High Summer hardly seems the time to read holiday books, but when my eight-year-old grandson informed me he was ready to hear me read my novel Nekomah Creek Christmas, I was not about to argue. Like other generations of smart kids in our family, he has usually preferred Herb reading a Freddie the Pig title, the old classic series by Walter Brooks. If I get a turn to read, I feel honored.
Nekomah Creek Christmas was published in 1994, and I haven't re-read it in years. Much of it I can't even remember writing. I was startled though, by how prescient I'd been in introducing the issue of the power and influence of the Christian right. On this bunch of grade school kids! And yes, I mention global warming, so nobody should pretend the warnings haven't been up for discussion for quite awhile now.
What truly delighted me, though, was my own main character, Robby Hummer. It was no secret I'd based him on my son Miles, who was twelve and utterly disdainful of the whole enterprise when the first book, Nekomah Creek, came out. It annoyed him that I'd had the audacity to attempt co-opting his own thoughts. "You don't know what I'm thinking. Robby Hummer is you, Mom. Not me."
Well, he was right about that. Writers always put their own thoughts into their characters' heads. And I had deliberately given Robby the creativity that was me as a child, not Miles. And also a certain sensibility, a willingness to put feelings into words.
So now, as I'm reading this book to my grandson, who takes after me in this exact way, it's astounding how Robby Hummer is so much closer to Nolan than he ever was to my supposed "model." It's as if I wrote this child before he existed.
The pandemic has been challenging, of course, and my husband and I have eased into a mode of not planning anything very far ahead, just taking it day to day, moment to moment, trying to make life as pleasant as possible for each other and the people we love. When one of our largest oaks fell over just outside the kitchen window, we started turning it into a fairy garden for the grandkids, complete with a little bubbling waterfall. This is the sort of thing I loved doing as a child, and it's so great that I am now the mistress of the Kingdom of Fallenoak, a creation that never could have germinated in the boring and orderly suburban tract house yard of my childhood. Herb has remarked that it functions like a therapy garden, the way it calms everybody down. He takes his own turn at the crack of dawn, watering the creeping mint and tiny flowers, making sure the fountain is full. He reports that this morning an adorable line of baby quail followed their mother right through.
Yesterday Nolan was building a set of pebble steps in the garden as I read, and his little brother, hollering just minutes before, was now meditatively dragging a red antique tractor through the sandy "beach." Sitting there with the sun on my shoulders, cracking my grandkids up with this story I'd written so long ago, it occurred to me that I could never have imagined this particular reward of joy coming as a result of it all these years later. Nolan just got it. He was laughing his head off. What could make a writer happier? Through the open kitchen window I could hear the pans clanking as my husband put together another of his wonderful dinners and I thought, okay, this. This moment. What could be more perfect?
I guess I'm retired. At any rate, this is my life now. I'm loving it.