My fourth-grade class trip was to Mark Twain’s house in Hartford, Connecticut. Our teacher, Evadne Lovett, had been reading Tom Sawyer aloud to us each afternoon and she decided the home of a writer would be a perfect field-trip destination. I don’t know how my fellow ten-year-olds responded (although some of them, upon learning the house was built to resemble a riverboat, ran through its halls shouting “Man overboard!” so I will cautiously say enthusiastically) but for me it was a life-changing trip.
I bought my first adult-level book in the gift shop.
Up until then, my book-buying budget – approximately three dollars per year – had been spent on Hardy Boys mysteries and Tom Swift science fiction. In the Twain shop I purchased my very first paperback, an anthology entitled A Laurel Reader MARK TWAIN. (I have it to this day. Here’s the scan to prove it.)
The Laurel Reader, in addition to the diaries of Adam and Eve, the inevitable Jumping Frog story, and “Cannibalism in the Cars” (in which passengers on a snowbound train vote on the order in which they should be eaten, something that rarely occurred in Hardy Boys stories, where it was usually the big guy with the baseball bat who got first dibs) included most of the epigrams from "Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar," which were essentially nineteenth-century one-liners and made enough of an impression on me that I started jotting down my own Profound Thoughts in something that, by high school, I was calling Paranoid Wilson’s Notebook.
Here’s an entry from Twain’s Pudd’nhead:
Adam was but human -- this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.
Here’s an entry from Paranoid Wilson’s Notebook:
Is he stifling a yawn, or aiming a blowgun? Don’t take any chances; kick him in the face.
Twain’s point may have been more trenchant, but I feel I win when it comes to brevity.
To this day I still add thoughts to Paranoid Wilson’s Notebook (most recently: “November became National Novel Writing Month because ‘Novel’ and ‘November’ both start with the same five letters, but I can’t see how anyone can expect me to write a novel after I’ve just spent the entire previous month octopus fishing,”) and sometimes I read through it, looking for inspiration when the writing isn’t going all that well, as, obviously, it doesn’t too often.
All of which I trace back to that 1962 field trip to Mark Twain’s house.
(Evadne Lovett, Brown University graduate, Daughter of the American Revolution, member of the League of Women Voters and the John Greenleaf Whittier Society, died at the age of 96 in 2007, six years before I published my first book. She probably knew I’d be a late bloomer. So, even though I'm way behind with my gratitude - thank you Mrs. Lovett!)