cannot tell a lie. I did it.”
This quote, supposedly made by
George Washington, shaped me greatly as a child. I had no idea, though,
how it would affect me as an adult—along with my writing.
One of the first lessons my
father ingrained in me was to be honest. I always appreciated the way
Dad talked to me. Others threatened me with words like, “Make a face
like that again and your face will freeze,” or “If you go out into the
street, the boogeyman will get you.”
And folks wonder why I acted the
way I did. Sheesh.
Anyway, I remember Dad talking
to me about George’s famous declarations one day as we sat in the
“Honey, you must always tell
the truth. George Washington did, even when he chopped down his
father’s cherry tree.”
I scooted to the edge of my
seat. “Really, Dad? What happened?”
“Well, when George’s father
asked him what took place with the tree, George said, ‘I cannot tell a
lie. I did it.’ So if you’re always honest with me, just as George was
with his father, your punishment will be less severe should you ever
get into trouble.”
As I sat there, I pondered my
father’s words—and George’s. “So, if I always tell
the truth, you won’t punish me?”
“No, I’ll still punish you, but
it won’t be as bad.”
I decided right there and then
that I liked George. I purposed in my heart to speak the truth,
according to George and according to my father.
few years later, as I stood outside the school, talking with some
friends, a crazy, wild-eyed girl lunged at me for no reason at all, and
I stopped her with my fist. Seconds later, blood streamed from her nose
and down the front of her white sweatshirt. I know it’s not ladylike
behavior, but I was young. I still like to say that the reason for my
insolence was that I was learning self-defense against my three older
brothers, the precious lamb chops.
Soon after the incident, the
principal escorted me to his office, closed the door, and walked behind
his desk. He folded his arms across his chest and stared at me.
“Deborah, did you punch Valerie and give her a bloody nose?”
I folded my arms, just as he had
moments earlier, and jutted my chin. “Yes, sir, I did.”
eyes went wide, and then he
picked up the phone and called my parents to come and get me. I waited,
tapping my foot against the tile floor. Please, remember what
you said, Dad.
the ride home in the car,
I listened as Dad talked to Mom. “The principle said that he’s not
pleased with her behavior, but he’s happy with her admission. He said
it’s rare for a kid to be honest like that.”
I smiled. Good old
And Dad, true to his word, kept
my punishment less severe.
So what does my story have to do
Now I have a hard time making up
stories. I can whip off nonfiction quicker than I can blink, but
because of the truth ingrained in me as a child, thanks to George and
Dad, I struggle when it comes to fiction.
Does this ever happen to you?
Wait. You were probably a much
nicer child than I was and didn’t have to go through the whole
George-and-the-cherry-tree-thing, so scratch that question.
Not only do I wrestle with
making things up, I also don’t hear my characters’ voices (as I’ve
heard other authors say they do), see their faces, or have them chase
me. No, I have to hunt them down like a mad dog before they’ll even
appear in my mind, let alone chase me. As a result, I have to work that
And you know something else I
I found out that George’s
comments were fiction. Supposedly, some biographer added them for
dramatic purposes to a story he wrote about George. (Say it ain’t so,
Can you believe that? I was
hurt, I tell you, and I can’t imagine what Dad would say.
Oh well, maybe now I won’t
struggle so much when it comes to my own writing. I mean, truth doesn’t
belong in fiction anyway, right?
Or does it . . .?