2017-03-16 / Opinions

Wondering about roads unexplored, even now, I still have stories to tell

By KIP BURKE

It feels funny not to wander; but to sit still and not even barely travel. This recovery bidness ain’t for sissies.

How I got to this situation is that I’ve always been prone to wander, and as I wandered, to wonder what’s over the next hill or around the next curve. That’s probably how I wound up a writer.

My mama said I was always bad to wander as a child, and offered this as proof: when I was four, a neighbor lady caught me two blocks from home, driving down the road in my Hudson Hornet pedal car. She said she was rescuing me, but I knew I was on my way to the far horizon and she was just keeping me from my natural wandering ways.

Once I graduated to two wheels, I was unstoppable. With a buddy or alone, I roamed for miles on my bike all over my suburban neighborhood and into the country beyond. It was a sweeter, simpler time, and my mama knew where I was from phone calls from other eagle-eyed moms along the way. I thought I was totally on my own, a free man, but the surveillance net was pretty tight, for the 1960s.

I’d usually come back with wondrous tales of my adventures, which were generally based on reality but often improved by my fruitful imagination. I soon learned that if I made up a story and said it was true, I’d likely get a spanking. But if I made up the same story and started it off with “What if….” I got smiles and encouragement, which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that it’s better to have a warm feeling in the bottom of my heart than a warmer feeling in the heart of my bottom, thus a creative writing career was born.

People have asked me how I learned to write, and I really have to say I didn’t. The muse was always in me, stringing words together in my head from someplace deep in my DNA. It goes without saying that I was a hungry reader, devouring every newspaper, book, and magazine that came my way, and those authors, reporters, and writers fed me like a starving baby bird. Not a week went by without a trip or two to the library, where I could wander that cool sanctum with shelves packed full of the wonders of stories to come.

Although no one taught me to write, my teachers did teach me the rules of grammar, spelling, and syntax. It didn’t hurt my writing any, but I always thought diagramming sentences was an unnecessary evil that stripped the magic from perfectly good prose.

That wondering about the world, and that wanderlust, led me to flee Alabama for the Navy and never look back. To its credit, the Navy gave wings to both my wandering and my writing, actually paying me to travel, write, and shoot photos while giving me fascinating things and people to tell my stories about. By actual count, I’ve managed to visit some 30 countries and most of the states, rarely having to pay for the privilege with anything more than years and sweat. I consider that a great bargain.

Now that I’ve settled down, glad to be done with ships and helicopters and airport security, I still wonder about roads yet unexplored, doors not opened, paths not yet wandered. There’s never lack of stories to tell, or things to wonder about, nor will there ever be.

Even now, though, I do have stories yet to tell.

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