My Grandmother, Irene Cieslak, died just two months ago from Parkinson’s Disease.
She taught me many things in life, including how to make chocolate peanut butter balls, how to be humble yet proud, and how to appreciate the latest copy of the National Enquirer.
One time, during a visit to our house in the 1980s, she handed me a scratch-off lottery ticket. Miraculously, I won $50. I thought it was rigged. I looked to my grandfather, Walter, then back to Grandma. My smile was huge.
She said, matter of fact, “Well, your feet must have been itching last night.”
I almost dropped the winning ticket. HOW did she know? My feet — and hands — had been itching the night before.
“Simple,” she said. ”When you’re coming into money, your palms and your feet will itch.” And that was that.
Last Wednesday night, I was in bed, trying to sleep, but it felt like something was crawling all over me. I worried it was a case of bedbugs…they seem to be all over the news (plus, my grandmother also passed down her hypochondriacal nature to me). I got up, put on some lotion, and tried to sleep again. Itchy itchy itchy. I tried to stop thinking about it, but then, of all things, my big toe just went crazy with itchiness. So bad, in fact, that I soaked it in the tub, thinking I might have been bitten by something.
The next morning, I felt perfectly fine. No bug bites. No redness. No sign at all there’d been an itchy foot.
I went about my day, taking kids to school, futzing with a blog entry that I can’t seem to get right (about books I’ve been reading lately, wondering who on earth even reads my blog except kind souls who feel sorry for me or want to keep my spirits up about being published someday), and generally pushing the piles on my desk from one side to another.
Around 4 in the afternoon, the caller ID announced a local number I didn’t recognize. I answered, thinking it might be the parent of one of my son’s friends.
“Is this Christine Wolf?” the young woman’s voice asked kindly.
“Yes it is,” I said, quite annoyed that yet another salesperson could sneak through the do-not-call fortress I’d clearly failed to build strong enough.
“My name is…….and I’m calling from —CH dot com.”
“From where?” I said, eyeing the fridge, wondering if it was five-o-clock yet.
“—CH dot com,” she said patiently.
“Scratch dot com?” I asked over the voices of my three children and each of their three friends.
“PATCH dot com,” she said, unruffled.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “let me step outside. I’ve got a million kids running around here and it’s hard to hear you.” I felt like I was being selfless by continuing to hear her schpiel, rather than barking, “Sorry, not interested.”
“Not a problem,” I think she said.
“Where are you from again?”
I don’t really recall the exact conversation, but it went something like this: She’s the editor for an online newspaper called Patch.com, her name is Jessica, and she’s been given my name by someone who read my blog and really enjoyed it.
“I’m sorry,” I said, ignoring the kids and the dog and the bottle of wine waiting for me in the fridge, “but did you say someone read my blog?”
“Yes,” she said. It totally sounded like she was smiling.
“REALLY?” I asked.
Then I remember her saying they’re looking for someone for their About Town column, someone who’s honest and in touch with a lot of people in the community. At that point, I thought she was looking for names.
“I know a lot of people,” I think I blurted out. I fought the urge to scream, “WHO READ MY BLOG? How did they find it?”
She continued. ”If it’s okay with you, I’d like to send you an email describing the job.”
I don’t think I said anything.
And I think she expected me not to say anything. ”We’d like you to be our About Town blogger.”
She sent me the email that night. I Googled the heck out of PATCH.com, trying to figure out if this was really legit or if I was dreaming.
I kept thinking to myself: I’d get to keep working on my novel. I’d get to work from home. I’d blog twice a day, Monday through Friday about the town I live in and the people who live here. I’d get paid to do it? I’d get paid to do it. I’d be a paid writer. A professional writer.
And then, I remembered my big toe. How it itched. And drove me crazy. And kept me up all night. I thought about my grandma, smiling from that place she’s gone to, saying to herself, “I told her so. I told her so. I’m no liar.”
Then, the next few days were an absolute blur.
I reviewed the job description and contract with my attorney (who’s also the father of my children). Knew the commitment would be big. Challenging. Exciting. Good “exercise” for dedicated writing and creative thinking. Considered how it might force me to stay disciplined with my schedule. My attorney agreed with me that it was an opportunity too good to pass up.
I signed on the dotted line on Friday, September 3, submitted my bio and photo for the website on Sunday, September 4, and had my first blog post published online on Monday, Labor Day, September 5. I became a working girl again on the day most people take “off”.
CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT?
I still can’t.
Another really surprising thing happened on Monday night. I was sitting in the kitchen with my attorney, talking again about how unbelievable this whole situation was, when the phone rang. The caller ID said, “Elder, Robert.”
“Pick it up!” I said, knowing it was the regional editor for Patch.com. Jessica, my new boss/editor had emailed me the day before, saying…oh what the heck, here’s her email:
I just wanted to pop you a note to say not only did I love your first article, but the Chicago Patch regional editor (Rob K. Elder, of the book “Last Words of the Executed” and formally of the Chicago Tribune) thought it was great. You’re a really talented writer, and I’m so glad we approached you for this column!
Do you have any ideas for the next few columns yet? A sample of what readers should expect?
Have a great Labor Day!
Now, I was taught at a very young age not to boast or show off. And if you’re reading this, I apologize so deeply for including that email, truly I do. But when I read those words, I started crying. And, I didn’t even know who Rob K. Elder was.
If you’re a writer, you need no further explanation. And if you’re not a writer, it might sound silly, but it’s so absolutely amazing when someone says something kind about your writing. That’s why we go to critique groups (for feedback). And conferences (for encouragement). And therapy (for…well…). Writing is a lonely, sometimes agonizing and frequently isolating experience. The irony of writing is in its desire to share with others what we create while we’re alone. Don’t get me wrong: I love writing, just like a runner might love to run marathons. It can be tough, and I need to push myself a lot. I might not always want to do it, but I know I’ll feel better about myself if I do. It feels natural and I feel great when I’m done. It’s just who I am.
Oh, back to Elder, Robert K. on the phone. I went out on the porch and tried to sound cool and in control. But inside I was shaking, because I’d Googled Rob K. Elder after that email, and again, HOLY C&@P, he was calling me.
Again with the paraphrasing: He was just calling to thank me for coming aboard and for my excellent writing (oh how I wish I’d recorded that CALL!). All I could think about was how this guy had interviewed Gary Sinise. And now, he’s calling Christine Wolf to say thanks.
Grandma Cieslak, thank you for everything you taught me. I almost never make the chocolate peanut butter balls, and I all but gave up tabloid rags after Princess Diana was killed in Paris because of the paparazzi. But, I now know with certainty that a little itch on the toe is something to sit up and pay attention to.
Oh, and the biggest kicker? The mother of the main character in my novel (for 8-12 year olds) loses her job as a local newspaper editor because online newspapers are taking over readership. Hmmm. Interesting…..
Here’s an article on Patch.com
Thanks, as always, for reading. I’m genuinely grateful you stuck around, even when I wondered why you did.
P.S. I wish you could have met my grandmother. You would have liked her. She was a hoot.