From the top floor of this quiet retreat I can see a few visitors headed toward my well-maintained family home. There is a small fee to tour the historic landmark that honors my famous grandfather and his prolific contribution to literature, especially poetry. No public entry is allowed to the stairs that lead to this pleasant sanctuary where I go to ponder my deep desire to tell something I don’t quite know.
Over the years the tourist comments have shown a boring sameness.
“Look Agnes, there’s his old timey typewriter and that horsehair chair he propped up with a dictionary.”
Some of the inane remarks show an excessive familiarity with the author, based on gossip and misinformation.
“You know Mildred, that’s probably where he sat when he pined for the girl he met on the train in London; the one with a slight limp who always wore blue. He lost her in an air raid. They say he wrote her into every novel.”
That girl never existed; at least that’s what he told the press when they felt entitled to profit from his celebrity. Grandfather believed there are some things so exquisitely personal no one has the right to pry them out of off-limit places in our hearts. If every tiny thing in a person’s life is an open book, where does mystery and hope reside? Besides, Grandmother was the real woman behind the man.
I recall his admonition to ignore things written about him that smacked of rumor.
“Dorthea, my dear child, publishers sell more books if the author is perceived as an adventure-seeking scoundrel with an intriguing romantic past."
I slip out the back door to the well-hidden gardens. Charlie Dickens pads along the path beside me. He has no clue how many great-greats there have been since his parentage began with Grandfather’s dog, Pawthorne.
The sweet aroma of honeysuckle drifts comfortably on the mountain breeze and surrounds me with the promise of rejuvenation. It’s intoxicating. I sit in an old wicker chair in the gazebo. Charlie Dickens plops down beside me and begins to snore. I doodle in the ever-present notebook, hoping today will bring that one big inspiration I need to show the world my beloved grandfather was a human being, not simply a famous icon. I yearn to paint reality’s picture with a brush of beauty and truth. There’s something missing though…a piece of the puzzle I cannot find.
I shut my eyes as bits of memory lull me back to the simplistic charm of my imaginative childhood.
“Don’t bother your grandfather, Dorthea, he’s working”
“But I don’t hear the typewriter tap dancing. Maybe he needs a cup of tea, or a hug.”
Grandmother Mariah was a no-nonsense woman who kept the house running with quasi-military efficiency. Her unwavering support of Grandfather was most evident when she defended him to whoever might imply he was a ne’er-do-well afloat in a sea of words.
“My husband is a brilliant writer. Someday his great talent will put this place on the map.”
After his phenomenal success, as she predicted, a plaque to honor the town’s most celebrated citizen was posted at the city limits. I’m not sure he even noticed it.
I’ve always had a nagging desire to write, but convinced myself there was no chance. Who would run interference for me or provide uninterrupted quiet for my creativity to take root and flourish. Was that a luxury only the men of his era enjoyed? If Grandfather believed the unique soul of a writer will insist on its expression, no matter the circumstances, what in the world has stopped me?
After the tour hours end, Charlie Dickens and I meander back to the house where we find a lovely white-haired woman sitting in the porch swing. Her face is flushed. I fetch ice-cold lemonade and some little cakes.
The genteel lady smiles as if she is there by engraved invitation. Like a blazing flash of lightning that zigzags across a dark sky and shocks the senses for a second, something pushes me through that invisible barrier I fabricated and my fingers itch to start chapter one.
First, I will show her the room where Grandfather spent so many hours creating what the world loved to read. When she’s ready, she will give me her gift: the missing piece. As we make our way to the private family entrance I notice the beautiful cane she uses. It matches her blue dress. The slight limp is barely noticeable.
This fiction is based very loosely on Carl Sandberg, the three-time Pulitzer Prize winner whose home I toured in Western North Carolina where visitors can stroll through the gardens of his 264 acre home place. When I saw his desk and typewriter, my first absurd thought was, Sure he could write…he was protected from the aggravations of daily life.
A quote attributed to him (in a sales book called, Stop Whining!) speaks to every would-be writer who waits: “The time for action is now. It is never too late to do something.”
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