MY BOOK, FIVE ON A MERRY-GO-ROUND
(Dutton, 1944), deals
with one family's solution to the housing shortage. When no other
shelter opened, the family took up residence in an abandoned
carousel. They were fortunate to find one. As everyone knows,
and none better than I from an amusement park family, such unused,
uncared-for equipment is rarer than uranium.
This scarcity a fourth grader
failed to consider in a book report of the work. Nonetheless,
because of the merits of his pithy prose, he won an honorable
mention in a townwide contest of the fourth grades of fourteen
public and parochial schools. He wrote but a page and a quarter,
perhaps twenty sentences. He, moreover, achieved what many writers
fail in, a smash finish. He concluded his report:
"This is a good book. Everyone
should read it. They should read it because it is good to know
that in those days of no houses there were always merry-go-rounds."
He did not know that he was doing
it, but I think he pin-pointed the theme of this and of all my
books, resourcefulness. In All Aboard for Freedom (Dutton,
1954), I stated it plainly both in English and in the Czech tongue
of my characters. The Czechs have a national proverb, a national
slogan, "Do the best you can and God will prosper your efforts."
With this I am in accord. It
is good for people to help themselves rather than to wait to
be helped. I have asked myself if I value this attitude because
I was born in Pennsylvania with its Independence Hall, Valley
Forge, and Gettysburg. I know that resourcefulness is no state
or national monopoly. I know it is inherent in man as indeed
my books claim with their settings in many parts of the world.
Nonetheless my interest could come from my surroundings. A fellow
townsman could be an influence, a tough little Scot with meager
schooling but with a sense of values. This is not the place to
go into my debt to Andrew Carnegie for his libraries and for
other bounties. It is enough to say that my debt is substantial.
Like other children, I filled
my composition books with my screeds. It was not until I got
to the University of Pittsburgh, however, that writing became
an obsession. After three years of student publication I found,
on graduation, that there was only one calling I wanted to follow,
I had difficulty persuading an
editor that I would not be a mere liability but a handicap. Again
and again I tried to make one see that I was the exact person
his staff needed. Only when I tried another measure did I strike
a spark in a flinty surface.
Now, despite my theme of resourcefulness,
I did not regard myself as a resourceful woman. In one instance
alone I effected a coup. No newspaper had mentioned it; rather
I learned by accident that Monsignor (now Cardinal) Eugene Tisserant,
then head of the Vatican Library, was in town to address Carnegie
librarians, (another debt to Andrew Carnegie). I thought that
if I would interview him and write the account, the editor might
see my claim in a new light. I did meet Monsignor Tisserant.
He was most gracious. To this day I have kept his calling card.
I was pleased when the account was printed exactly as I wrote
it. Even with the curiosa of newspaper style at that time, there
were no changes. I thereupon became a member of the editorial
staff of the Pittsburgh Press of the Scripps-Howard chain.
I worked five years for Scripps-Howard
and a year for Hearst on the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph. I
then did publicity for organizations sublime and ridiculous:
Kennywood, an amusement park, and the Carnegie Institute Fine
Arts Department--another bow to the founder. I also did publicity
for the University of Pittsburgh for six years, two of them as
director of public relations.
I like newspaper and publicity
work because of the immediacy. A job must be done, and one sits
down and does it. I am no longer thus employed so that I can
be free for creative writing.
Besides ten children's books,
I have written two adult biographies: Shy Hooks, the life
of primitive painter John Kane, and Athlete of Christ (Newman,
1959), the life of St. Nicholas of Flue, Switzerland's patron
Some of my children's books are
based on actual happenings. Over and over, an Associated Press
dispatch or one from United-International has set me to wondering:
What kind of patriots were those Norwegians who saved their gold
by having their children sled it down a mountain past the occupation
forces, as I subsequently made my characters do in Snow Treasure?
Or what was he like, the real 'sixteen-year-old who, on a
homemade portable radio transmitter, broadcast resistance against
the Japanese as did my Juan of Manila? Or, what about
those Czechs who stole a railway train and drove it into West
Germany, as mine would do in All Aboard for Freedom?
These stories came out of the
newspapers. The press, however, prints much more than about the
deeds of resourceful people. Why did I choose these events? Well,
in the geography of the thirteen colonies, Pennsylvania is the
Keystone State. Similarly, could not resourcefulness be the spiritual
keystone of our heritage?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Besides the titles
noted in her sketch, Miss McSwigan's books Include these Dutton
releases: Our Town Has a Circus (1949), Binnie Latches On (1950),
The News Is Good (1952), Three's a Crowd (1953), and Small
Miracle at Lourdes (1958).
published in The Book of Catholic Authors, Walter Romig,
Sixth Series, 1960.