Tuesday, March 24

Life's Little Detours - By Janie DeVos


     Every one of us has had those pivotal moments, or game changers, that change the course of our lives forever.  They’re usually unexpected, often blindsiding us, and while some of those times can be terribly difficult, there are also those that can be amazing and even enlightening, as if a switch had just been turned on and you see things quite differently than you did just a moment before.  Those are life’s little detours and they can redirect our journeys in enormous ways.

One of my first little detours came when I was in third grade.  My teacher, Mrs. Suddath, gave us the assignment of writing a poem about one of the seasons.  This was not homework, but an exercise we had twenty minutes to complete in class, and everyone quickly bent their heads to the task.  At the end of the allotted time, Mrs. Suddath asked for volunteers to read their poems and my hand enthusiastically shot up.

My favorite season back then, and still is today, is autumn, and the poem I wrote was entitled, “A Part of Fall”, which I was quite proud of.  My teacher (who was, by far, not the warmest and fuzziest of teachers I ever studied under), was undoubtedly prompted to call on me by the enthusiastic waving of my hand, so I stood up, threw my shoulders back, and, in a voice that was surely loud enough for all to hear, recited my poem. 

When the last word echoed throughout the black and white terrazzo-floored, chalkboard-covered walls of the room, there was a moment of heavy silence, followed by four ice-cold words that came out sounding like an angry, low-pitched hiss from Mrs. Suddath’s mouth: “You plagiarized that poem!” she accused. 

Stunned, I immediately shook my head as the blood rapidly rushed to it and denied doing such—politely, mind you, with a “No, Ma’am,” in front of the “I did not.”  Well, we volleyed back and forth with a few “Did, too!” and “Did not’s”, until I finally let her get the last “Did, too!” in, but not without a little revenge already formulating in my mind for humiliating me in front of my entire class, and, even more importantly, for falsely accusing me of cheating. I decided that when I got home, I would tell my mother exactly what happened, and, being that she was ever the epitome of a mama bear when it came to protecting her cubs, she would undoubtedly come back and give it to ol’ Mrs. Suddath.

Less than an hour later, as I sat at the kitchen table having my afterschool snack, I poured out my unfairly-accused story, watching Mama’s face closely as I did.  Her expression went from one of interest in what had happened during my day to one of anger that someone should question the honesty and integrity of her nine year-old daughter.

“Read me your poem” Mama tightly instructed, to which I promptly opened my three-ringed notebook and, for the most dramatic effect, stood up as I read it to her.  As my last word hung in the air, there was a moment of heavy silence, just as there had been in class.  Closely watching my mother’s face for the anger that was sure to be building, I saw, instead, her eyebrows pinch together and a look of concern wash over her.

“Are you sure you didn’t copy that poem from a book?” she softly asked, is if the level of volume of her question might prompt a truthful answer from me. 

“No!” I strongly denied.  “I didn’t!”

I was suddenly feeling quite alone in the world for this was the first time my mother had questioned the truthfulness of something I’d told her, and I wasn’t quite sure how to defend myself.  But, aside from feeling that it was me against the world, I also felt an enormous shift in it. 

One of my life’s little detours had just put me on a new life path, causing a great epiphany to occur at that moment: I clearly understood that I had done something so well that the adults—sweet Mama included—had doubted my ability to do it. 

Unlike Mrs. Suddath, it only took one more denial of plagiarizing for my mother to believe me. Perhaps it was the look on my own face that told her that I was telling her the truth, as well as the fact that I wasn’t one to lie, but, whatever the reason, no other challenges or questions were issued forth.

That Christmas, I received several lovely poetry books and even a beautiful, hand-tooled leather pouch from my much-loved hippy cousin, (ten years my senior) with the word “Poetry” engraved on the cover.  Apparently, Mama had been so proud of her baby’s new-found talent that she’d boasted about it to the rest of the family. 

Since that spring in 1968, my life has taken quite a few detours.  And, as a result, some of the roads that I have unintentionally found myself on have been some of the most beautiful parts of my journey; ones that I was bound to miss had I not been forced onto the road less travelled.  Now, as I stand at a couple of new junctions in my life, I wonder which way life will want me to go.  One thing’s for certain, though, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.


  1. What a memory, and what a strong stone to be pushed into the foundation of your writing and your growing-up. Thanks for sharing it!

  2. Love your metaphor, Liz, "...a strong stone...". Did anyone ever tell you that you might consider being a writer? ;) Thanks for your kind words.

  3. Wow, what a story! And how vividly it sticks in your memory shows its impact on your writing career. Thanks for sharing it, Janie!

  4. I love this story! I think I wrote here that I was once accused of plagiarizing a book report I'd written for a high school English class. Fortunately, after I vehemently denied plagiarizing, my teacher believed me, or at least he didn't pursue the matter further. I'm not sure the incident was a turning point for me but it certainly made me believe I could write. Book reports, anyway!

  5. Thanks, Jana! I appreciate you commiserating with me. Poor kids. They're at the mercy of adults, aren't they. But then they grow up and get even. ;)

  6. You've always had a wonderful talent and gift of writing my sweet sister. Beautiful memories, especially of our loving mother. She also knew you had this gift! Love you.