Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Skinny Dip with Virginia Euwer Wolff

book coverWhat’s your favorite hol­i­day tra­di­tion?

I have so many favorites. One of them is the hang­ing of the Christ­mas stock­ings. My aunt made felt and appliqué stock­ings for my two tiny chil­dren in the 1960s. Thir­ty years lat­er, my daugh­ter made felt and appliqué stock­ings for her hus­band, their two chil­dren, and me. She designed the appliqué motifs to reflect each fam­i­ly mem­ber. For instance, my son-in-law’s has an abstract paint­ing in felt pieces; mine has a vio­lin, com­plete with frag­ile strings made of thread. We hang these old and new stock­ings on Christ­mas Eve. The youngest fam­i­ly mem­bers go to bed. The old­er gen­er­a­tion sneak to the man­tel, one by one, and put Santa’s gifts into the stock­ings. San­ta gives small sur­pris­es that will fit in the stock­ing, sou­venir post­cards, car­toons, lac­tose pills, always a can­dy cane, always a lump of coal. First thing on Christ­mas morn­ing we open our stock­ings, one by one with every­one watch­ing. Many laughs, many mem­o­ries of pre­vi­ous Christ­mas morn­ings, and Christ­mas spir­it in abun­dance.

Were you a teacher’s pet or teacher’s chal­lenge?

gr_campfireAs a small child whose father had died when I was five, liv­ing in a rur­al com­mu­ni­ty where every­one knew my fam­i­ly, I was at first han­dled care­ful­ly and ten­der­ly by teach­ers. As a painful­ly shy per­son and the last child in my first grade class to learn to read, I must have need­ed some extra cod­dling. And it turned out that I was a good read­er (at long last) and a very good speller. Those went a long way up the rungs to teacher’s pet. That and pity for our wid­owed and orphaned fam­i­ly in wartime, as well as the pub­lic fact that our moth­er was now run­ning the orchard busi­ness and play­ing the organ for church and serv­ing in the PTA and super­vis­ing our Camp Fire Girls’ group and see­ing that we had music lessons and Sun­day School. (And we didn’t have elec­tric­i­ty yet.) Soon, though, That Thing hap­pened to me. That mys­ti­fy­ing Thing that some mid­dle school girls are sus­cep­ti­ble to. I became a prob­lem. Loud, irri­tat­ing, gos­sip­ing and whis­per­ing, near­ly blind to the beau­ties of sci­ence and math. And it turned out that I was actu­al­ly hav­ing to study in order to suc­ceed aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly. Oh, cru­el world, to have thrust such bur­dens upon me. These extremes, teacher’s pet and teacher’s irri­tant, have stood me in good stead as a watch­er, lis­ten­er, teacher, and sto­ry mak­er.

What’s the first book report you ever wrote?

We did some some oral ones in ear­ly grades, but I can’t remem­ber a writ­ten one till a ghast­ly hor­ri­ble inad­e­quate one I wrote in sev­enth grade (Jane Eyre), or maybe it was the ghast­ly hor­ri­ble inad­e­quate one I wrote in eighth grade (A Tale of Two Cities). Both still make me ashamed, which may be why I can’t remem­ber which was which, try­ing to dilute the guilt by drap­ing a cloud over the mem­o­ry.

Do you like to gift wrap presents?

I LOVE gift-wrap­ping presents. Like iron­ing, it’s a craft that can sat­is­fy in min­utes. Unlike writ­ing a book or learn­ing a sonata, which can take years (and the grat­i­fi­ca­tion with these lat­ter two is nev­er com­plete), gift-wrap­ping is its own reward. I iron papers and rib­bons from pre­vi­ous gifts, and in our fam­i­ly we often wrap in maps from Nation­al Geo­graph­ic.

What do you wish you could tell your 10-year old self?

Get a grip. Read more broad­ly, more deeply. Prac­tice the vio­lin much, much, much more method­i­cal­ly. Leave less and less to chance. In a cou­ple of years you’re going to find that math is get­ting hard­er and you’re going to have to have more tenac­i­ty than you’ve even dreamed of. Learn at least a cou­ple of new words each week. Yes, you will get breasts. Yes, you will even­tu­al­ly get your peri­od. No, your father is not going to come back to life. Be con­sid­er­ably more grate­ful to your moth­er, who’s work­ing hard­er than any oth­er five moth­ers you know. On the oth­er hand, you’re begin­ning to do some things OK: You’ve already learned at your mother’s knee that all peo­ple are cre­at­ed equal, but you will have to keep re-learn­ing how to deploy that truth. You’ve got some basic opti­mism; hang on to it. And anoth­er thing: Even­tu­al­ly, you’ll learn the word ‘hal­cy­on’. And then you’ll know the name for these sum­mer days on the lawn, read­ing about Bet­sy and Tacy and Nan­cy Drew, and play­ing with the cat and dog, and look­ing up at fly­ing squir­rels dart­ing among the tow­er­ing Dou­glas firs at the edge of the world.”

What 3 children’s book authors or illus­tra­tors or edi­tors would you like to invite to din­ner?

Ter­ry Pratch­ett, Ash­ley Bryan, A.A. Milne.

Where’s your favorite place to read?

Any­where. The light has to be good, though. Indoors, out­doors, upstairs, down­stairs, in libraries, on trains, on porch­es, in the woods, on beach­es, on air­planes, in bed­rooms, in air­ports. At break­fast, at sun­set, in the mid­dle of the night. With clas­si­cal music in the back­ground or silence. And I love being read to, so in my car I always have a book going.


One Response to Skinny Dip with Virginia Euwer Wolff

  1. David LaRochelle June 20, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    What great insight into an author whose work I’ve admired for a long time. Thanks for shar­ing the his­to­ry of your grow­ing up years, Vir­ginia.

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