Twenty-six years teaching elementary students, most of that time with first graders, found me ready for a change. I moved on to college seniors eager to take on their student teaching experience just before graduation. As their supervisor, I became the liaison between the students, their placement schools, and the college. Surprisingly the shift in the age of my patrons did not make a huge difference. Both did not listen the first time, both did not follow directions, and both discovered they needed me more than they thought. However, I was no longer tying shoes or zipping zippers.
“The important things in life always happened by accident . . . And then, out of the black beyond, like a hawk on a rat, some nameless catastrophe would swoop into your life and turn everything upside down and inside out forever.” (The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans) My catastrophe came with a name – breast cancer. It too swooped into my life and turned everything upside down and inside out.
My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in the early 70’s when I was a brand new bride and just getting started on my teaching career. Thirty-four years later, here I was hearing the same diagnosis. In an effort to get my head around the breast cancer journey that I was walking, I started a journal. I told my family and friends many times that I knew where I was and I knew where I wanted to be, and the only way to get there was straight through the middle of this medical challenge. The daily writing helped me to do just that. It helped me to describe what was happening and what I was experiencing and at the same time give voice to my feelings about those very things.
Having made it past my own use by date, I gave my journal to my daughter so that if or when her own breast cancer diagnosis came along, she would have my words to guide her. “Mom, this is way too good to leave in the drawer. We need to work on getting this published!” And so as they say, “the rest is history”.
I self-published with DeForest Press out of Elk River, Minnesota, From There to Here a breast cancer journey by Diane Davies. After twelve years of survivorship, I reflected again on the life lessons learned with the enhanced awareness that only time can provide and published Breast Cancer Saved My Life. I was fortunate to have as my writing coach, Beverly Vote of Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine. She provided training and encouragement to get that second book out there.
My family has been so fortunate for years to make our home in the valley of the St. Croix River between Minnesota and Wisconsin. We live on the Minnesota side overlooking the Kinnickinnic sandbar created by the mouth of the river of the same name dumping into the larger St. Croix. My husband’s great-grandfather purchased the land in 1854 before Minnesota became a state. His grandmother always called the narrow strip of land along the river the neck. The neck is where both our home and my daughter and her family home are located – next door to each other.
In 2007 my first grandchild was born, Elsie, and five years later Ely came along. Who could ask for more with my grand babies living right next door. To this day, I’m not sure they really understand that we have two different houses. It is just all home for them.
One of my favorite activities is to walk along the flat part of our driveway. Living in the country with about forty acres, our driveway is probably a half mile long or better. I say the flat part because the first part is all hill! And I mean Hill with a capital H. Once I survive the climb, after stopping for a couple breathers, the flat is easy and oh so beautiful. The drive is bordered on the west with forest, then field (usually corn or soy beans), then trees again, grass, and finally blacktop. On the east is the river, then forest, then field (usually corn or soy beans), then grass, followed by a strip of huge pine trees that I remember helping to plant when I first moved here with my husband, more grass, and finally the blacktop. The drive runs north and south and ends with a curve to the right and then left down the hill ending in front of our garage. We are blessed to have white tail deer, rabbits, chipmunks, field mice, skunks, coyotes, fox, raccoons, muskrats, squirrels of all shapes and sizes, you name it living in our forest. A few years ago we were even visited by a black bear which is rare indeed. Our feathered neighbors are bald eagles, hawks, Canada geese, all kinds of ducks, swans, loons occasionally, and now and then we spot a golden eagle as well as most all of the backyard birds found in Minnesota.
As a first grade teacher, I have read thousands of books to hundreds of children. Now as a grandmother, I have read hundreds of books to two grandchildren. My favorite room in my house is my library housing also hundreds of books for both adults and children alike. And on my bucket list is an entry that says “read my own stories to children”. Walking along the neck in the early morning my mind makes up stories about the animals I see. It is comparable to my head opening up like a funnel and ideas pour in. So the name Life in the Neck dropped in one day and along came Delaney the deer, Rocket the rabbit, Cardinal Red and of course Old Coyote who make up the characters in Life in the Neck New Friends.
Now with two children’s books, Life in the Neck New Friends and Jeannie Ann’s Grandma Has Breast Cancer, under my belt, I’m an author visiting schools and reading my own stories to children. That’s one big check off of my bucket list for me. Oh yes, and by the way, book number three, Life in the Neck Squirrel Trouble, will be coming out in the summer of 2019. Who knows how many more will follow?