Last week Jack and I headed off to do a book club event. Carolyn got in touch via Facebook, and asked if we would visit two in combination near Wintergreen Resort (a high end retreat in Northern Virginia)
Since we were driving up on a beautiful Spring day and had “all the time in the world” Jack and I did what fools do: turned off our GPS and started back-roading. At 8 pm, twenty miles off target, we left the Blue Ridge Parkway via a dirt road I am pretty sure was an irrigation service track for someone’s cow pasture. (We rehooked the gate after we went through.)
Carolyn and her husband live in a community of DC refugees. The book club’s women were either retired from work in Fairfax or Richmond, or keeping gracious, spacious homes open for men still making the daily commute. Those of you who do author events will recognize the underlying intimidation factor: that gig where, as you stand to speak, you realize the people sitting in the front row could pool their changepurse contents and buy your car.
But they asked such insightful questions amid repeated offers of “Would you like a cup of coffee/tea/juice/wine” so often, we had a great time. One of the attending clubs was called “Needs and Deeds.” They support causes they feel need quiet yet swift attention, donating their own discretionary income but also holding fundraisers, often involving books or handmade items.
The night before the club meeting, we took to our hostess Carolyn right away; she’s the kind of woman who opens her arms and the world walks into them. She cooks and makes things better, maintains graciousness with an effortless grace. She has magnolia-blossom white hair and blue eyes that, when you look in, are just looking for ways to make your day better.
Here’s the kicker, though: as Carolyn was making us a breakfast of fresh ground coffee, cheddar scrambled eggs, homemade bread and jam, and fresh raspberries, we started talking about a book idea I’d been kicking around: “Invisible? the lives of American women after 5o.”
I didn’t bring it up, though; Carolyn did. She was trying to write her family history for the publishing market, and thinking of going back to school. Among other things, she said, she wanted her three daughters to be “proud of her,” to feel that she had “done something with her life.”
I looked at the spacious home full of grandchild spaces, the tended garden, the bread, the dogs – one of whom was a Hurricane Katrina rescue. “Done something?” I repeated.
“Well, I mean, yes, I used to work in a bookstore,” Carolyn said, bunching eggs with her spatula. “In your book, you talk about dreams, living a real life. And my life…”
“Your book club is called ‘Needs and Deeds,’ right?” I asked, blinking.
She smiled. “I know. But I want my daughters to know I was a real person.”
We talked a long time that morning about what a “real person” meant for women with white hair in America, swapping stories, and having some good laughs near tear territory.
And Carolyn, if ever there were a real person, hands and ears and eyes tuned to what’s going on around them, it is you. Whether the outside forces of American society see it or not, you are not invisible, but radiantly transparent. Different thing. God Bless You for it.