People sometimes ask me if I have ever written a book. I’ve always said no. But then, as my mother reminds me, I’ve actually written hundreds.
They are unpublished (until now), amateurish and hastily illustrated. The handwriting is messy, the spelling careless and the pictures occasionally muddled by a splotch of chocolate milk. The plots make a Keystone Kops short look like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” the situations are ludicrous and the characters are, literally and figuratively, stick-thin.
Then again, these homemade “books” were written when I was 9 or 10. The intended audience consisted of my immediate family, so they usually centered around a Swift-ular adventure, which ranged from building a treehouse together to flying to the moon. I was sometimes joined by my sister, Bertha, in writing and illustrating them, which is evident in the editions with significantly tidier penmanship and more restrained illustrations. Move over, Bronte sisters!
Although I was a decent artist at this age, I used stick figures because they were the quickest way to grind out the stories for my always-appreciative family, who typically rolled with laughter at our inside jokes and glorious dysfunction. Now, on Mother’s Day, it seems like the ideal time to share them.
Although there isn’t room to replicate the entire books here (thank goodness), I am happy to offer a glance at a few editions here, just so you can be prepared when they are made into major Hollywood movies.
We showed a pretty broad approach to character development: My oldest sister was the responsible one who talked to us like children.
My second-oldest sister was a femme fatale who — at least according to the seminal classic, “The Swifts Go Mountain-Climbing” — was so appearance-conscious that she carried a vanity table in her backpack. Bertha was depicted constantly yelling at everyone.
I was the ditzy one, forever wandering off cliffs and mistaking skunks for kittens.
Dad, who wore a farmer’s hat at all times (even when swimming and skydiving), was shown as a handyman superhero who could fix, weld and renovate anything. My little brother was depicted as a miniature Dad, down to a child-sized farmer’s hat.
Their fix-it skills would become especially useful in our “Swifts Travel the World” series, in which I somehow single-handedly cause the Eiffel Tower to collapse. (It should be noted the Eiffel Tower looks more like an oil rig than one of the world’s best-known examples of architecture, but this is the kind of stuff that happened before Google.) Fortunately, Dad and Gary are on hand to quickly rebuild the structure, while Mom duly vacuums and dusts the construction site.
Mom was probably the most multifaceted character in the series. She is shown with a towering hairdo, predating Marge Simpson’s trademark beehive by at least a decade. She appears to be the COO of Swift Corp., barking orders, urging her daughters to eat Weight Watchers and organizing us all with a military precision.
Although I don’t remember my mother as being fanatical about cleanliness, she is depicted as a sort of Leona Helmsley of housekeeping. When we embark on space travel, she busily dusts the dark side of the moon. When our whole family inexplicably joins the Air Force, Mom becomes a drill “seargent” who could spot a “speck of bacteria” from across the room and dresses down soldiers for lackluster potato-peeling skills.
Most books also include a reference to Mom’s interest in art. Mom always told us we would be prettier if we smiled. Likewise, during our world travels, she decides the Mona Lisa needs to smile more, so she repaints it (thankfully, there aren’t pesky details like “museum security” or “felony convictions for defacing priceless artwork” in our little stories.)
Looking back, I am baffled as to why we picked on Mom so much. The only explanation is that she was the most influential person in our lives at that time, so we noticed everything she said or did. She also is a “do-er” who delved into interesting pursuits like art, so that gave us plenty of material.
And then there’s the simple fact that moms tend to get blamed for everything. It didn’t seem to matter to Mom though. She thought the books were hilarious and would even dig them out to show to company when they visited (much to our embarrassment).
I will note that we also showed her loving and encouraging side, especially in our special Mother’s Day editions. We show her comforting broken hearts, marveling over our accomplishments and soothing our disappointments.
So Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I hope you still find these funny. And even if our depiction of you was sometimes sketchy, your parenting never was.
Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.