same after-school job I'd held through high school at the local
My dream of becoming a successful writer was always in mind and
I sneaked quick reads of short stories in Good Housekeeping
and Ladies Home Journal, borrowing them from the magazine
rack when business was slow. To me, in those days, fiction was the
only genre that distinguished a successful writer and allowed the
hallowed term, "author."
One of my customers was a local Native American. We called them
"Indians" in those days. Lines in his shiny brown skin
were deep rivers of time. He spoke little English, but his mumbled
"manilla," told me each day that he had come for a vanilla
ice cream cone. Stubby, weather-cracked fingers laid a dime on the
counter and I scooped the ice cream into a cone for him.
He went out the door and settled himself on the front step of the
Lone Pine Drug Store to eat his ice cream cone. I was fascinated
to see flies buzz around his head and descend on the diminishing
mound of ice cream, his brownish-red tongue barely missing them
as he licked. He touched me deeply. I penned a little story about
him and took a picture of him with my Brownie camera. This was long
before I knew that I had written a profile.
The official publication of the Automobile Club of Southern California,
Westways came to our home monthly. The editorial page,
just inside the front cover, published short observations or anecdotes
about a wide variety of subjects. Totally unaware of length restrictions,
I sent the editor about 800 words of my precious prose. I titled
the piece, "Manilla" Indian." I was overwhelmed with
delight when I received a check for $10 in payment. However, when
my first published words appeared in print, the kind editor had
trimmed them to 300 to fit the format of that editorial page. But
my byline was there for all to see. (No longer in my experience
do editors take time to trim extra words when their guidelines plainly
read "500-1000 words, max.")
Well, I thought, since that sale was so "easy," I would
try a little more nonfiction. The next summer my college girlfriend
and I did a 350-mile trip on balloon tire bicycles. A professional
photographer who was the new executive director of the local tourist
promotion organization followed us with his camera. This became
my second sale to Westwaysthe first of many travel
articles I eventually wrote for the magazine.
As importantthough I've never given up writing fictionmy
most-successful writing has been nonfiction pieces. My essays, travel
articles, and 200 profiles have been published in more than 75 national
and regional journals over the past 40 years. That first sale launched
me into a life-long career of "write what you know."
© Copyright 2008, Willma Willis Gore
At age 87, Willma Gore is still writing daily (having sold her first article
at age 19) with her most recent book Long
Distance Grandparenting, released by an advance/royalty publisher in
Nov. 2007. She welcomes visits to her blog and website: http://willmagore.com/blog/
Other articles by Willma Willis Gore :
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