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Literature, life, reflections on books read and books written. Photography and videologs are integral to the postings.
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For any of those who might need just a bit more proof that it pays to, as I say "soften your stance" when approaching memoir, I offer these words from Jesmyn Ward, whose new memoir, Men We Reaped
, is high on my reading list (but not read yet).
The story of Ward's memoir is featured in yesterday's New York Times
in a piece by Laura Tillman
. I excerpt from the middle of the story. I admire and applaud Ward's desire to find the larger story, for it is the larger story, always, that lies at the heart of memoir. She waited to write until she understood. She waited until she could identify meaning.
From the story:
“Men We Reaped,” to be published on Tuesday by Bloomsbury, is as much an existential detective story as it is a personal history, as Ms. Ward searches for a unifying reason that her brother, Joshua, her cousin C. J. and friends Roger, Demond and Ronald — all young black men — died within a four-year period.
She writes first about Roger Eric Daniels III, who died of a heart attack at 23 while using cocaine.
“They picking us off, one by one,” a friend tells Ms. Ward in the book, as they watch the hearse leave Mr. Daniels’s home.
Who, she wonders, are “they”?
“Was there a larger story that I was missing as all these deaths accumulated, as those I loved died?”
“Men We Reaped” is that larger story. With a novelist’s skill, Ms. Ward mines her memories of the men, like the girlhood crush she had on Ronald, or the night she enlisted a friend to wake her sister, who was dating C. J., to break the news of his death. What she finds are threads of the past that linger in the collective present, specifically the role that the South’s legacy of racism has played in how these young men lived and died.
who took the long drive from her home in Northern California to join me at Book Passage in Corte Madera, where we gathered around a table with other talented writers and talked about truth. It was a remarkable morning. Wendy produced wonderful work. And when were done, we spent some time with Izzies and bruschetta, with mounds of garlic cloves.
Today, on a day that has so many of us thinking back, I am grateful to Wendy for taking the time to come see me, to read Handling the Truth
, and to write this extraordinary review
. Wendy is set to go to Florence, soon. I've been working hard, but perhaps not effectively enough, to get my Florence novel to her in the nick of time.
Hence my silence, mostly, here.
Right now, I can only say how grateful I am for this, and for the friendship.
A few (but just a few) of Wendy's words. Which made me cry on this day, when writing feels like such incredibly hard work.
Maybe you don’t want to write a memoir, so you think this book is not for you. But I encourage you to read it anyway, because within its pages are truths, “aha” moments, and beautiful writing. And if you only read it to get to the appendix of book recommendations – that is also worth your time. The research for this book was huge. Beth culls her formidable list of titles she read down to the best – many of which I have read and loved myself.
It was hot in Marin this past weekend – the day was heavy with sunshine, thick with an intense heat that had people rushing into shade – but sitting in the air conditioned environment of The Book Passage, the day fell away behind me. We were a small group, each of us there for different reasons and at different points in our writing abilities. We sniffed spices, shared photos, and scribbled down bits of memory and detail in short bursts of time. We shared. And we listened. We had the opportunity to get a glimpse into a writer’s soul and her passion, and reap the reward of doing so. It is not an experience I will soon forget.
Many thanks to Beth Kephart – to her willingness to share herself so completely with others, to fly through the dark, starry nights in order to touch the lives of her readers, and for her beautiful words of which I never tire of reading. You are a treasure. And so is your latest book – Handling the Truth.
3:45 in the afternoon, outside Philadelphia, and all this long day long, I've been in Florence, where it is dawn and has been dawn and the sun is breaking at the Ponte Vecchio.
It took me five and a half hours on a flight to San Francisco to find the image I needed, the key to a novel that has nearly broken my heart.
One image. One moment. And the novel turns.
Slowly, it turns.
And not many words, for I am exhausted. (They don't call them Red Eyes for nothing.)
But, in order: Amber, Lara, Tamra, Stephanie, of Chronicle Books, who made my day there so special. Huge thanks to all four floors of the Chronicle team—so many working so hard, and so kindly, on behalf of a book we all believe in. I held Going Over
in my hands for the first time. My friends, the packaging of this book is spectacular. The people behind the book are spectacular. And Tamra Tuller is more dear than she will ever know. Thank you, too, to Ginee, for hosting a dinner I will always fondly remember, and to Summer and Esme, for being first readers.
And then, at Book Passage, where I conducted a memoir workshop with truly talented writers, and where I spent extra time with Wendy Robards, who drove hours to join us. A beautiful moment. And then the opportunity to meet Linda Joy Myers, memoir workshopper supreme, in person. I'll be having a live tele-conversation with Linda (who is also the president of the National Association of Memoir Writers) later this month. Details to come.
Later that day, at Books, Inc., another memoir workshop, and time with my first Penn student (and muse from my corporate fairytale, Zenobia
), Moira Moody Kuo, who is glowing as a new mom. Moira grew up and became a great teacher herself. She also became my first student to make me a pseudo grandmother. Moira, how could you? And also: I am honored, and thank you for your gifts and card.
Early the next day, I walked miles upon miles, to see (again) parts of this city I love. The fog had rolled in. The wild sea beasts were sunning. A dog had put on its shades.
And finally, a long ride to wine country, Santa Rosa, with Brian, the best driver ever. A man who has, as it turns out, driven many friends of mine—Ruta Sepetys, Jayne Anne Phillips, D.J. MacHale, Buzz Bissinger, among them—and who makes us all feel special. I spoke to a packed room of writers at the Flamingo Resort. I also met Vicki of Copperfield Books who had, she told me, laid the groundwork for my trip out west, by making one very special request of Gotham.
I'll be forever grateful. Thank you, Gotham team, for making the trip possible.
Incredibly happy as I anticipate my conversation (about books, memoir, writing, meaning) with Dani Shapiro during the upcoming First Person Arts Festival on Sunday, November 10, 4 - 5:30, at Christ's Church in Philadelphia.
The details are here
. My thoughts about Dani's wonderful new book, Still Writing
, are here
The three day odyssey is almost over. I have walked this city's hills, seen old friends, lunched with quilter and blogger Wendy Robards, held a former student's baby, met Linda Joy, dined with booksellers, listened to the work of powerful memoirists, talked a lot about truth, driven in a car with a former newspaper editor, seen the America's Cup from afar, met the amazing Chronicle team, taken a Chronicle tour given by the uber cool Lara Starr, shared a meal with Lara and the quite fine Stephanie Wong, held the GOING OVER advanced readers copy in my hands, met the phenomenal designer and her muse, talked with the international rights team ( there seems to be interest!), talked food and books with Ginee Seo,
Spent rich, unforgettable time with Tamra Tuller, with whom I could talk forever, about all things.
(Yes, I presented those details out of order, but does it matter? Tamra was there through it all.)
Today that same newspaper editor will drive me to Santa Rosa so that I can meet with a writers group. And then I will come home. I will always love this misty city.
The day begins again. An early morning walk. I will never tire of this city's many faces and hills.
I head to the great independent bookstores of San Francisco to teach memoir, to see friends.
I have returned to a city I have always loved. I sit by the ferries, watching the day begin. In just a few hours I will hug Tamra Tuller again. Meet Lara Starr, so well named. Take a tour of Chronicle Books. Have lunch with Lara and Stephanie Wong. Hold a copy of GOING OVER in my hands for the first See the sights with Tamra. Have dinner with Tamra and Ginee Seo and a spectacular group of librarians and booksellers. For all of this I am grateful.
I will walk the edge of this city in the meantime.
Earlier this summer New City Community Press/Temple University Press released a book that means so much to me—Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent.
It's a book about poor Philadelphia in 1871, a book about Eastern State Penitentiary, Baldwin Locomotives Works, My River (notice the caps), two best friends, and an heroic blowzy named Pearl. Among other things.
Reviewers have been extremely kind, some of their thoughts here
I'll be officially launching that book in just a few weeks at Radnor Memorial Library—reading from it for the first time, talking about it for the first time, sharing it, because that's what we do.
I hope you will consider joining us. Huge thanks to Pamela Sedor, who throws a wonderful party.
You know how sometimes you can't possibly do one more thing...and then you do? That was my today, in a nutshell.
I won't go into it. I will only say that highlights included: Taking my dear Dad to lunch at a fine Mexican restaurant. Not finishing the novel I promised to finish. Finding out that Handling the Truth
was named a Top Ten Book of September by BookPage. Being less than lovely to a client (for five minutes; I'm so sorry). Taking my student, Stephanie, to dinner. But not eating dinner, so that I could go on a date with my husband for dinner. Not being ready for San Francisco. Getting ready for San Francisco.
And dancing this cha cha, with Scott Lazarov, of DanceSport Academy. My husband was doing the filming. Soon my husband and I will be dancing this together. On a stage. In front of normal people. I am not a normal person.
You gotta do what you can do.
Wow. What a happy thing to learn from dear Florinda that BookPage
named Handling the Truth
a Top Ten Book for September. Thrilled about this, of course.
And full of gratitude.
The full list is here
Early this morning, these two things, unrelated, except they both involve people I adore.
First, I am celebrating the remarkable work of Sheri Fink, a PhD, MD, and writer whom I first met when chairing the PEN First Nonfiction Award in 2004. War Hospital: A True Story of Surgery and Survival
, was, for us, a deserving finalist, a tale about medicine during the genocide in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Sheri, in person, was exquisite. She went on to do important things, winning a Pulitzer Prize, a National Magazine Award, and countless other honors. Today her new book is out—Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital
—and Jason Berry in the New York Times
, along with many others, is giving it a rave. I could not be happier for this extraordinary woman.
Second, I am celebrating—and thanking—Jennie Nash, a long time friend and excellent writer, who surprised me with these kind words about Handling the Truth.
Jennie is the kind of teacher who genuinely loves her students, who wants them to succeed, who gives them everything she can, then steps aside and applauds their journey. I am so touched that Jennie took the time to think so creatively about Handling
. Her words are here
. But included in these words is a special offering to students of writing. If you have a chance to work with Jennie, do.
Several weeks ago, I tore most of my memoirs off the shelf to research an idea I had about those who use photographs to amplify their memoirs. Dorothy Allison, Patti Smith, Michael Ondaatje, David Carr, Orhan Pamuk, Calvin Trillin—the list is long, and it made me happy to sit for a while and work the details out.
That essay runs today in the Wall Street Journal blog, Speakeasy
. Many thanks to Beth Parker at Gotham for helping me find its right home.
This essay, on photographs, is part of a series of essays I've lately been writing about the memoir form. Today, in the The Millions,
for example, I write about the conversational in memoir. Last week, I wrote in The Pennsylvania Gazette
about the students I love.
Thank you, Beth Parker of Gotham, for finding a home for me at Speakeasy, and thank you Speakeasy.
More of my thoughts on the memoir form can be found on this dedicated Handling
Summer eases away. Yesterday I let it. Some rain, some sun. Some breeze, some stillness. Reading, and then writing, and then writing again. Making a list of all the books that I must read. Buying several.
By Thursday evening of this week, I'll be in one of my favorite American cities—San Francisco—to conduct three very different (from each other) Handling the Truth
workshops at Book Passages, Books Inc., and the Flamingo Conference Resort and Spa (located in Santa Rosa, conducted on behalf of the Redwood Writers Workshop).
(For more on the nearly twenty events scheduled for the next few months, please look for the events on the left-column of this blog.)
I'll also be holding the gloriously designed Going Over
galleys in my hand for the first time, hugging dear Tamra Tuller, meeting that incredibly vivacious publicist Lara Starr in person (oh, yeah!), sitting down with the wonderful Ginee Seo, Stephanie Wong, and Amber Morley of Chronicle, and sharing a meal with local librarians and booksellers. Finally, I'll have a chance to spend some real time with Wendy Robards, whom many of you know as Caribousmom. Wendy's Small Damages
quilt sits before me as I write these words. It is here as inspiration.
The days will be jam-packed. I'm looking forward to every second.
In the meantime, today, I share this essay, written for The Millions
, about memoirists who glance up from the page and recognize their readers—and those who do not. I feel privileged to be given room on that amazing book site.
Also, finally, beautifully, I share this Bookslut
column, by Colleen Mondor, who took the time to read and to write about Dr. Radway's Sarsaparilla Resolvent.
All of you know how much this book means to me. It makes me so happy, therefore, that Colleen embraced it.What's more, she embraced it in a column called "Living in a Springsteen Song" (could you get any closer to my heart?) and likens it to "Copper," one of her favorite TV shows.
To more sun. To more breeze. To endless Springsteen.
Yesterday, 3:30 AM. Left the sofa, where I had gone briefly to rest, to begin (again) client work, which became student work, which became the business of writing work, until I looked up at 10:15 or so and screamed. A brown cloud of termites had rushed through my office door and window—escapees from the new construction hole down the street. It happened in an instant, an actual instant. A storm of wings. Beth's cries for help. Clients calling in the midst. Beth pretending to be calm while the critters crawled along her computer screen.
2:30 PM. Settled in with Mr. Heater Man, who, like a physician, was delivering the final news about the new system now required for my old house. Ralph, Mr. Heater Man, is a very nice guy. Still, might as well be sending my son off to another semester of school. I, by now termite proof, smiled (more like grimaced). Wrote the check for the first third payment. Went back to work.
3:00 PM. Received news of an incredible pre-pub review that I will soon be able to share. See how nicely I am behaving? How properly? Not sharing? Yes. I am capable of the incomplete non-share. Even in my current state of sleep-deprived delirium.
5:25 PM. My friend Judy of the cabernet hair meets me for a walk around a Holiday Inn parking lot, just off the Lansdale exit. This is Judy's neighborhood. It is also partway between my home and Harleysville, where Shelly Plumb, the generous owner of Harleysville Books,
has invited me to an evening of dinner and conversation regarding Small Damages
. So Judy and I walk and talk and walk and talk, six laps or so around the ol' Inn. I love friends who do not mind the craziness of me, or the sweatiness of a walk on asphalt during a 90-degree day.
7:00 PM. In Harleysville with the aforementioned Shelly—I met her, felt like I'd always known her, perhaps I have always known her?—and some twenty others, who had kindly read Small Damages
. Outside, there was lightning and downpour. Inside, wine, pasta, dessert, books. Any writer who is ever invited to Harleysville must go. It's a bastion of independent goodness. Also? For the record? Small Damages
appears (see photo above) to be a crossover book.
10:00 PM. Home (through rain and a little hail) to more work.
2:30 AM. The aforementioned existing heater (which needs to hold on for just two more weeks) goes off on an all-cymbals clash-o-rama that probably woke President Obama. Did it wake you? It certainly woke me. Well, who goes to sleep after that?
7:00 AM. Hair like tumbleweed.
I had all sorts of prospects for my class at Penn yesterday. Just two classes to go, and I had a plan in place, some thoughts about teaching the art of putting another's gestures, postures, cheekbones, eyes on the page. I had things to read, photographs to study, Annie Dillard, Anton Chekhov, Francine Prose, and Cynthia Kaplan in my back pocket. But before we would get to that, we would hear from the students themselves, who had been interviewing each other and writing "practice" profiles.
Except. These were no practice profiles. These were fully developed, deeply moving, vastly important gifts
crafted scrupulously for one another. It became important to simply dwell with these pieces, to slow things down, to take note of all the progress my students have made this semester, to honor the insights and the care embedded in their most recent work. There were students who had entered my classroom in winter proclaiming that they couldn't write; how wrong they were. There have been those who have worried about getting things wrong; time and again they got so much right. There were those who cautioned that they might not come to every class, and would probably be late with the assignments. Okay, so. There was only one of those, and he lied. He came. He wrote. Not just extremely well, but also (he amazed us) on time (give or take three minutes).
Soon I'll be able to share one of my student's works, for it will be published in an esteemed magazine. Someday I'll be able to tell you about the others—their gains, their triumphs, their stories.
But for now, in the midst of what has become the busiest season in my life, I want to take a minute and thank my institution, the University of Pennsylvania, for giving me the chance, again, to fall in love (thank you, Greg Djanikian, and thank you, Al Filreis). This is a great privilege, spending time with these students, watching them grow. And it is a great privilege to work at my alma mater. The final project my students will produce is a profile of an individual who inspires. Many of my students have chosen a university professor, and in reading through the profile proposals this morning, I am awed by the many professors I've never met who are radically changing student lives.
If you walk through life looking for the good, you find students like my students. You find an institution like my own.
I can never use the term "in the gloaming" without thinking of my friend Alice Elliott Dark's perfect and classic short story by that same name. And so, last night, leaving the city at the gloaming hour, I thought of Alice. I thought of Joan Didion, too, and Rebecca Solnit, and all those writers who have captured this shade of sun-glinted blue with words.
The city was eager for spring, and full of its promise. Rittenhouse Square and its horn player, a little spontaneous drumming on the side. Restaurants and their outdoor seats. People reading on benches with their coat collars high.
My husband and I were there at the end of a long moving week—cleaning our son's now vacated city apartment at Spruce and 16th, and imagining him at the park in his new near-Manhattan 'hood. Sharing a meal at Serafina. Going home in the old Wrangler, two for-sure empty nesters now.
Meanwhile our son texts me this morning, his first day of his first full-time job. Up at 5:30, he confides. At Starbucks. Excited.
There's dusk. And then there's dawn.
By: Beth Kephart
Blog: Beth Kephart Books
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, The Trip to Bountiful
, People's Light and Theatre
, River North Dance Chicago
, Eva Cassidy
, Ahmad Simmons
, Chanticleer Garden
, Jessica Wolfrum
, Annenberg Center
, Horton Foote
, Add a tag
If you came here just for the pictures, here they are—Chanticleer Garden, April 7, 2013, a brand new season of color and verve. The secret garden elves have spent the winter widening paths, planting pots, putting the start of lettuce into rows. They have had a ball with succulents. And the big bright fish are alive.
If you wondered how I'd felt about seeing "The Trip to Bountiful" at People's Light and Theatre Company on Friday evening with my father, wonder no more. It was a full-throttle production, emotionally speaking, and elegant in all other ways. I believed in these characters and their stories, the two side-by-side chairs that constituted a bus, the painted mural that was the landscape of memory. I believed in the anger and in the momentary resolve.
And finally, River North Dance Chicago, presented last evening at Annenberg Center. There are, apparently, young men and women whose bodies are only muscle and air, not bone. There are choreographers who can bring Eva Cassidy back to life. There is a dancer named Jessica Wolfrum who can make a dress breathe and a dancer named Ahmad Simmons whose muscular nomenclature is like nothing I've ever seen, and who danced within the quick strobe of light, his arms like wings. Then there were those who danced in and out of elastic shirts without ever losing track of time.
Or perhaps they lost all track of time, and that is why I was so mesmerized.
Nine or so months ago, Dr. Nicole Duran quietly slipped into her role as a transitional minister for my own St. John's Presbyterian Church and—without overt fanfare—changed the lives of many. She never gave the expected sermon. She brought intelligence to history and now to the stories of then. She found an old stone baptismal font long wasting away on the church property and installed it to its proper glory—simply, almost matter of fact. Nicole engaged the young with words and seeds, felt boards and icons. She visited those who had fallen ill, spoke eloquently and with genuine emotion at funerals, inquired after others, attended to small fractures and bigger ones, and listened. Nicole Duran is not an overt entertainer; she doesn't need to be. She is, instead, a quiet, never self-congratulatory innovator, someone who has something to say, and how I have loved paying attention to the connections her fine mind makes, how I have loved the resonant power of her messages—relevant, real, and searching.
Today Nicole gave an extraordinary, alive, personal Easter Sunday sermon—looked at us through the thick black frames of her glasses and said precisely what she thought about religion today, the role of a holy place in our lives, the difference between seeking out the familiar for familiarity's sake and finding faith in the changing and new. And then, during communion, she invited every person in that quiet church to take a single flower from so many flower-filled vases and lace it into the netting of a large wooden cross she'd had built for us. Tulips, roses, carnations, twizzlers of blue and red, striped petals—one by one we laced our flowers in, and when we were done, that cross was alive, the dark day was bright, and we had lived Easter.
People touch our lives. Sometimes they don't know just how much they do, or why. I will never forget Nicole Duran—transitional but not temporary—nor this particular Easter day. She is a woman walking a stone wall in a simple dress, lifting her hopes—for us—to the sky.
To my dear friends who have written today, sent notes, shared love—thank you. It was a quiet, working day, and you lifted my spirits immensely.
And to my brother-in-law, Mario, who sent white flowers—what a gift to have this gift today. Thank you.
They have huge hearts and great talent. They make me laugh and they work hard. They pay attention to one another. They let the learning in.
Today they surprised me with a birthday celebration and magnificent card (you guys!) and made me cry (again). Forever and ever, 135.302. Forever and ever and ever.
Thank you, my students, and thank you dear provocateur, remembering friends Karen Rile and Jamie-Lee Josselyn. And thank you Trey Popp and Maggie Ercolani and Nabil Mehta, who joined us in our final hour and made the party finer.
I will sleep well tonight.
Susannah Cahalan tells a terrifying true story in Brain on Fire
about losing control, slipping away from a "true" (happy, ambitious, newly in love, well-employed) self, and coming far too close to forfeiting everything she was to a mysterious affliction. It all happened quickly. It all seemed, at first, to be viral or perhaps anxiety induced. Crowds overwhelmed her. Work (her life as a journalist) made no sense. She grew paranoid and raging, impossible to calm, numb or tingling, migraine prone, on the verge, always of running away, dangerous to herself, "barbaric." Soon she would find herself labeled a flight risk in the epilepsy ward of a New York City hospital—her father and mother vigilant at her side, her new boyfriend determined to find the Susannah he sensed was still inside. One doctor after another misread the scant clues. The electrodes glued to Susannah's head would not reveal the secret.
It took a neurologist named Souhel Najjar, a simple test (draw a clock, he said), and the quick cooperation of a University of Pennsylvania physician, Dr. Josep Dalmau, to finally discover what had happened to Susannah's brain—and to treat the rare autoimmune disorder that had attacked her so virulently. Many months would go by before Susannah would recover. This book, her first, maps that journey.
It is a memoir of sorts—an investigation into the author's own life assisted by medical records and the observations of those who were near through the ordeal. It's a generous book—and story—that has already helped others, and it is important for that reason. As literature, as memoir, I worried about the liberal use of dialogue that had been clearly recreated by those whom Susannah interviewed. I wished, as well, for something less strictly documentary and more (in places) transcendent.
But I honor the achievement of this narrative, the intelligence of the doctors, the kindness of Susannah's family and boyfriend, and the marvel of the brain itself. I am proud, as well, to be a University of Pennsylvania alum and adjunct. It's a school where important work gets done.
For more on the memoirs I read (and sometimes teach), please visit the Handling the Truth page.
Granted the gift of a beautiful day, we are Hoboken, New Jersey, bound in an oversized white van that I'm sure as heck happy not to be driving. (Here's where my husband's Salvadoran born-and-bred unflappability comes in especially handy. I bore witness to it on the tight streets of Philadelphia yesterday. I closed my eyes when necessary.)
Our son, like us, lives a minimal life, and it's times like these that I'm especially glad for that. I'm also especially glad that he has found a room that he loves in a town he's been talking about for years. I'm even more glad that he has landed a job that thrills him, in his media analysis field.
(Just wait until they find out how great a writer this analytical guy also is.)
Client work done, student letters written, taxes in the envelopes, six pairs of trousers cleaned and ironed (also that suit), and additional laundry spinning, we soon go. Melissa Sarno says that I need to get myself a Frank Sinatra fedora.
Sarno, I'm on the case.
Jennifer Hubbard says I do not write as badly as I think I do.
I'm going with that as well.
I'm a year older, my students threw me a surprise party, my son has left Philadelphia, another student got good publishing news and another won a Fulbright, my son has moved across the river from New York City (those bruises you see? that's me, after lugging many boxes many many blocks in a lovely town that has no parking and very narrow streets; that smile? my son is so happy), three client projects are done, one book proposal has been submitted, one 800-word piece for the Inquirer took fourteen hours (yep, I'm slowing down, folks), Tamra sent me a card that I love, love, love, and Kelly and I took a beautiful walk.
Now off to see "The Trip to Bountiful" with my father.
We do what we do.
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My husband, who has found extraordinary happiness working with clay, recently began to clear out our basement to give himself more room to work. Boxes of unnecessary things have been disappearing, leaving more mounds of molting cardboard to be considered or reviewed.
Today, while Bill was showing me his latest sculptural pieces, he pointed to a row of boxes and asked if they were for keeping. I slipped the lid off of one and found, in an instant, a file marked, in my mother's inimitable handwriting: To Betsy on her Birthday 4/1/01.
The file contained a story she'd written while planning her fiftieth high school reunion. Lore Kephart was a proud alum of John Bartram High School in Southwest Philadelphia. She made friendships there that lasted a lifetime. Indeed, my mother's friendships, as I wrote in Into the Tangle of Friendship,
were legendary—for their diversity, their longevity, their inherent trustworthiness. My mother was loved.
Now, here today she is, in her own words, talking to me at the end of a long birthday week. Telling me about her born-and-bred Philadelphia self. I hear the cadence of her speech in these inkjet pages. I see her crossing one word out and substituting another in blue ink. She loved to write, my mother. And she loved our birthdays—made them entirely special.
Made this one special, too:
Bartram was notable because of its reputation as a premier school with the highest academic standards. Students allowed to come there from certain other designated neighborhoods always took advantage of it, even though many had to ride a bus or the old #36 trolley, as it was called, to reach the campus. Some even fudged their way in. I was lucky; I walked.
Bartram's teaching staff was an extraordinary source of pride to all of us. To a man and woman, they could have taught anywhere, but chose to travel to Bartram. I often marvel at the completeness of the education I received there. The ghost of Mr. Abner Miller, one of my English teachers, haunts me, lest I should ever end a sentence with a preposition! Teachers were not only entrenched in getting across their individual disciplines—Mr. Wapen's was English, better yet Shakespeare—but they were encouraging as well. One old friend with whom I just caught up told me that, despite the fact that he had gone into the service having attended college for only three semesters, he spent his career interviewing celebrities like Robert Mitchum and Barbra Streisand for the column he wrote for our town's largest newspaper. "It was Mr. Sonnenfeld," he told me. "He just kept on telling me I had this talent."