I recently had the pleasure of spending time with a group of Trumbull County high school seniors. As I have no children myself, I was little nervous about finding things to talk about. They were talking about music and performers I had never heard of.
I then asked them about their plans for further education and was interested to hear their future plans. One student had been accepted to an engineering college, another into a premed program, and still another was bound for military academy. Another student wanted to be an electrician another wanted to work in the shale industry. They had plans to become everything from a forensic pathologist to an oil drilling foreman.
When the conversation came to me, I was asked, "What do you do?" I replied that I am a writer. The group decided that that was a cool thing to be. They wanted to know what I wrote. I told them I was a community columnist for the Warren Tribune and that I had a column in the paper twice a month. I also told them that I had just had a book accepted for publication by university press. The group was really excited to hear this. They wanted to know if I wrote longhand or on a word processor, if I drank an excessive amount of coffee, and if I had a cat. According to this group of young people, all great writers have a cat.
They wanted to know what I could find to write about, since living in Trumbull County was definitely not cool. I told him they could not be more wrong. They wanted examples. I told them that I had written about cookie tables at weddings. They had all been to weddings where cookie tables were present and had many comments on that subject. I told them I wrote about group in Kinsman which manages to put on a barbecue for hundreds every summer with the staff of just a few. I told them that I wrote about an equestrian center that helped calm autistic children and about a train wreck 100 years ago that people barely remember, just to name a few.
They asked me about my book. I told them it was a memoir of a little girl growing up in a heavily immigrant neighborhood in a steel town. We climbed trees, played in the woods behind our house, and even slid down a huge pile of slag that was warm year-round, having come fresh from the steel mills. I told them about going to church with my grandpa and then stopping at the Croatian Home for a "cold one," a beer for Grandpa and for me a miniature bottle of 7Up. The Croatian Home was the place for people to meet and visit, and on Sundays, they often didn't go home before 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The students were amazed by the fact that people wanted to spend time together just visiting.
I also told them about all the wonderful cooks and bakers that I have come to know and about all their wonderful recipes. I told them that when I was young, we kids could play all day without our parents having to worry about us. Wherever we were at dinner time was where we ate. In my neighborhood, that could mean either Italian, German, Russian, Irish, Hungarian or Polish food for dinner. That meant, as a little girl, I was invited in to all of these foreign kitchens was and taught a few recipes from each country. I was exposed to international cuisine without knowing it.
Many of the students wistfully told me that they had to work after school, that there was little time for play after homework was done. Another said their family never cooked, that they ate a take-out meal every night. Most of them did not have extended family in the area.
At the end of the hour, these budding CIA agents, physicians and engineers told me they envied me, my childhood and my career. I can think of no greater compliment as I write this on my word processor, coffee on my desk, with my cat at my feet, hoping I can live up to their assessment.
O'Connor is a Brookfield resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.