I was fifty-nine and a half-years old and planned to retire at age 65 from the Palmdale School District, where I was a band director. But as I found out health problems can alter the best-laid plans. That’s what happened to me.
A large, insidious throat tumor almost took my life. I first became aware of it when I woke up gasping for air, but just as quickly was able to breath again. I thought it was just a quirk and did nothing about it. The second time in the middle of the night, I wasn’t as fortunate. Hearing his mother’s desperate screams, David ran into our room and immediately applied the Hendrick maneuver, as I was turning blue. I felt a pop and air came rushing down my throat. A few minutes later when we all calmed down, we knew it was time to see my nose, throat, and ear doctor.
That morning when Dr. Jackson entered one of his examining rooms where I was waiting, he approached me and said, “My God, you have an enormous tumor. “ He could actually see it from the outside. His staff immediately made arrangements for an operation the next morning, December 23, when the tumor was removed.
The following week after the tests came in, Dr. Jackson told me with a look of concern, the tumor was cancerous, but he didn’t believe it was. He sent it to special lab in Chicago, but the results didn’t come back for THREE WEEKS! It was one of the longest three weeks of my life. The good news was that it was benign. By this time I had already been working for a couple of weeks. When Dr. Jackson examined me after giving me the good news, he said because I was constantly using my voice to teach band, the tumor was growing back and I had to retire. Since my full retirement wasn’t going to go into affect for four more months, I continued to work using a microphone and speakers, whispering instructions to my band students, so I wouldn’t reinjure my sensitive throat. My throat healed within months.
My retirement had taken me by surprise and I wasn’t prepared to deal with it. I had no idea what my wife Shirley and I would do. The first two weeks I sort of relaxed. We decided the inside of the house needed painting, so I began with the walls in the hallway, and I can sincerely say I hated painting! While I was on the ladder I began daydreaming about a boy who played the bass drum in the school band, and he had a pet. I thought maybe it could be a mouse, but a famous Hollywood producer was already using a mouse. Maybe a dog, but then again everybody had a dog. But this dog would be different. He would have a large tail that looked like a drumstick and he played the bass drum, too. I got down from my ladder and gravitated toward the computer. I began writing about a boy, Nick, and his dog, Knobby. I titled this first story in a series of eight, “Nick Meets Knobby.”
Until this time I had never thought about being an author, and was surprised to find myself in front of a computer writing a story. I never knew I had the ability to be creative. I couldn’t believe the stream of ideas that came out of me. From the start I wrote from 8:00 AM to 12:00 PM, six days a week for the next 17 years until my wife became ill. Writing my stories was a true work of love. It didn’t seem possible that I had found a third career.
I joined two wonderful children author’s groups, one in Leona Valley for 13 years, followed by 7 years with the other at Barnes & Noble in Palmdale, CA. It didn’t take me long to become aware I had much to learn. Someone suggested I add dialogue to my story rather than it be all narrative. I went to the local library and read a few dozen children books. I returned home and in a matter of hours inserted dialog to my boy and dog story that made all the difference. The addition of dialog had given it added strength and character. After finishing “Nick Meets Knobby,” I began a second story about the boy and his dog. I did eight in a row. My writing became more fluid, and I kept returning to the earlier stories to improve them as I learned more.
Right from the beginning I asked Shirley to read what I had written and asked for suggestions. I realize now I just wanted her praise and nothing else. At that time I was writing by hand, using a yellow pad, and then typed what I had written into the computer. After Shirley read the story she changed the wording of a sentence and added a word or two. When I saw the changes I became slightly annoyed. She told me not to ask her to go over any other stories if I were unable to accept constructive criticism. Later on in the quiet of my computer room, I realized with the turn of a sentence or her changing a word or two, she had a natural ability to make the stories stronger, so I soon stopped complaining. I had a built-in editor. But with my vanity it took me awhile to truly accept it, and finally I realized she was a great children editor. After she edited a few other stories I couldn’t wait to see what changes she had made.
For the next 21 years I wrote 38 children’s stories, four of them published, and a novel, “Diary of a Young Musician, Final Days of the Big Band Era,” which was also published and given “Highly recommended” by Midwest Book Review. Shirley didn’t have time to edit this story, as it was too long. Throughout my writing period I returned to my grammar and punctuation books. “The Elements of Style,” by E.B. White, also helped me. I’ve continued to study and learn to this day.
I was fortunate to attain the services of John MacFarlane, Disney animator, who magnificently illustrated all four of my published children books. John also illustrated covers for each of my 38 eBooks.
You’ll find 20 of my eBooks under my name, Felix Mayerhofer, in Kindle, Nook, iPad, Sony, and smashwords.com. My published children books can be found in Felixchildrenstories.com, and my novel, “Diary of a Young Musician,” in felixmayerhofer.com.