Once Upon a Time…

…four little words that deliver instant peace. Am I alone in this? Perhaps for me, they spur a pleasant, long-ago memory of being read to before sleeping.

As you can see in this photo, I’ve been reading for a long time.

This simple phrase opens a gateway into my imagination. Sleeping Beauty lies just beyond the gate, or Cinderella, Rapunzel, or Belle in Beauty and the Beast. As a child, I could easily imagine myself in one of those roles.

Once upon a time, I started a little story, having no idea where it would go. But writing it was fun and by the time I had mapped it out, the ending surprised me. I suppose that may be the reason I love to write. So, here is how it began:


Once upon a time, there was a little girl who lived in a tiny house on a large hill. Her name was Adelaide Thornton, and every weekday morning at exactly seven-ten, she said goodbye to her mother and began the long walk down the large hill. She stopped at the mailbox, where she waited until exactly seven-twenty-five, when her school bus arrived.

She greeted Mr. Augustus, who always answered, “Mornin’ Addy,” and then she made her way to the fifth row and sat in the seat on the left. This particular seat was always empty as if someone was saving it for Adelaide.

Though the bus was already filled with youngsters, no one else spoke to Adelaide, or even acknowledged her. And she was okay with that.

She scooched over, sitting close to the window, which left plenty of room for someone else to sit, but there was never anyone there. At least, no one that anyone else could see, other than Adelaide.

On this early spring morning, the bus made an unexpected stop before continuing on its way. Adelaide watched the front as a new kid climbed the steps. He seemed to be about her age, but he was taller. He had scruffy red hair and lots of freckles.

His eyes searched the bus and then, to her chagrin, stopped on the empty seat beside Adelaide. The only empty seat on the crowded bus.

As he made his way down the aisle, Adelaide noticed that no one was talking. The kids on the bus had gone completely quiet, as though they waited to see what would happen when the new boy tried to sit next to “Crazy Addy.”

The boy stopped at the fourth row and stood looking at Adelaide. “Is it all right if I sit with you?”

She heard a whooshing sound, as though everyone on the bus gasped at the same moment. And then she heard a whisper, “He’s very polite. I like him. Let him sit with us.”

All she could do was nod.                                                                              

The boy smiled and sat down.

Adelaide scrunched over, even closer to the window, so there would be room for everyone.

The other children on the bus began to titter and chat, but Adelaide knew they were watching…and waiting…and wondering. She also noticed Mr. Augustus’ eyes on her in the rearview mirror. He gave her a smile and a nod before setting off.

As the bus rolled forward, Adelaide heard, “He’s new in town. You should tell him your name and ask his name.”

She frowned at the empty spot in the middle of the seat, where someone sat. Someone no one else could see, except for Adelaide. But what he had said made sense to her. After all, the boy did seem very polite and had asked her permission to sit.

She cleared her throat.

Again, the other children hushed.

Adelaide ignored them and focused on the new kid. “I’m Adelaide Thornton. What’s your name?”

The new kid looked at her. “Nice to meet you, Adelaide. I’m Matthew Sommers, but everyone calls me Rusty.” He ruffled his dark, red hair and grinned.

Adelaide smiled back at him. Rusty was not only polite, but he was kind of funny, too. No wonder her brother liked him.

Oh yes, her brother. Adelaide was a twin. Though her brother had only lived two days on this earth, he had never left her. Some folks thought she was nuts and that’s why they called her, “Crazy Addy.” Others, mostly older folks, smiled and said she had an invisible friend. Only Adelaide knew the truth. He might be invisible, but he was not just a friend. He was her twin brother, Paul.


To be continued… Click here for PART2

Once Upon a Time

coffee, cup, laptop, memeHello! Happy Thursday morning! I’ve got my  cup of coffee, and I’m ready to work. So, what’s stopping me? The squirrels playing outside my window. The robins hopping around the yard, enjoying the springlike weather. Distraction is a writer’s worst enemy.

I know the phrase, “once upon a time” is clichéd, over-used and abused. But those words still get my imagination going. Like the castle and fireworks, along with Disney’s theme music. You settle in, prepared for a treat.

I used to tuck my little ones into bed and after prayers, I’d say, “Once upon a time, a long, time ago…” and make up a story, usually silly, but always sprinkled with characters who shared their names. It never failed to make them giggle.

The thing is, that little phrase never failed to conjure up a tale. It’s ancient, but it works. You can’t really use it in writing, unless you’re being sarcastic or ironic. An editor would view those words much as she would “a dark and stormy night.”

Backstory-effective. Once upon a time often sits in the back of my mind as I begin work on a new historical. It helps me slip quietly out of the here-and-now, into the “that was then.” [Click to tweet]

I close my eyes and let my imagination carry me places I once knew so well. Riding along in the back seat of my parents’ car, the windows are down, and it’s dark outside. I hear the croak of the bullfrog, peep of tree frogs, millions of insects. The call of the whippoorwill. The lowing of cattle.

The night air, heavy with the scent of freshly-turned earth, cools my cheek. My parents’ quiet voices lull me to sleep. What sweet memories I have of days gone by.

These are just the things to stir the juices of my imagination. My characters come alive as I recreate long-ago scenes. I need to get better at it. Too often, I forget to include enough to help my readers “see” the imaginary rooms where my characters live. I forget, because I’m so familiar with them.

Walking in the barn lot at Grandma’s, I almost always heard a sound as if a dog followed along behind. Yet, there was no dog. It may have been the echo of my own footsteps. It never frightened me, only intrigued me. Stirred my overly active imagination.

I pretended it was one of my grandparents’ old hound dogs, long ago turned to dust in the ground—a faithful old friend that just couldn’t leave—couldn’t be parted from his favorite people. I never told that story, but I might someday. If I do, those old memories will serve me well. Maybe I’ll even start it out with once upon a time.

How about you?  Do you have a favorite memory, or an intriguing thought from days gone by? I’d love to hear it!