A freelance writer in Richmond, Texas, Sheredith Boore Heitzenrater ’68 is an author-illustrator of five children’s books, The Christmas Barn, The Littlest Shamrock, The “Crooked” Longhorn Steer, The Rooster’s Children, and Harold Groundhog and the Alphabet Farm, as well as an adult humor story, The Socks with a Mind. Here, she shares her story of coming full circle from producing a color wheel in her Introduction to Art class to coming into her own as an author-illustrator.
The Twists and Turns of Life’s Highway
By Sheredith Boore Heitzenrater, IUP Class of ’68
Let us reflect for a moment on the fact that as a teen in the ’60s, I was living on a pretty straight path of life. I grew up in Cumberland, Maryland, and was very naive about the politics of the world. I didn’t realize many people put stock in their ethnic backgrounds till I arrived at the IUP campus in Punxsutawney the fall of 1964. That’s when I discovered that Italians were pretty good cooks, and I had my first piece of pizza!
Somewhere along the way in high school, I heard that French was going to be taught in the coming years in elementary schools. I thought that sounded neat, so I enrolled as a French major at IUP. Now, mind you, in my high school, only Latin, taught by an older lady with a bum leg, or Spanish, taught by a portly man who wore the same suit every day, was offered. I couldn’t stand looking at pit stains on the brown suit daily, so I took Latin for several years.
It was rather a shock to me when Mr. Op de Beeck began the French classes, and I discovered I couldn’t roll my r’s or say much of anything except “bonjour.” So after two frustrating semesters, I switched my major to nutrition (then it was called institutional food service).
Having survived that little kink in my road, I arrived at main campus my sophomore year and took Intro to Art. I really didn’t care much about the famous works of art. It was just a class I needed to take to “make me a well-rounded person.” Yeah. All I remember from that class was that we had to produce a color wheel. We had to use the three colored pencils, red and blue and yellow (the primary colors), and we had to blend them to make the secondary colors of green, purple, and orange. We had to have the tertiary colors too. I spent hours on this mindless task, and if I could find that color wheel today, I’d frame it!
After I graduated in May of ’68, my friend Donna (Class of ’67) and I decided to go to California. We piled in her VW bug and had a great road trip. We planned to get jobs and live in sunny California.
Suddenly there was a big curve in my roadway of life! I got called to do a dietetic internship back East at Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh. I think that was my first trip on an airplane…you know, back in the days when they actually served real meals during a long flight!
I married a fellow from Punxsutawney, completed my internship, and proceeded down my highway of life at what seems now to have been at a breakneck speed. Three kids, numerous jobs, and volunteering for everything kept me busy. I did manage to begin art lessons with oils. Funny thing, I discovered I liked mixing colors to create new ones. With oils, it was so much easier than with those darn colored pencils.
Reading stories to our children was always fun, but I realized that I could write stories, too. So about 1988, I began writing down those children’s stories that popped into my head. Poems were easy, and I had a few song ideas, too. Eventually I learned how to copyright all my musings.
Hoping to make it big in the literary world of children, I sent my stories to the major children’s book publishers. That road was very curvy and resulted in nothing but a large collection of reject letters. Some were actually handwritten, offering encouragement, but a reject nevertheless.
Our kids got married and gave us granddaughters, and I continued to write stories when I was inspired. I kept saying that Colonel Sanders didn’t get started until he was 65, and I wanted to be published by that age.
Our three children got their heads together and reviewed my stories. They chose “Harold Groundhog and the Alphabet Farm” as a story they could illustrate and self-publish. They surprised me with an early 65th birthday present by giving me copies of the book. The best part, it was available on Amazon! I can barely navigate the Internet, but it was a thrill to pull up the sight and see my book for sale!
That’s when I realized I might not be the best artist in town, but I can illustrate well enough to entertain young children with my books. Now I find myself mixing watercolors galore; I realized my highway was one giant circle that took me back to IUP and that color wheel!
So, for new grads, here is my advice: Enjoy your life’s pathway. Make little notes and take a few important pictures along the way. Don’t be discouraged if you hit a few bumps in the road. For those of you who are my age, older than dirt, don’t wait to do something exciting. If Colonel Sanders could do it, and I can do it, so can you!