Tales of a Second Grade Traveler

Travel Stories: Is it possible to pinpoint the moment a girl becomes a traveler? Julia Ross thinks so.

06.01.10 | 10:55 AM ET

My mom recently announced she wanted one thing from her three daughters: two hours alone in her basement, clearing out boxes of childhood detritus that had languished for too long. We rolled our eyes, but gave in for an afternoon, stuffing high school homecoming dresses into trash bags headed for Goodwill.

My youngest sister faced down a hat box filled with notes from old boyfriends going back to sixth grade—two kids, a mortgage, and a lifetime ago. Me, I unearthed something far more edifying: my first piece of creative writing, penned for Mrs. Miller in the fall of second grade.

I knew my mom had the story tucked away somewhere, but hadn’t read it in years, and as I unfolded the single sheet of crumpled notebook paper, I laughed at how little I’d changed. My literary debut, “Me and the Puddle Adventure,” is a travel tale, written from the point of view of a single raindrop who longs to leave the confines of suburban Detroit, where my family lived at the time.

An economical 188 words, it goes like this:

One day it rained and smack! There I was right at the side of the road. I started out at one drop, then I got bigger and bigger, and I got so big that I went flowing down the street. I felt filthy but I went on going.

It rained all night and it rained all the next day, and I got so big that I went right out of Michigan and into Ohio. In Ohio it rained for five days and the next day I went right into Kentucky. I got ran over by many cars in Kentucky. It rained for three days and I went into Tennessee. And I kept on going, thru states and states and finally I went right into the Atlantic Ocean. It was fun floating on the Atlantic Ocean. At least I didn’t get run over by cars. I stayed in there for three weeks and I landed in England. I was on a dead end street. I went right to the end of the street and I went down the other side. And right back into the ocean and I sank.

Admittedly, my grasp of narrative was in its formative stages and the ending was a bit of a let-down, but what’s interesting is what drove me to write it.

The previous summer, my grandparents had retired to Tennessee, and we’d taken our first family road trip to visit them. Apparently, I kept careful track of our route and it rained a lot on the way.  As for England, I knew exactly why it was there. “Mary Poppins,” the film, had been re-released that year; my parents had taken me and my sister to see it. Like legions of other kids, including my nieces and nephews today, we were mesmerized by a coal-blackened Dick van Dyke high-stepping across rooftops and the eccentric old British naval officer firing a cannon, on the hour, next door to the Bankses’ lovely home, thundering, “Ship-shape and Bristol fashion.”

I remember wanting to fly kites in Hyde Park and hang out with chimney sweeps. Who wouldn’t? They had attitude and used words like “Guv’nor” and “mate.”

Back then, in 1970s middle America, it would have been hard to predict I’d live in China one day and travel with relative ease to places like West Africa, Hungary and Vietnam. Certainly, my parents wouldn’t have believed it. But re-reading my 7-year-old self as an adult, it’s clear a sense of wonder had been tapped, one that motivated me, decades later, to strike out for new ground.

Now I have a better understanding of where my travel bug began: a road trip, a movie, an encouraging teacher. Despite all of our 21st century bells and whistles, the same ingredients just might fire a kid’s curiosity today.

I did get to London, during my college years, and a couple times since. There were no chimney sweeps, alas, but my first view of Hyde Park was glorious. Perhaps a “Puddle Adventure: The Globalization Years” is in order.

Julia Ross is a Washington, DC-based writer and frequent contributor to World Hum. She has lived in China and Taiwan, where she was a Fulbright scholar and Mandarin student. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, Christian Science Monitor, Plenty and other publications. Her essay, Six Degrees of Vietnam, was shortlisted for "The Best American Travel Writing 2009."

4 Comments for Tales of a Second Grade Traveler

Sophia Dembling 06.01.10 | 5:41 PM ET

Nice. And I like the traveling raindrop.

GypsyGirl 06.01.10 | 11:22 PM ET

Very fun Julia! Lately I’ve been doing some digging of this myself- wondering where I got the notion to travel and want to be a storyteller… It was from very small.

Julie 06.02.10 | 11:53 AM ET

I love the traveling raindrop story! Can’t believe it was written by a second-grader. Really enjoyed this glimpse into the beginning of your travel and writing life.

Laura 06.07.10 | 11:39 AM ET

Childhood writing is priceless and it’s really great to see how this travel bug had already gotten ahold of you!  I wonder how you would write this story today, given the same topic and parameters?  The “golden years” version is, indeed, called for….

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