I was born on the prairie—but not in a little house. It was a big house where I grew up, with a three car garage, a sprinkling system and a driveway great for roller skating. It was actually the suburbs of Indianapolis, Indiana. But Indiana is a prairie state and it is very flat. So it still counts. Besides it sounds better to say I was born on the prairie than I was born in the suburbs. Although hills are rare on the prairie, we had one. It was great for sledding. At the bottom there was a pond. In the summer I played pirates with my sister Martha and best friend Carole.
This is me and my mom. My mom was extraordinarily beautiful and very brainy. Some people thought she looked like Greta Garbo, an old movie star. Mom was the one who told me to be a writer. She said “Kathy, you love words. And you have such a great imagination. You should be a writer.” My mom always thought I was the best, even when teachers didn't. She thought I was smart when teachers didn't. She would say in parent teacher conferences, when they told her I wasn't listening or paying attention, “Kathy is thinking of other things. She is very creative. Let her be.”
My dad was extraordinary too. He lived to be ninety-one years old. He never graduated from high school but somehow got into law school. He never practiced law but then started his own business and was hugely successful. He is the original self made man. He was a super athlete. He was born in Minnesota. His parents had fled Russia at the time of the Tsar and he was the first baby born to his parents in this country. He was, I think, the first Jewish baby born in Duluth, Minnesota. He said a lot of the neighbors came in to see him because they had never seen a Jewish baby. They thought maybe he had a tail or something.
About being Jewish. I am. When I was growing up there were not that many Jews out there on the prairie and there were definitely no bagels. Bagels came late to Indiana. But there was a synagogue and Sunday school. I hated Sunday school. I dropped out. It was not about God. I had a problem with the rabbi and I guess he had one with me. He thought I was a discipline problem. I was embarrassed to tell my mom and dad, so instead I told them I was an atheist. It sounded better than being a discipline problem. I waited until dinner to announce this. I was very excited. “I am not going to Sunday school anymore. I am an atheist!” Everyone kept on eating and then Mom looked up and said “and you think God cares!” Then everyone broke up laughing, even me. My mom had a very weird sense of humor. Some people didn't get it, but we all got it. I guess that was why we were really a family.
My sister Martha is five years older. I worshipped her. She was very smart and musically gifted. She spoke French so well she went to a French camp in the summer time. She also spoke Pig Latin and could do twelvesies in jacks. I could do none of these things. She still does them all except for jacks and Pig Latin.
Sometimes Martha and I look at each other and we can't believe that we both have gray hair and wrinkles and that she is a grandma because we still feel like giggly sisters. And then we start giggling like crazy and talk about the same old things we have talked about all of our lives.
What I liked to do as a kid: My best friend Carole and I used to give circuses all the time. We got her Dad to build a whole trapeze system in a tree and we'd fly around from branch to branch and do tricks. We had an animal act too. My dog Suzy. We would dress her in skirts and stuff and even a hat and then teach her how to jump through hoops. One day my Aunt Eleanor came driving down the road and Suzy popped out through a hedge in a tutu and my mom’s hat. Aunt Eleanor nearly had a heart attack!
School: School was not among my favorite things. I went to a very strict all-girl school. All the teachers were creakingly old ladies with baggy stockings—except two: My eighth grade teacher was young and nice and very smart. Her name was Mrs. Oldham. Madame Hendren was my French teacher. She was older but chic. No baggy stockings and she wore elegant scarves and humongous brooches, and had had several husbands and countless boyfriends, and she told us all about them. I think Charles De Gaulle had been one of her boyfriends. If you don’t know who he was, look it up.
College: In grade school and high school, nobody thought I was especially smart. I must have been a late bloomer. But I did bloom in college. I went to the University of Michigan and got lots of A’s. I loved English. I became an English major. I loved Victorian literature and Romantic poetry and Renaissance literature and just about any kind of literature anyone could imagine.
My first job: A really stupid one—writing for a fashion magazine. Let’s skip that phase of my life.
My second job: teaching school—but I don’t remember much about it because I met this cute guy and fell in love. He became my husband. His name is Chris Knight.
He is so different from me that I can’t believe I fell in love with him. He is short and blonde. I was tall and dark. He looks like a short Robert Redford. If you don’t know who that is, look it up. But most of all, Chris is physically very daring and I'm a wimp. He was a National Geographic photographer and a documentary filmmaker.
When we got married my parents gave us a sailboat. Would you believe it that Chris talked me into sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in this thing! It was only thirty feet long. I threw up the whole way. But I did stand a watch twice a day for four hours each time even while throwing up. In between the seasickness I did find some beautiful extraordinary things out there in the vastness of the ocean. I loved the bird life and the dolphins were so playful and to watch the dawn break on a calm morning in the North Atlantic is a spiritual experience. We sailed twice across the Atlantic. Twice is definitely enough. I did manage to write a book about it all called Atlantic Circle.
When we came back I wrote my first children’s book and had my first child. Max. He’s a neat kid. Now, he is married and works in New York City. He likes martial arts and English literature. When he was younger, he read some of my books, but not all of them. He preferred horror. Anne Rice, Lovecraft. Now he reads my books to his own two children.
Five years later we had another child, Meribah. She was a very serious ballet dancer, but now she is a journalist in Chicago. And she is a very good writer and quite artistic.
So there you have it. What else do you need to know? I live in a big old house in Cambridge. The most important thing to me is my family. All my best ideas for books, one way or another come from experiences with my family—from being a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a wife.
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