But before I get to that amazing morning, the night before the breakfast the foundation arranged for a local restaurant, The Red Cork Bistro to close for a private Author hosting party with me, the donors and other local school supporters. The Red Cork was gracious, and provided a lovely place for a private event with great food, wine, ambiance and lively conversations. What a way to kick off the week. Thank you Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce, especially Emma Leedy who initially suggested me to the board.
The next morning was the main event at the museum. Talented student chefs made a delicious breakfast akin to what you would be served at any 5 star restaurant, and the school jazz band harkened in the event, filling the (closed to the public) museum with enticing smells and invigorating music.
When Senator Marco Liias introduced “Mukilteo’s literary treasure” I actually looked around the room wondering what other author would be speaking. Then my friend Judy Gratton tapped my leg and said, “That’s you.” So I got up and went on stage. It was a surreal moment. NEVER in all the public speaking I have done has there been a plane hanging over my head and a fuselage to the right of the stage. I couldn’t help myself, the first words out of my mouth were not from my planned speech, but instead, “WOW! What a venue. Is that a fuselage?” Of course I said that because ‘fuselage’ was the only word I knew for an immense airplane part.
Anyway, I quickly pulled myself together and spoke to the crowd about the importance, no, the life- saving magic that books are to children. In my troubled childhood of which I spoke about my soldier father’s PTSD and ultimate alcoholism, books gave me refuge, inspired me to be brave, be kind, be curious.
Here’s a short excerpt from my speech titled, Literacy is a Superpower;
“Ernest Hemingway said, ‘There is no friend as loyal as a book’. And that certainly has always been true for me. I can honestly say Books saved my life. Well, books and a neighbor, a retired school teacher, Mrs. Gordon, who recognized a traumatized child when she saw one. I was about 6 years old when she invited me into her kitchen to learn to read. I recall on the pages of those books was another world, a world of raccoon mothers who fiercely protected their young and even carried their babies in their mouths on incredible adventures, and dogs and cats who loved one another despite their obvious differences.
In every story there was peril, but Mrs. Gordon assured me everything would soon be alright if I could hang in there and remember that soon I would turn the page.
And when she said, maybe you’ll grow up to write a book someday, she altered the potential trajectory of my life. Because she knew then that I may have challenges, obstacles to overcome, and that I would need a quest, hope, something to aspire to, as do all protagonist on all long journeys, and she knew that for a child, literacy was a superpower. And it was.
Those books she gifted me became my companions, my loyal friends, as Hemmingway said.
Because to read, at any age opens a window into other worlds previously unimagined….”
Anyway, I went on about how books saved me from a troubled childhood and how literacy truly is a superpower. I got into why I wrote Return To Sender and how my dad’s PTSD inspired my protagonist, Theo Riley and his Korean War nightmares after he returned home. And how books and writing guided me through 3 tours in cancerland. “Just keep turning the page, everything will be alright.” Mrs. Gordon said. We always return to our childhood lessons, and that one has saved me time and time again.
But I circled back around to the literacy issue which is the Mukilteo Schools Organization’s mission, and I ended on this note,
“In today’s world what is more important than planting those seeds in the hearts and minds of our children? Valuing their education, their welfare and so importantly their imaginations is vital to our humanity in this otherwise chaotic and often uncaring world that can be turned topsy-turvy by a simple 140 character tweet. Well, now 280….
The Mukilteo Schools foundation literacy mission and getting books into the hands of children is one I believe in wholeheartedly. That retired teacher who put a book in my hands showed me there was a big world out there, she planted a seed of hope inside me and taught me to turn the page, everything would be alright. Books guided my future, literacy was the superpower that saved my life.”
It was a wonderful event. I hope I rose to the occasion. During the book signing SO many people came up to me and shared their stories of being the child of a soldier who struggled with PTSD or other war time traumas brought home to the families. I honor the private things they shared with me.
Teachers, and people like Mr. and Mrs. Klein who support literacy organizations earn a special place in heaven in this once a little girl, now grown reader and writer’s mind. In a time of shrinking school budgets, cutting arts programs and an overall disrespect for literacy in America, these organizations and the people who support them are vital to our survival as a literate, competitive country. I was so happy and honored to take part in this event.
ALL photographs provided by Mary Wastman photography