I’d never gate-crashed a funeral before - especially one of a celebrity. Well since she died she had become a celebrity. Callie Baxter, famous novelist and writer was none other than local resident Sheila Brown.
I slipped into the back of the church, pulling my black skirt straight and adjusting my jacket. I was here for purely selfish reasons. I wanted to know what her life had been like; how it felt to be a writer; whether my dreams could come true one day. I guessed others had the same idea as whispers flowed like invisible rivers.
“I had no idea she was Callie Baxter.”
“Imagine how much she was worth.”
“I wonder why she never said anything.”
“Are her family here?”
“She was a strange old bird.”
The air in the church was fragrant with lilies as ushers herded people into chairs. “Would you like to go down near the front, miss? There’s a single seat just there.” The black-suited man pointed to the far left.
Sheila Brown aka Callie Baxter lay in a light wood coffin heaped with waxy magnolia blossoms. I’d know her by sight and tried to bring her image into focus. A frail figure, for sure, with tight ivory curls, hunched like a comma. How could she possibly have written those adventures and dreamy romances set in India, the Seychelles and Kenya? My brain couldn’t tie the two together.
The preacher swept onto the platform and cleared his throat. “Welcome to New Life Church. We’ve gathered today to remember a remarkable woman. Sheila Brown lived in our midst for several decades and none of us guessed her secret. Her daughter has travelled to be with us today and after our first hymn, I’d like her to come up and tell us about her mother.”
As the refrain of “How Great Thou art,” faded, a tall thin woman approached the platform. She looked to be about fifty, regal with straight blonde hair. I leaned forward, eager to hear what she would say.
“Mom was always considered a little eccentric and she liked her privacy. I’m sure some of you are aware of that.” A murmur rippled through the church. “In spite of that, she had an amazing gift for writing. She typed her first stories when I was a little girl. We read them together at bedtime and my bedroom would become a fairy castle ... or an underground bunker ... or a rocket circling the stars.”
She paused to dab her eyes and the preacher offered her a glass of water. “Mom had the ability to create new worlds through her writing. She watched life with intensity and passion and told me that no experience is ever wasted. It didn’t matter where we were, she never got bored. I remember her scribbling in notebooks and watching people in all kinds of situations.”
I allowed a smile to touch my lips. Wasn’t that exactly what I was doing here?
“I encouraged Mom to write her first book. Her talent was too great to keep to herself but she didn’t want any attention. We came up with the name of Callie Baxter and she never looked back. All along she wanted her stories to touch people’s lives and inspire them. That was her greatest wish.”
As others got up to share, I mulled over Sheila Brown’s life. Widowed at thirty with no college education and yet she had achieved so much. She had never left American soil yet she wrote convincingly about foreign lands. Her stories lingered in minds, stirred up hearts, birthed dreams and created desire for adventure.
It crystallized the longing I’d had since I was a little girl. I wrote my first book at seven and stapled the pages together. I excelled at creative writing at school and wrote short stories in my journal. I graduated from college two years ago ... and never did anything further with my dream.
As people spilled out of the church, I pushed against the flow. The magnolias were fragrant with the air of tropical lands as I gently touched the coffin. “Thank you Sheila aka Callie,” I whispered. “Your words will inspire many for years to come ... and I’m going to start writing again. After hearing your story, I have to.”
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