Elaine Scott with former President George Bush at the 1998 Texas Book Festival.
Elaine and Mr. Wilson meet again!
Scroll down to read the story of Elaine's reunion with the teacher who inspired her to write.
of Elaine Scott
I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the 20th of June. June 20th was also the birthday of my grandmother, Flora, and her twin sister, Florence, who was my great aunt. You can imagine the family celebrations when I was little! I loved sharing my special day with Nana and Aunt Florence, but I also remember wishing my birthday fell during the school year, so I could celebrate with my friends at Overlook Elementary School.
My father’s name was George J. Watts, Jr. He was a Philadelphia banker. He also was a great reader, and later in his life, he took up oil painting—just for fun—and even exhibited some of his art under the name of “Poppa George.” My mother, Ethel, stayed home to take care of our family, which consisted of my big brother, George III, and my baby sister, Kathleen, whom we all called Kathy. Everyone in my family loved to read-and Mother especially loved to write. Once we adopted a stray dog and my brother and I couldn't agree on a name for it. To settle the arguments, Mother organized a writing contest. We were to write poems about dogs, and whoever wrote the best poem could name the new dog. The contest was between George III, my mother, and me. Kathy, who was only two years old at the time, was too young to play. I guess my father was the judge, but I don't really remember. Anyway, my brother won, and he named the dog Topper. I wish I still had a copy of his poem. Even today, I remember it as being pretty good.
About this time, Mr. Wilson, my 6th grade teacher at Overlook, asked the class to spend some time writing poems. At first, I was worried about coming up with an idea. Then I remembered the snowman I had built the week before, who was now melting on my front lawn. I decided to write a poem about three snowmen who knew they would melt when spring arrived. Without telling me, Mr. Wilson entered A Tale of Woe in a contest and it won a prize and it was published. That was the first time I saw my name in print. It was a thrill to see “By Elaine Watts” in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the city’s big newspaper, and for the first time, I wondered about becoming a writer when I grew up. But big changes were coming to my life, and I soon forgot about that little poem.
When I was eleven, a bank in Dallas, Texas wanted my father to come to work there. It was hard to leave Philadelphia and head for Texas, far away from Nana and Aunt Florence and those glorious birthday celebrations. All my Philadelphia friends thought I was moving to the land of stagecoaches and cowboys, and so did I. I remember buying a cap pistol right before we left, and I had a cowboy hat left over from some Halloween costume. I was ready. When we arrived I was a bit disappointed to find out that my father would drive his car to work, and the best chance I had of seeing a real cowboy would be at the Ft. Worth Fat Stock Show and Rodeo!
My family remained in Dallas (with frequent return visits to Philadelphia) and I finished high school and even went to college there at Southern Methodist University. While I was a student at SMU I met and married my husband, Parker. Eventually we had two daughters, Cindy and Susan. In 1971, our family moved to Houston, Texas, and when the girls were in elementary school, I began to think about writing again. At first, I wrote articles for adult magazines, but when I wrote my first children’s book, I stopped writing those articles. Writing for boys and girls was much more fun. Our daughters are grown now and no longer live in Houston. Parker and I have remained here since 1971—except for a period of time when we moved to Lagos, Nigeria in West Africa when the girls were both in college.
Throughout the years our family has welcomed an assortment of pets. There were guinea pigs, gerbils, and white mice, along with a parade of dogs and cats. The dogs' names were Puff, Delilah, and Moose and the cats were Sylvester, Ocho, Frances, Laverne, Shirley, and Troy. The last three cats, Laverne and Shirley and their stepbrother, Troy, live with us now. Troy once belonged to our daughter, Cindy, but she asked us to help take care of him, since she has to travel a lot in her job. I tell her she has lost custody of Troy now.
Someone once asked me to name the five books that most influenced my life. That was a real challenge! My earliest memories are caught up with sitting on my mother's lap and listening to her read aloud from Robert Louis Stevenson's Child's Garden of Verses. I particularly liked "The Lamplighter" and "The Swing." By the time I was four, I could read for myself. I read easy books at first, but soon loved Grimm's Fairy Tales and the Raggedy Ann Stories by Johnny Gruelle. I also loved biographies, mysteries like the Nancy Drew series, and perhaps my all-time favorites as a child (and even as an adult), Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. My childhood copies of each of those titles sit on the mantel of the fireplace in my study. As a child, I also read Bible stories. As an adult I still read the Bible, because I find that the stories within its pages still teach me everything I ever needed to know about living life with joy and satisfaction.
Parker and I love to travel, visit our friends, read good books, eat any kind of seafood (preferably by the sea), attend our church, and be with our family. I am constantly grateful that there were people in my life who taught me the joy of reading, writing, studying, thinking, sharing, and celebrating the goodness of life. I am also grateful for all of you who read my books. A writer needs a reader, and I need you. -Elaine Scott
Read an interview with Elaine Scott conducted by Cynthia Leitich Smith.
Learn more about Elaine Scott's career at Answer.com.
Author Thomas Wolfe coined the phrase, "You can't go home again." It has become part of our cultural vocabulary, easily repeated when thoughts turn nostalgic. Well, Thomas Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again. I just did, and for those of you who are fortunate enough to make that pilgrimage to the past, I recommend it. The story of my return to Abington, and my reunion with a beloved teacher from Overlook Elementary School reads like a fable--one of those "happily ever after" tales that flourished in our childhoods, and disappeared forever with approaching adulthood. But this fable happens to be true.
As an author of children's books, I am often asked to contribute articles for various literary or educational journals. So in 1997, when I was asked to write "something, anything" for a Texas educational journal that is part of the New Jersey Writing Project, I agreed, though I was momentarily stuck for a subject. And then I remembered Mr. Wilson, my teacher for both fifth and sixth grade at Overlook. I had thought of him often through the years-especially after I began my professional writing career-but getting in touch with him seemed impossible. Too many miles, and too many years had passed. I was excited at the prospect of putting my memories of those days on paper, and I happily wrote three pages about life in his class at Overlook, ending with the words, "It's too late to thank him for all he did for a nine and ten-year-old girl. But I remember him. Oh, how I remember him!" Three years later, a series of amazing coincidences proved it was not too late at all.
In the fall of 2000, an invitation to a cousin's 50th wedding anniversary appeared in the mail. I decided to return to Philadelphia to join the celebration. And I also decided I wanted to see Overlook once again. Knowing that no one just walks into a school these days, I called and asked to speak to the librarian, Elizabeth Browne. I explained what I wanted to do, and she graciously agreed to let me revisit my old haunts. Meanwhile, back in Texas, my brother had received the same anniversary invitation, and he, too, decided to return to Philadelphia. He came bearing memorabilia from our mother's estate. Among the things he brought was my class picture from sixth grade at Overlook. He gave me the picture on the morning I returned to Overlook, and I entered the school with it in hand. The story gets stranger still. Overlook's principal, Terry Montanaro, was gone that day. In her place was a substitute principal, Lorraine Hirsch. Mrs. Hirsch looked at the photo and exclaimed, "Why, there's Paul!" Of course, she meant my Mr. Wilson. That comment capped a series of coincidences that brought about last week's reunion. Had I not had my old class picture in hand that morning, had Overlook principal Terry Montanaro not had other plans that day, had Lorraine Hirsch not been there as her substitute, I would be continuing in my belief that Mr. Wilson was beyond the reach of any thank-you from me.
To my great joy, he is not beyond my reach. And I was able to thank him in person when I returned to Overlook and Highland Elementary Schools as a guest author on April 4th and 5th. And on Saturday afternoon, April 6th, we celebrated. How we celebrated! A group of his former students and my former classmates gathered at Paul and Bernice Wilson's home. Norma Hutchison, our third grade teacher, joined us there. Fifty years melted away. We looked at old photos, poured over the school's old paper, The Lookover, found various items we had contributed to that journal (it was the first place I was published), told stories, and generally reveled in memories of schooldays at Overlook with Mr. Wilson. In addition to teaching, he directed plays, coached sports, and molded young lives. "There wasn't enough money to pay me to do those things," he said. "Everything I did, I did because I loved doing it." Looking at us assembled in his living room, he also said, "My, didn't we have fun?" Indeed we did.
Thank you Mr. Wilson. Thank you.