I wasted, so I thought, the summer with little advancement in my writing. For years I've had stored in the computer two creative nonfiction stories written multiple times, attempting to find the best lede. Opening the story with an illustrious picture of words seemed to escape me. During the early summer I read of a contest in Alabama. Figuring few readers or judges had ever heard of the topic of my CNF, I took one more look at the first paragraph of one story and decided this was the last time I would rewrite it. Sitting only a few minutes I remembered the words of Rick Bragg a few years ago . "Make your opening so your reader wants to keep reading." Of course, many other writers have said the same thing, but I've not heard their words.
Typing as fast as I could with the words jumping around in my head I got the opening lines finished. Printed the 1500 word story and mailed in a recollection of my six-month stay at a state preventorium. What is a preventorium? A place like an orphanage or a boarding school especially for children who may or may not have TB. I was sooooo skinny with little appetite, always a sickly brat, the utlimate place, my parents thought, was a stay with other kids who needed special attention. I returned home six months later before my eighth birthday. No one in the family talked about my time there and I pushed the experience into the recesses of my mind. Only after I was married did I reveal what I thought was a terrible experience.
However, to view the time spent there with my today's mind, I realize I had a little paradise. I couldn't appreciate it because I wanted to be home with my parents and new sister. Eight years ago I began to write what I remembered. Then a FaceBook site appeared and I read about other little patients and how they coped with the loneliness. The height of this early summer was to be reunited with some of these patients. They are grown men and women who felt as I had, the necessity of keeping the "P" a secret. By exchanging memories I realized how different my recollection was from theirs. I was at the preventorium in 1940; they arrived anywhere from 1950-1960. We cruised the grounds, saw some similarities of the now buildings to the then ones.Thoughts came tumbling.
My entry into the contest didn't include a lot of what I learned about others' memories, but I received the support I needed to let the public, however large or small it be, know there had been a place in central Mississippi, as well as many around the United States helping kids..
A creative nonfiction is taking facts and surrounding them with your story. I explained how TB was detected in 1940, the purpose of the sanitorium for adults and the preventorium for children, the daily routine developed for us kids, and the attention the workers gave to us. We lived on a large campus and were supplied with all we needed.
My story entitled, "A Secret Place" will be published in the Alabama Writers Conclave emagazine AlaLit sometime next year. I'm proud not only of winning first place (a certificate and $100) but of having the opportunity to get the story in print so others can learn of the scourge of tuberculosis and how the state played a part in stamping out the disease.
Oddly, I read online the information from the Mississippi Department of Health that not a single child living in the Preventorium were ever found to have tuberculosis.