Where the failed dreams grow
“Why are you so emotional?” nine-year-old Libby moans. “Just keep reading!”
I fight to gain my composure. Deep breaths. I pick up the book again and continue:
“Just as I took hold of the halter rope to be on my way again, I heard Daisy humming. She was in her playhouse up on the hillside…
“As I stood there listening to her clear voice ring out over the valley, I happened to glance down at the raw, red wound in my pony’s leg. Like a bolt of lightning, it hit me. I knew then what my old grandpa had been trying to tell me.
“I was so shook up, I dropped the halter rope. Closing my eyes and shaking my head, I said, ‘Oh, Grandpa, how could I have been so dumb? Dear God, how could I have been so stupid?'”
I lose it again. “Ugh!” Libby blurts in exasperation. “Don’t stop!”
I crack up through my tears. “I’m sorry, baby, I’m trying!”
I’m almost sobbing uncontrollably as I read the last twenty pages of Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls to my kids.
It’s been one of my all-time favorites since I was a boy. It’s an absolute masterpiece on family, love, and sacrifice — one of the most unforgettable, transformational, beautiful stories I have ever read in my life. The ending never fails to melt me into a puddle of tears.
Choking back sobs, I finish reading the last page.
I wipe my tears, heave a deep sigh, and look up. “That’s it. That’s the end.”
“Nooo!” Libby cries. “It can’t end!”
We sit for a while just soaking it in.
“Is that a true story?” fourteen-year-old Alex asks.
Wilson (“Woody”) was born in 1913 on a small family farm in rural Oklahoma. He and his siblings were not able to attend school regularly, so his mother taught them at home by reading aloud from books she ordered through the mail.
“I thought all books were about ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Chicken Little’ — girl stories! Then one day Mama brought home a book that changed my life. It was a story about a man and a dog — Jack London’s Call of the Wild.
“After we finished reading the book, Mama gave it to me. It was my first real treasure and I carried it with me wherever I went and read it every chance I got.”
Through that book, he discovered his dream: He wanted to become a writer and write a boy and dog story.
When Woody was sixteen years old, the Great Depression hit and he left home and traveled the country, taking any job he could find. He bounced around for years, working construction jobs in South America, Canada, Alaska.
Along the way, he wrote stories on every scrap of paper he could find. But lacking formal classroom training, his poor spelling and grammar prevented him from selling any manuscripts.
One by one, he locked them away in an old trunk in his father’s workshop.
In 1958, he married Sophie Styczinski. Just before their marriage, embarrassed by his failures and committed to being a “responsible” husband, Woody took the old manuscripts from his father’s trunk and burned them — including his draft of Where the Red Fern Grows.
But his dream would not die. Later, he confided his dream to Sophie and told her of the burned manuscripts.
She encouraged him to write one of them again. Fighting his insecurities, he rewrote Where the Red Fern Grows in three weeks. He handed the rough, unpunctuated manuscript to Sophie and left the house, unable to witness her disappointment.
Hours later, he called her to ask her opinion.
“Woody,” she said, “this is marvelous. Come home and work on it some more and we’ll send it to a publisher.”
With her formal education, she helped him polish the manuscript. They ended up selling it to the Saturday Evening Post.
The rest is history.
The lesson of Woody’s life is as powerful to me as his stories.
I would give an arm to have his gift of storytelling. I shudder to think that his gift almost went up in smoke, that the Red Fern almost died, because of his insecurities and failures.
What a gaping hole would have been left in the world had Woody not conquered his fears and persisted in his dream!
Do you have a dream locked away, potential masterpieces that you’ve burned because of fear, doubt, insecurity, and failure? What gaping hole will be left if you do not persist in your dream?
Don’t let the dream die. Bring it out and dust it off. Let it grow like Woody’s Red Fern, bring it to life like his monkeys.
No matter your insecurities and inadequacies, the world needs your gift every bit as much as Woody’s.