It had been a difficult week. Not a week from hell, but hard enough. First came the call from someone house sitting in a panic because the washing machine was flooding the upstairs.
“Uh, I’m like 3,000 miles away. Call somebody local,” I wisely suggested.
I swear by the time I arrived at my next book event, there were like 3,000 phone calls over what to do about the water. Thanks to a very specific person who knows who she is, things at the house were not quite as dire as the phone calls would portend. And the remedy was fairly easy: Never leave the lid on the washing machine up when you are doing a load of laundry.
Of course, the clean-up, well, that’s a different matter altogether. Sigh.
Then there was the fiasco with the lost retainers which turned into a lovely story, albeit a terrifying one for my germaphobic friends who cannot believe I dug around in the trash. But that lovely story got turned upside down the next day when another angel of mercy intervened to rectify the issue of me not having retainers. Have you ever got a set of retainers locked on? Then you know my panic when after an hour (this is not a writer’s liberty, I do mean an hour) of struggling, the retainers would not budge. Not even after every person in the office had yanked and pried and damn near about jerked my head sideways. Not even after I had gone to my car, retrieved my tweezers and worked on the retainer until they were filling with blood from where I had jabbed my gums, even then they wouldn’t release their death grip on my teeth. Only after I remembered a long-ago science lesson – heat expands molecules – and 20 minutes of gargling with the hottest water I could tolerate was I finally able to jerk that retainer from my uppers. Lord. God, Have mercy. What else could go wrong?
Don’t ask that question unless you really want an answer.
Thelma and I arrived at the Gold Star Ceremony for the mic check, but as we exited the car, I realized I didn’t have my cell phone. We searched, Thelma and me. We tore that car upside down, inside out. Me in a dress that was a mite too short anyway but was the only thing I had packed that was the least bit formal, crawling around underneath the backseat, reaching up under the front seat, my purple-clad hiney hanging out as Thelma provided cover like the good soldier she is. Still, no phone.
We must have left it at the TV station where I’d taped a segment for the Daytime Show.
So back to Johnson City we drove. Me, not nearly as flustered as Thelma because what’s a girl gonna do? It ‘had already been that sort of week. I was sure we’d find the phone right where we’d left it, likely inside the station somewhere.
I had not been really expecting to find it in the street, where it had fallen from my purse, then was run over by a Bronco.
“I feel so bad,” said the man behind the wheel, who happened upon the phone the same moment I did.
“Oh, no worries,” I said, waving him off. “At least I have the phone and all the information.”
Thankfully, the Number One son knew the exact place in Kingsport where the phone could be fixed relatively cheaply, given the cost of the other incidents.
“I’ve fixed phones in much worse conditions. Some that wouldn’t even turn on,” said the gal at Batteries & Bulbs, as she handed over my newly refurbished phone.
But as Uncle Doug and Aunt Annis drove me around the hollers of Carter’s and Goshen Valleys, not a one of those moments mattered. The sense of adventure overtook me once again. There are stories here in these hills. So many stories waiting to be birthed anew.
We heard some of them as people from throughout the area joined us at I Love Books Bookstore at Fort Henry Mall for the signing Glen Moody arranged with the help of Thelma.
There was the veteran who told stories of being a gunner in Vietnam.
There was the woman with alopecia and her sister, whose grandmother was my grandfather’s sister. She brought me pictures of my mother I had never seen.
There was the man named Dave who for the past 20 some years has lived in the very house on the corner of Miller’s Bluff and Christian Bend – Aunt Cil’s old homestead. The one that inspired the setting of Doc and Leela-Ma’s home in the novels. The one where I found solace the summer Dad died. Everybody called Daddy Dave, even Mama. God is such a poet. Always finding ways to interweave our stories. Aunt Cil who couldn’t mention my daddy’s name without crying. Now a man named Dave living in the home that was Cil’s. A nice man. A kind man. One who wasn’t even born yet the year Daddy died.
There was even a story from a woman who claimed to have dated my father before she married his older brother and had a child with him. She said she and Dave had a beer (she said one, but who’s counting?) then wrapped his car around a tree. “It was raining,” she claimed. I think she’s repeated that story that way many times. She prefaced her story with a smile and a comment on how good-looking Daddy was. Everyone does that. Tells me that, so I take it as Gospel True.
My buddy Clark Christian, whose Momma was the first to let me watch Hitchcock’s The Birds, the night we arrived back in the Bend for Aunt Cil’s funeral in 1968, he came out to the mall to get his copy. He brung his lovely wife & granddaughter and beautiful sister, too.
I never could have made it through this week had it not been for my sidekick and dear friend Leigh Anne Hoover who is working on a book I can’t tell you about yet, but I will be so excited to share with you soon. You’ll want to read it for sure. Leigh Anne is a trooper in every way. She and Cindy Sproles (Liar’s Winter) joined me for the signing at I Love Books Bookstore. They kept everyone entertained.
And the next day, when the Gold Star Memorial was dedicated in Kingsport, it was Leigh Anne and her husband Brad who tended to all the details, from getting me water, to hauling books and making sure I got to speak to every Gold Star family member in the crowds, and to the good folks of Kingsport who raised the monies for this memorial in record time. Good people all of them. Good people.
I told them that I’d always known the people of Sullivan and Hawkins and Greene counties to be those kind of people because they were the ones who stood and saluted as our family made that long drive from the funeral home to Andrew Johnson Memorial Cemetery some 50 years ago now. They stopped whatever they was doing and stood at attention, the men and women, girls and boys, blacks and whites, wiping tears from their own faces then as they do now, even all these years later.
I got the chance to thank them for those tears because of Leigh Anne and Bradley Hoover. They made that happen for me.
Uncle Doug likes to tease me about all the work I put into writing books when I could be making more money a million different ways. I spend more in one night’s motel room than in all the royalties I made from my last book. Honest-to-pete. I made $66 for the year for BURDY.
Sometimes, it’s easy to get one’s values all mixed up and to say that what I do is worthless and I should have quit long ago.
But then an active duty fella like Sgt. Trey Burks, who was part of the honor guard at the Gold Star Memorial dedication, tracks me down to tell me that he wants an autographed copy of AFTER THE FLAG HAS BEEN FOLDED.
Sgt. Burks and his fella Marines had stood in blazing heat with those flags throughout the ceremony but they got gone soon afterwards. So with Brad and Leigh Anne’s help, I did a little sleuthing and tracked him down. He sent me a note today to say he was heading out to the Fort Henry Mall tonight to pick up his copy of the book I had left specifically autographed to him.
I consider myself a rich woman. And yes, writing books has made me rich. Perhaps not in expected ways, but in a multitude of unexpected ways.
My cell phone is filled with numbers of people I can call on at any moment, people who throw open their homes and their hearts to me. People who share their own father’s war stories, or their own. People willing to chase down haints with me, or hurt for me when my house gets flooded and my retainers get stuck.
Strangers who are really my cousins from a different granny.
And the kinfolk who are always willing to go with me on very hot days and sit at my mama and daddy’s gravesites for as long as I need.
I am never going to be a wealthy woman by Donald Trump standards, but then again, he ain’t got no standards no how.
I am rich beyond measure in all sorts of ways he ain’t never going to understand or experience.
Thank you all. I wish I could hug each of your necks. Come see me at the next book event and I will!
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: A Novel (Mercer University Press)