Monday 26 October 20 2015
Artwork by Katherine Marty
Tomorrow I will fly into Grand Rapids, Michigan, arriving at 1:05 (with the usual creek-rising caveat), met by my dear friend, Wendy, who was just in Norfolk last month to attend the book talk at the Slover Library for Looking for Lydia; Looking for God. Wendy is the photographer for most of the images on the two blog posts about the Slover event:
In the second post, a photograph by someone other than Wendy managed to catch her in conversation with my cousin, Jane, who was there from Texas, and in company with the whole family, certainly as close to family as anyone who isn’t can be.
It has been several years, much too long, since my last trip to stay with Wendy and her husband, Eddie, in their beautiful condo in downtown Grand Rapids. The view from their balcony is one I remember fondly, although when I was there, the snow was not yet on the ground.
I lived in Michigan for ten years and I find myself missing the weather, a worthy opponent to be approached in ways unknown in Tidewater Virginia. I loved wading out in three feet of snow to break the ice in the water bucket for my llamas. I loved the sight of it and the sound it made when booted feet tromped across its frozen surface. I most loved the silence of it.
In my childhood in the deep woods of North Georgia, I can recall staying awake all night listening to great trees snapping and falling under the weight of ice and snow.
I planned this year’s trip to Michigan to arrive safely ahead of the weather.
Wendy, who is a miraculous combination of philosopher, teacher, networker, and planner (to say nothing of Bruce Springsteen fan and Pajama Partier),
has scheduled me for a series of book talks of such number and variety I can hardly imagine I won’t forget which is which. On the Wednesday, they are so relentlessly close together as to guarantee my complete collapse on Thursday, just in time for a long luncheon at Wendy’s Club at a table carefully orchestrated to include only potential consumers of presentations and collaborations related to the book.
I believe people are paid vast sums of money to do precisely what Wendy has done in Grand Rapids.
2:30 Telephone conference/editing for a friend’s graduate school application
Fresh from the airport, I finished the editing in half the time we’d anticipated since we really had already done the job and just needed to attend to final details. Then an unexpected visit from an old friend who was a part of the small group of women who built and shared a sweat lodge on my property for many years.
Event #1 The Interview: Prologue
I am up at my usual 5:00 am, showered and dressed. Of all the shirts I packed, I have chosen the flannel for comfort. I opened my eyes with an awful cold, something I almost never get, and the weather report says rainy and high 40’s.
I’m on my second cup of amazingly good coffee, poured from a pot set up last night and ready to be turned on when I walked into the kitchen. This condo is a place where I am immediately at home no matter how many years between visits. These are remarkably good people, collectors of interesting art, active in the community, social, political in the best sense, and with all that engagement with the world somehow creating around them a safe place for a friend to land.
I am wondering what on earth I can say to Shelley Irwin in a ten-minute interview. “Buy this book??” 🙂
9:20 Interview with Shelley Irwin for her Morning Show on Grand Rapids’ WGVU
Shelley Irwin, with whom I have exchanged many emails over the last several months, turns out to be a lovely person–bright, articulate, efficient, and a very fine interviewer. There was no warm-up chat and the show was live. I was one of several guests; everything ran on schedule. I think there was less than a two minute space between my sitting down at the microphone and the interview beginning. Shelley had clearly read enough of the book to know what questions to ask. She listened to my responses and shaped her follow-up questions to fit.
As I do whenever I speak, I have forgotten most of what I said. I think it went well. It was, in any case, a pleasant experience. I will eventually have a link to the interview.
Event #2 Beacon Hill: Prologue
Sitting quietly at Wendy and Eddie’s dining room table which, like my own, is nearly covered with issues of The New Yorker and last Sunday’s New York Times, I realize that in all the emails I have exchanged with Rich Verkaik, Beacon Hill’s chaplain, I still don’t know how much time he has planned for my presentation, how many people he anticipates, or what preferences he might have for the focus of my talk. It’s a good thing he suggested lunch.
I have nearly an hour before we have to leave and this time is valuable. Wendy shares the table with me as I type and she reads The New Yorker. I imagine that she and Eddie spend their Sunday mornings with the Times. The details of a life are important.
12:30 Lunch with the chaplain at Beacon Hill Retirement Community
Lunch with Rich Verkaik was a surprise. Even having walked through the elaborately decorated lobby with what seems miles of small conversation areas of plush sofas and well-stuffed armchairs, the gourmet menu, table linens, and good flatware caught me off guard, as did the young woman who came to our table to take our orders.
I asked if the residents had the same menu and, of course, they don’t. This luncheon set-up, with large printed menus reminiscent of any fine dining establishment, is designed to impress guests. Spending your final years at Beacon Hill doesn’t come cheap, and I imagine that a gourmet meal is the least of the enticements offered to potential residents and their families.
Rich, on the other hand, was just what I had expected. In person, he is the same straightforward and comfortable man with whom I have corresponded for several months. Conversation was easy. I asked about the cost of an apartment at Beacon Hill, about the age of the facility, and about the upcoming expansion announced on their website.
I asked Rich how long he had been there.
“And do you like it?”
“Yes and No. It can wear you out, and I find I’m thinking more often now about retirement.”
I know that Rich’s mother died two weeks ago and then his mother-in-law, to whom he was close, four days later. At the end of the lunch I bring that up and we talk briefly about the death of mothers, how huge an event it always is. We were both with our mothers when they died.
He and Wendy talked about people and things in Grand Rapids. He asked how we met.
2:00, Talk and question-and-answer at Beacon Hill.
A small group grew to 25.
Wendy, who counted the audience, thinks people came who were interested in the topic, intrigued by the book’s title, and the question period went well. Residents were eager to talk about the writing they were doing or planning.
Again, I have no clear sense of how the talk went. Rich says he was happy with it. Wendy says fine; maybe I should have read more from the book, then asked questions based on each reading rather than just general questions. It’s a good idea. If I don’t have a recording I don’t remember what I said so, with the exception of the television interview in Norfolk (which is on YouTube), I don’t really know what I’m doing right or wrong. I count on friends like Wendy to listen and critique. In Kentucky, I will incorporate suggestions like this one.
I am learning.
Events 3 and 4: Dinner and Book Signing: Prologue and Event
5:00 Dinner with friends at Schuler Books’ cafe
7:00 Talk and book signing at Schuler Books and Music: Two young women on the program with me had written intriguing books.. We each spoke and answered questions; people bought books; we signed them. Looking for Lydia sold out!!
10.45 Arrival for program, lunch, and schmoozing, at The Women’s City Club
10:50 Guest lecture in a Non-Fiction Writing class at Aquinas College, then home for an afternoon and evening with old friends, Pamela and William.
Wendy and I got to Aquinas a little early, both of us preferring the extra time to be sure of parking, to be certain about the classroom and building.
I was delighted that the class was slotted for the Academic Building which was my old stomping grounds during my years at Aquinas. I don’t know the building’s history but, given my recent obsession with the years following the Civil War, I expect I’ll find out.
And the week ended with an overnight with friends, Pamela and William, in their newly renovated home. And, once again-one last time-dear, dear Teri showed up for a couple of hours.
6:55 am Heading home with a four and a half layover in Detroit. Not like the non-stop flights to Dallas/Ft. Worth. Every journey is different; every journey is an adventure. I’m afraid I am, at heart, an armchair traveler.
The end of a good week of marketing the book; Wendy has outdone herself and put out feelers to every organization she can think of. There was a short, intense time with Pamela and William. There was the friend, our age, who developed an infection after a routine surgery and is in a nursing home. When I walked in, she called out, “Dean Robertson!” And when I bent over to kiss her forehead, she said in her quiet voice, “I will be here for the rest of my life.”
Tonight I will sleep in my own bed with Isaac.
When you start thinking ahead to Christmas, there is no better book to give friends and family than Looking for Lydia; Looking for God, the story of salvation and resurrection in an unexpected place at an unexpected age. The first thing to do is read it yourself!!