Going Home

As a writer and an author, one of the best things I get to do, is to go back home to do book signings. For me, home is Elkhart, Indiana, the city of my birth and where I grew up. Many of the places that shaped my writing and the settings for my stories, are in Elkhart. This week, I will have the privilege of doing three book signings in and around my hometown.

The Elkhart Public Library at 300 South Second Street, was a place where I spent a lot of time during my formative years and I also did a lot of writing there. I regularly checked out stacks of books and discovered many of the stories that remain my favorites to this day…Charlotte’s Webb, Black Beauty, Heidi, Little Women, Wuthering Heights, Gone With The Wind, Rebecca, To Kill A Mockingbird, The Old Man and the Sea, and anything by William Faulkner.

Since I grew up before the days of personal computers, all of my research for papers and articles was done at either my school library, or at the Elkhart Public Library. To this day, I still remember how kind and helpful the librarian always was to me. When I lived in Elkhart, there was only the one public library location. Today, there are multiple locations and they all have my books in their collections.

Because books played such a huge role in shaping my young mind and world view, it’s very important for me to promote reading and the love of books. I want children to love stories and books as much as I did and to understand that books can take them places where they may never be able to physically go. To that end, I often donate both my time and books to libraries and literacy programs across the country.

The house where I grew up and first discovered the buttons in my family’s button box is still there. It’s on Country Road 17 and isn’t nearly as rural as it was when I was young. Another family lives there and is filling it with memories now. Perhaps they have a button box like the one that inspired my first book, The Button Box.

My grandparent’s farm, which is the setting for my second book, Which Came First?, is located just outside of Elkhart. The old farmhouse and the barn are gone now, but the overgrown apple orchard and the lane that led to the back pasture, are still visible. I hope to visit the old farm while I’m in town.

If you’re in the area and have time, I’d love for you to stop by one of the signings and let me tell you about my books. I’ll be in town on Friday, October 5th and Saturday, October 6th. Here are the places you can find me:

*Friday, October 5th from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m.-private reading and signing at the Village at Arborwood Retirement Community in Granger

*Friday, October 5th from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m.-book signing at B on the River, 333 Nibco Pkwy in Elkhart

*Saturday, October 6th from 9:00 a.m. to noon-book signing at the Das Dutchman Essenhaus Gift Shop in Middlebury

And while I’m in Indiana, I will have the pleasure of meeting this little love who joined our family on September 15, 2018! Hallie Corinne Sever is two weeks old. I’m excited to meet her for the first time and to get to visit with her big brother, Graham, and their mom and dad!



Honor Flight #39

Around 8:30 Saturday night, my husband and I drove through the rain to Dallas Love Field to welcome home the WWII Veterans on Honor Flight #39. We each had a small flag in hand and as we walked into the airport terminal, we spotted other groups carrying flags, balloons, and homemade signs as they headed to the second floor.

The flight wasn’t due in until 9:30, so we had plenty of time to chat with many of the other folks who had gathered to welcome the flight back to Dallas-Fort Worth. Some had family members on the flight…husbands, fathers, grandfathers, guardians, medical personnel…and others were veterans themselves who simply came in support of the program.

People were pretty calm until a volunteer announced that the WWII Veterans were on their way to our hallway. As the members of Honor Flight #39 reached us, the excitement level in the room went sky high!

If you aren’t familiar with the Honor Flight Program, it’s a national network of volunteers established for the purpose of getting as many WWII Veterans as possible to Washington D.C. to view the World War II Memorial.  The Honor Flight Organization provides a 36 hour, overnight, all-expense paid trip for the veterans to visit not just the WWII Memorial, but also the Korean, Vietnam, Marine (Iwo Jima), Navy, and Air Force Memorials as well as Arlington Cemetery.

Each veteran is accompanied by a volunteer guardian who travels with them to ensure their safety and comfort. There is required training for the guardians and also a fee they must pay. Spouses are not allowed to be a guardian, so many veterans are accompanied by children or friends.

If a veteran doesn’t have a family member or friend who can go with them, there are a number of volunteer guardians who will step in.  The veterans wear blue shirts and the guardians wear red ones during the trip.

The idea for the first Honor Flight came from Earl Morse, who was a physician’s assistant and a pilot from Springfield, Ohio. After the National World War II Memorial was completed in 2004, Morse realized that many of his older patients would not be able to travel to Washington D.C. to visit their memorial.  So, Morse, the son of a Korean and Vietnam War veteran, pitched his idea of flying the veterans to see the WWII Memorial, to local pilots. By January of 2005, a board was formed, funds were raised, and other volunteers had joined the effort.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 640 WWII Veterans die each day. The Honor Flight Network has grown very quickly in communities across the country to get as many WWII Veterans as possible to Washington D.C.

2012 Honor Flight Documentary

Honor Flight DFW was established in September 2008 to bring the program to WWII Veterans in the Dallas/Ft Worth/North Texas area. The first Honor Flight from DFW departed in 2009. Since then, Honor Flight DFW has flown over 1100 WWII veterans to Washington, DC.

By the time the veterans on Honor Flight #39 had deplaned and began walking toward us Saturday night, at least 200 people had gathered to welcome them back. We felt so proud to be Americans as we joined the others who were clapping and cheering and honoring our WWII Veterans.

Among the WWII Veterans on Honor Flight #39, was James Leavelle. Leavelle was the homicide detective who was escorting Lee Harvey Oswald through the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters in 1963 when Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby.  Mr. Leavelle was in a wheelchair that was being pushed by his Honor Flight Guardian. He had his white cowboy hat on his lap.

Welcoming home the Honor Flight Veterans was an incredibly moving experience that I will never forget.  It was a privilege to be a part of the group at the airport Saturday night.

If you live in the DFW area and would like to welcome home an Honor Flight,  there will be one more flight this year.  Check www.honorflightdfw.org for more information.  In other parts of the country, you can search for “Honor Flights near you.”


Life Full Circle

One evening last week, my 80-year-old dad called and asked if I would meet him Saturday morning at a local funeral home.

“Well, yes, but is there something you haven’t told me?”

Dad said that he had called around to different funeral homes about pre-planning his and mom’s funerals, and he had chosen one and set up a meeting. He said he had been thinking about taking care of the plans for a while to make things easier down the road and he wanted me to go with him. So, we arranged to meet Saturday morning at 10:30.

Coincidentally, Saturday was also the due date for my second grandchild…and my first granddaughter…who was soon to be born to my son and daughter-in-law in Indianapolis.

At 3:00 in the morning on Saturday I awoke from a sound sleep and I didn’t know why. I laid in bed awake for a while, and then dozed off again until about 6:00. As I was getting my second cup of coffee around 7:00, I heard a new text message come through on my phone. It was my son saying my daughter-in-law had gone into labor in the night (around 3:00 a.m.) and they were at the hospital waiting and timing her contractions. He said things were progressing pretty quickly.

While I showered and got ready to leave the house, I thought about the juxtaposition of waiting to hear of the birth of my second grandchild on the same day that I was meeting my dad to help plan my parents’ funerals. When I was a girl, my maternal grandmother would always say, “Old ones die and new ones are born.” At the time, I used to think, well of course; how obvious! But Saturday morning, and all these years later, I realized that she had been talking about the circle of life and how it just continues on.

As I climbed into the car to leave to meet my dad, my phone went off again. It was my son, Ryan, saying that little Hallie Corinne had arrived and both mom and baby were doing great. He said he would call me shortly.

When I arrived at the funeral home, I hugged my dad and said, “You have a new great-granddaughter.”

Hallie Corinne, the new little one whose arrival has brought much joy to our family!

When Did You Know You Wanted To Be A Writer?

If you ask a writer how or when they knew they wanted to write, there’s usually a story. Here’s mine:

On a Saturday in September of 1976, I met Ray Reitz. My friend, Noreen, had asked me to ride with her from where we lived in Elkhart, Indiana to Chicago, Illinois to visit Ray, who was in a rehabilitation hospital there. She told me that Ray was just two years older than me and that he had recently been paralyzed in a diving accident.

During the two-hour ride to Chicago, Noreen told me that Ray was also from our hometown and had broken his neck while swimming in a local creek several weeks after his high school graduation. She said that Ray was a quadriplegic and could not move his limbs below his shoulders.

When I first met Ray, he was quiet and the conversation between us was very awkward. I was 16 at the time and he was just 18. Even though we had never met, I recognized him from school.

Ray had been a senior during my sophomore year and I had noticed his athletic good looks in the school hallways. Later, he told me that he had played tennis for our high school and had been half of the number one doubles team during his senior year.

Shortly after that September visit in Chicago, Ray came home to Elkhart and moved in with his aunt who felt she could care for him. I began visiting him every week and over time we developed a close friendship. Sometimes we would watch TV together, but most of our visits were spent talking and listening to music.

Often, I would stop to see Ray after school and he would be asleep when I got to his room. I would study or sit quietly and wait for him to awake. When he did, he usually said something like, “What are you doing here?” or “Don’t you have anything better to do than watch me sleep?” His dry sense of humor always made me laugh and I knew he enjoyed our visits.

I would tell Ray about school and my classes and the stories I was working on for the school newsmagazine, Genesis. I paid attention to anything going on with the tennis team because I knew that would interest him. Since he was only two years older than me, he still knew a lot of teachers and kids at our high school and he seemed to like hearing about all the “normal things” that were going on.  Sometimes I took friends with me to visit Ray.

Looking back, I was probably a lifeline for him to the carefree youth that he had lost the day of his diving accident. As our friendship grew, he would let me feed him and hold the straw to his mouth when he needed a drink.

If his aunt was out and we were there alone, I would empty his urine bag, but he never liked for me to do that. I would tease him and ask if he’d rather pee the bed, but he would just look away. Having had teenage boys myself now, I know it must have been a very embarrassing thing for him to handle.

On a rainy Saturday in the spring of 1977, we were at his aunt’s house watching a Cubs game and talking. I asked Ray if he would consider letting me interview him and write an article for our high school newsmagazine about his accident and how it had changed his life. He said he would think about it and give me his answer the next time we were together.

During our next visit, Ray said it would be okay for me to write about him and he gave me a list of names of some of his tennis teammates and poker buddies to interview. I spent several weeks finding them at school and setting up interviews during the lunch hour or at night by phone. Most of the guys were happy to talk once I told them that Ray had given me their names and said it was okay.

I worked on the article for several weeks. Because I didn’t have a typewriter, and it was long before anyone had personal computers, I always wrote my articles in longhand on notebook paper at home, and then typed them in the Journalism room at school during my lunch hour.

I was the oldest of three children in my family and the house was always too noisy for me to write before everyone went to bed, so I would write my newsmagazine articles late in the evening. After my brothers were asleep, I would spread out my papers of collected research and my dictionary on the kitchen table and begin writing. Faintly in the distance, I would hear bits of Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show coming from my parent’s bedroom TV.

To this day, I remember the night I wrote the article about Ray. It was the first time I ever prayed before writing. Because he was my close friend, I wanted to get his story right. I wanted it to be factually sound, but I also wanted it to reflect the way he really felt. I wanted Ray to like the article I wrote about him because his friendship meant so much to me.  I wanted to tell his story and the stories of many others. I wanted to be a writer.

I worked on the article until well past midnight and I wrote the entire article in one sitting. As I wrote, I made a list of some facts I wanted to double check with Ray after school the next day.

The next day during lunch, I typed my pages of writing from the night before and then took it to Ray to read after school. He corrected a couple of small details and we discussed some of the quotes from his friends. Overall, Ray seemed pleased with what I had written, and I told him the article was scheduled to be in the final newsmagazine issue of the schoolyear.

In the summer of 1977, I spent a lot of time with Ray. I was working at a soda fountain in a local drugstore, and after work, I would tell him about my co-workers and all of the customers who came to the lunch counter. We often listened to music together and just talked, but if Ray was having a really good day, his aunt would help me get him seat belted into my mother’s big red Buick and we would go for a drive.  Ray was still a teenager and he spent most of his time in bed or in his wheelchair, so our drives were a welcome outing for him!

One evening late in the summer, we were sitting outside under a tree in his aunt’s yard and he asked me to lean toward him. I did and then he suddenly turned his head away and his expression became dark. He said, “If only things were different…I don’t have anything to offer you.” We never talked about that night.

In September of 1977, I started my senior year and I continued visiting Ray as often as I could. I was the “Feature Editor” for the school newsmagazine and was also in Varsity Singers and involved with several other school clubs. One morning near the end of October, I got called out of Chemistry class to go to the main office.

The school principal and Mrs. Dean, my Journalism advisor, were waiting for me. They were both smiling. I had no idea what was going on. Mrs. Dean told me I’d won a national high school writing contest sponsored by the Columbia University Scholastic Press Association.

“I submitted your article about Ray and I kept quiet about it in case the committee didn’t think it was as good as I did. The local newspaper wants to do an article on you and Ray and your friendship. They should be here soon to take our picture together.”

“Do I have time to make a phone call?” I asked Mrs. Dean.

“Are you going to call your mom?”

“Yes, but first I want to call Ray.”

The story of Ray’s accident and all that happened after, our friendship, and the writing competition I won, ran in our local Elkhart Truth Newspaper on Christmas Eve of 1977.   

Ray and I remained close while I finished high school and even after I left for college.   After my years at Purdue, I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and we didn’t see one another very often. During those years, Ray took college classes and later became a computer analyst for the Internal Revenue Service in Indianapolis. He won several awards for his work, including a presidential citation for designing innovative computer programs. Ray died very suddenly in March of 2003 and I didn’t find out until several months later. He was only 44 years old.

I’ve never stopped writing.

Touching Lives From A Distance

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you may know that my very first post four years ago, was titled “Write Me A Letter” and was about the simple joy of receiving a hand-written note meant especially for you. Last Friday, mixed in with all the catalogues and junk mail and credit card offers, was a small envelope personally addressed to me.

Before I tell you who it was from, I want to go back in time a bit and tell you that I grew up listening to old time country music. My mother had a stereo that was six feet wide and was a prominent and beautiful piece of furniture in our living room.

Just one side of the giant stereo of my youth!

On that stereo, she played her collection of hundreds of vinyl albums…everything from the Carter Family and Johnny Cash, to Porter and Dolly, George and Tammy, and Conway and Loretta. She was also a big fan of Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, Bill Anderson, Crystal Gayle, The Statler Brothers, George Strait, Vern Gosdin, and Connie Smith. Music was a part of our daily lives and to this day, I still know every word to every song on those vinyl albums she played.

As I became an adult, I continued listening to country music and first bought cassette tapes, and then CDs, of Keith Whitley, Alabama, Emmylou Harris, Lorrie Morgan, Patty Loveless, Vince Gill, Clint Black, Martina McBride, Colin Raye, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire, Brooks & Dunn, Alan Jackson, Willie Nelson, The Judds, Randy Travis, Garth Brooks, Kathy Mattea, Sara Evans, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and Rodney Crowell. There are many more but you get the idea.

About four or five years ago, I was inside a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, waiting for a friend to join me for lunch. As I browsed in the store, there was music playing in the background. The beautiful voices singing the old Everly Brothers song, “Let It Be Me” caught my attention and I asked one of the employees if the CD was for sale.

The singers were Joey + Rory Feek, a husband and wife country singing and songwriting act, and I bought their CD that day. It was called Country Classics…A Tapestry of Our Musical Heritage. After listening to the entire CD, I was a fan. I looked them up online and found out that Joey was originally from Indiana just like me. I grew up in Elkhart and she was from Alexandria.

I never got to see Joey + Rory in concert, but I bought their other CDs and followed their career. I was delighted when Joey gave birth to their daughter and named her “Indiana”. Sometime after Indiana’s birth, it was announced that Joey had cervical cancer and I prayed for her recovery along with their many other fans. One day on Facebook, someone shared one of Rory Feek’s blog posts about his and Joey’s and their family’s personal journey, and it was both uplifting and heartrending.

Sadly, Joey passed away in March of 2016. Since then, Rory has continued to blog about his life and family as they adjust to the new configuration of their lives. He has shared behind the scenes insights into the books and other projects he has done, and the movie that was made about his and Joey’s life together.

Several weeks ago, Rory wrote about a new, one-room schoolhouse that he and friends from his community have built on his land in Tennessee. The school will be for little Indiana and 11 other children, and will open on September 10th. After reading the post, I decided to donate a copy of each of my books to the new schoolhouse.

You can read it here: https://www.roryfeek.com/the-blog/once-upon-a-schoolhouse

As a children’s book author and an avid reader, I want children to love books and stories as much as I do. Over the years, I’ve donated books to many libraries and literacy programs. It gives me great joy to think of children hearing or reading my books and learning about button boxes, laughing at the funny chickens and the rooster, Pretty Boy, and thinking about the people they are thankful for in their lives.

Which brings me back to the envelope I received last Friday. It was a personal thank you note from Rory Feek telling me the books are wonderful and that they will read them to the kids in the schoolhouse. As an author, it doesn’t get much better than that! And yes, I’m still a fan.