Part 1: Beginnings – Traveling, Reading, Absorbing

Travel pretty much marks the story of my life, from my beginnings until now. My father was a Navy pilot, and so we moved frequently. I had already lived on three coasts by the time I was eight.

I slept through my first hurricane when I was just over a year old. We were living in Corpus Christi, Texas, when Hurricane Carla came ashore. My father and the other Navy pilots all had to fly the planes away from the base to California, where they would be well out of the path of the hurricane. Therefore my mother, my two brothers and I sat out the hurricane with other families in a shelter provided by the Navy. Although I was too young to remember it, it was a category 4 hurricane–one of the worst to hit Texas. That was the first of many hurricanes I’ve been through. I’ve experienced three directly, and now that I live in central North Carolina I’ve been on the edges of at least a dozen more. I often point to that Corpus Christi experience when I say that I can sleep through just about anything.

My love of writing came from my mother, Margaret Wayt DeBolt. She was a journalist, and she wrote for Naval officers’ wives’ newsletters and local magazines and newspapers. When I was thirteen my father retired from the Navy and we settled in Savannah, Georgia. Immediately my mother became immersed in the history and lore of the area. Within a few years she had written her first books: Savannah, A Historical Portrait, and Savannah Spectres. She also compiled several cookbooks, beginning with Savannah Sampler, which are also liberally laced with tidbits of Savannah history.

Although my parents were born and raised in West Virginia, both were eager to get out and see the world. My father’s time in the Navy allowed them to do just that. This love of travel became a hallmark in my own life. After two years at the University of Georgia, I finished my education at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. After graduation, I worked for a year at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa before returning to the United States. I lived in half a dozen states from Oregon to Virginia before settling in North Carolina. I use the word “settling” tentatively because I’m always open to new ideas, even though I’m fond of saying that nowadays I prefer to do my traveling with a suitcase rather than a moving van.

When my family moved to Savannah, I began to meet people who had lived in one town for all of their lives. It was a new concept for me. I wondered what that it be like to have such “roots.” There are certainly advantages to being part of a community for years or even generations. But there can be disadvantages too, and on the whole I’m glad for the life I’ve had.

If you are in a military family, you learn that “home” can be wherever you choose to make it. This was crystallized for me one day when my mother and father were talking about all the places we’d lived. My mother said, “We certainly have had a lot of homes over the years.” Then Dad replied, “No, we’ve only had one home—we just kept putting it in different houses!” I think that sums it up perfectly.

Next up: how my favorite things influenced my writing.