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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 drug store.

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 Westways—the first of many travel articles I eventually wrote for the magazine.

As important—though I've never given up writing fiction—my 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/ www.willmagore.com

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