The event was sponsored by my hometown library along with the Florida Humanities Council. My talk was on "Writing Small Town Florida," and I really enjoyed it because it gave me a chance to talk about my town and my family, my friends and memories.
Many of my family members were in the audience, including three grandparents.
I worked on my prepared remarks right up until the event, still drafting as I sat waiting in the parking lot, the AC of my mother's car blasting into my face. It was a warm, humid evening.
I watched as a few people trickled into the library. I watched them, and I felt a bit nervous. There was something different about addressing a crowd of people made up of many who had known me for so long.
A short woman got out of a car and made her way deliberately toward the entrance. I recognized her and felt a rush of emotion. It was Mrs. Hoagland, my senior year high school English teacher. I would have never expected her to attend. It had been almost twenty years. Yet here she was.
I count Mrs. Hoagland as one of my chief influences early on, a woman who encouraged me and who expected nothing less than excellence. She was a kind of icon at our school, a right of passage. One thing I remember very well is a poetry unit she conducted. We were all charged with writing a series of poems based on her specific prompts. On a regular schedule, she would select some of our work for recognition and post the work outside her classroom door under the heading "Fame and Glory."
I remember trying to casually walk by her door on those mornings, surreptitiously checking to see who was chosen. I remember having to restrain my excitement the morning that mine was among them.
I still remember the poem by heart:
My grand possessions I hold dear
Betray and torment me
In the Darkness
My hanging coat inches toward me
Hoping to seal my doom
A crack on the floor is an evil Serpent
Sent by the Great Dark Prince
Terrified, I close my eyes
Hoping to find relief
But in my mind my foes remain
Where they binge on my helpless soul
Here is where they live and thrive
Until the coming of the distant morn
As I sat in the car and watched people gradually making their way into the entrance, on the radio I heard, for the very first time, Bon Jovi's "Who Says You Can't Go Home." Dear readers, forgive my lack of irony when I admit that I teared up.
I thought, as I listened to those lyrics, that such a coincidence as this would never be acceptable in a fictional story. It would be unbelievable, over the top, totally sentimental.