My neighbor, Jim, here in Picacho Hills in Las Cruces, just hailed me over his wall. “Hey, saw your book reviewed in the Albuquerque Journal last Friday,” he said.
“Great,” I called back. “Glad to know someone still reads the newspapers!” I was starting my midday walk, already sweating in the intense New Mexico sun.
Apparently, someone else saw the article as well. All the seats were full at the local Albuquerque Bookworks store on Sunday, June 26th when I gave my scheduled talk and reading.
It’s humbling, to say the least, when folks show up for your talk. It’s downright thrilling and scary when three people in the audience are old friends, and smart as whips.
I’ve agonized over each talk I’ve given since beginning in March after the release of Walking the Llano: A Texas Memoir of Place in late February. I wanted each talk to be right for the particular audience. Friends pushed me to get a website, to get a business Facebook account, to say yes to any invitations to speak. I have, I am, I will. And my journal is full of scripts. One talk for the Oldham County Chamber of Commerce annual banquet in Vega, Texas, another for the fourth grade at Vega Schools (“Ma’am, does a triops have three antennae?” “Hmmmm, let’s look that up.”), another for the Unitarian Universalist Church, another for the Las Cruces public library, and on and on. Readings and signings, too, from a private launch party in Las Cruces to the Texas Historical Society meeting in Dallas.
But Sunday there sat Beth Hadas, my first editor and former director of University of New Mexico Press, David Bertelson, dear friend and colleague from University of Hawai’i days, and Cherri Berry (honestly, that’s her name and her husband’s name was Red), who babysat me when she was probably 9 or 10 years old. (“Don’t say that,” she pleaded, noting my gray hair.) Combined number of years of these friendships: gosh, maybe 132 years?
Cherri, also reared in Vega, our families best friends, came despite having just arrived from a long stay in Denver with Gayle, her sister who is quite ill. Beth had suggested Bookworks for a venue in the first place and Ollie Reed, at the Albuquerque Journal. She’s that loyal friend and editor who for years has welcomed me into her home full of books, art, and good deck talk. And David. How many hours did I linger at his office door at University of Hawai’i, mine next door, fascinated by his insights. Such a mind and a loving spirit. He wowed the audience by commenting on a connection between the l8th century American writer, Charles Brockden Brown, and some points I made in the book. Beth and I laughed simultaneously when he brought Brown up–a somewhat obscure voice from the past, even for some lit folks. Cherri and I share being in Vega schools at the same time. Beth and David discovered they both shared Harvard degrees.
I looked out over the audience, so trusting, seemingly expectant, and willing and thought: BLANK. Just kidding. I thought about how these folks reminded me of the value of memory and the past, all the while being present and pointed toward the future.
Old friends and new (there was a considerable line of folks afterward as I signed their books and heard their stories), I still can see your faces and think of this passage from the book as I count you among my blessings:
‘The plowing made me see time differently: looking back while moving forward. I checked over my shoulder to see if the rows were coming out straight while at the same time I moved ahead through the plowed ground, creating them. These comings and goings connect like the wishbone of draws joined out north. Memory isn’t about the past, it’s about the process of shaping a continuity. . . .”