"The thing I remember most about Hector is the nothing."
That line, written by SMSU freshman Jessica Rockeman, describes her view of the small Minnesota town of Hector, a community of 1,147 located on U.S. Highway 212, on the way to the Twin Cities.
"Hector at Sixteen," is the winning story in the Telling Women's Stories contest. Rockeman will read her story at 4 p.m. on Monday in the Women's Center, SC 239. She will be joined by second-place winner Samantha Lemmerman, a sophomore from Alberta, with her story "Heart Surgery" and the poem "Whiskey on the Rocks," and third-place winner Rebecca Cook, a senior from Lakeville and her essay "Chick in a Chair."
"Hector at Sixteen" is about a trip that Rockeman took to the Hector cemetery two years ago with her father, Tom.
"Dad grew up there, and we used to go there once or twice a year when my grandma was alive. Dad took me there two years ago, we went to the cemetery. It was a big moment for me. Here were a lot of people Dad knew there. It was an interesting experience and I knew I wanted to write about it after that," she said.
She went back her home in Centerville, north of the Twin Cities, and wrote about the experience in her diary. She would revisit the story when she decided to enter the writing contest.
"Hector at Sixteen" sat dormant in her diary for a couple of years.
"It was one of those things that happened to me. It was a hot, still day, and I was sweaty and gross. It was cloudy, and I just had this distinct feeling, so I just sat down and started writing. As far as the creative part of it, that was easy to write. My biggest thing was tense issues,"?she said.
It was good enough to win top honors in the Telling Women's Stories contest. It was deeply rewarding for Rockeman, who admits her father "wanted me to have a different major, but I stuck with it. It was a good moment when I was able to call my dad. He was very proud of me." She would later put the story in a manila envelope and hand it to him. She found out that her father cried when he read the story.
"I'm a boring person, not many exciting things happen to me," said Rockeman, a literature and creative writing double major. She lives on campus, in the Lincoln Center house, which is the Fine Arts House on campus. "A lot of the people who live there are in theater. I like the creative-minded people."
Rockeman said she learned to read and write at an early ago.
"I was always reading, writing poems and stories. I like reading novels, and I read every genre, but I really like fantasy, horror and fiction," she said. Her favorite authors are Jennifer Egan, Margaret Atwood and Stephen King.
She's like so many college students. She likes spending time with friends and watching movies.
"I'm a huge horror film fan," she said.
Graduation is still three years away, but Rockeman can only see herself doing one thing. "I want to be a writer. It's the only career I can see me having," she said.
"My dad nudged me in the arm and asked, "Are you ready to go?"
I nodded stiffly and answered, "Yeah, I guess."
The car was boiling as I slid into the passenger seat and my dress stuck to the back of my knees and sweat dripped down my forehead. As we pulled away from that damn cemetery, my father said once again, "Yeah, I knew a lot of those people in there."
His voice was soft and gentle, and it made me want to cry.