For those of you who’ve been reading along with me, you know I wrote about labels a couple of weeks ago. I was labeled the petite, puny girl with asthma who couldn’t run or throw a ball, but I wasn’t lonely or bored. I found the piano, and I discovered I could travel to magical places with a book in my hand, so I opened the covers and read and dreamed and traveled more than most. I felt as though I had lived on the moors of England, and the rocky coasts of Ireland, and near the blue topaz waters of Greece –all that between the book covers.
My senior year in high school was an especially arduous trip through Virgil’s Aeneid as I did a year of independent study in Latin. I was the weird student who wanted a third year of Latin. My assignment was to translate the first six books of the Aeneid, over 4,000 lines of classical Latin dactylic hexameter with special attention to Book Six. That’s where Aeneas journeyed into hell with me right behind him.
In our school, we had the “senior term” paper – that dreaded thing we started talking about in ninth grade, knowing we’d be held hostage without a high school diploma if we didn’t write it. Well, my Latin and English teachers conspired and assigned my term paper topic – A Comparative Study of Dante’s Inferno with Aeneas’s Descent into Hell in the Sixth Book of the Aeneid.
Are you still with me? I will tell you the assignment was onerous, but it opened not only book covers but a brand new door for me. Remember this, the small town where I grew up was surrounded by plantations, soft rolling pine forests with fern-covered floors and lazy creeks. And one of those plantations was owned by a gentleman who happened to be a recognized Dante scholar. How serendipitous! I discovered his work in my research and immediately decided I should meet this gentleman, Thomas C. Chubb.
On a rainy Saturday morning in January, he opened his door, his library, and his world to me. His wood-paneled library with books stacked floor to ceiling and scattered about and with fireplace burning – well, it was like nothing I had ever seen before, and so was he – a handsome, older gentleman in his smoking jacket and ascot, and a pipe that smelled so good it made me want to smoke. It was like a scene in so many of those English novels I had read – even down to being served tea late morning. We talked Dante and Virgil and the power and beauty of the story.
Mr. Chubb was welcoming and willing to teach me, to answer my sixteen-year-old questions patiently and to steer me into further research. His request that I send him a copy of my paper when it was finished was beyond thrilling to me. For years, I kept that term paper and the handwritten note from him after he read it. It went the way of most things stored in the family attic.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#45493b” txt_color=”#ffffff”]When the door to his library closed behind me, I should have turned to Mr. Thomas C. Chubb and told him that walking into his world on that icy morning in January of 1969 changed my world. That’s when I discovered I wanted to write.[/mks_pullquote]
And then life happened. Education and career and family responsibilities became my focus, but I never lost my desire to write and I found things to write about all along the way, and I kept opening books and journeying to magical places between their covers.
I believe in the vigor and vitality of the story. Every good book I’ve ever read is more proof of the narrative’s power. The Master Teacher knew it, that’s why He taught in parables.
So forty-six years later with lots of stories I want to write, my first novel is being released in October. It’s entitled THE CHRISTMAS PORTRAIT. I invite you to open its covers, step into a world that for you may be foreign or it may be familiar; but you will feel the story’s tenderness and its hope. And you might even find a new way of thinking about something as old as time. After all, a book cover is just an open door.
Image: CC Flickr paul floyd