April 17, 2010 8:20:00 PM
Driving to Tupelo, I was excited about going to see columnist Rheta Grimsley Johnson. "The Enchanted Barbie and the Second Coming" has just come out, and Rheta is on the publicity circuit. The night before, I wrote her a note saying I enjoyed her stories and why. I tucked it inside my purse. I feared I might freeze and not have a coherent thing to say, so I planned to give her the note, get my book signed, and leave.
I stood in a short line of five and listened to the conversations of the folks preceding me. The first two were a couple. The wife eventually dragged her husband off while he was still telling Rheta his stories. "Come on Bill, people are waiting," she said.
He reminded me of a puppy being dragged off by his ear. Bill leaned back and said, "I''ve tried to find your house a few times but couldn''t ..."
Rheta said, "Three miles down from the second bridge."
The next lady asked Rheta about her work in Atlanta. Rheta said they canceled her column so she left Atlanta. I remembered she followed Lewis Grizzard; a tough act to follow. The lady said, "Yeah, I know something about newspaper writing. My nephew writes for the Atlanta Business Journal. It''s tough, lots of deadlines." Rheta agreed.
Then came the man in front of me. He said, "Hi, my name is Bob, and I was born in Pontotoc." Rheta initiated polite conversation, signed his book and he left.
I was next and cleverly chirped, "Hi, my name is Shannon, and I was born in Jackson." Rheta grinned. I shoved the note toward her, "I wrote you a note." She blushed like I had given her a valentine. I continued, "My husband called while I was on the way here. He said he enjoyed your column in today''s paper."
"Which story?" she asked.
I hesitated, "The one about your husband ... about Don."
She looked off to the side and for a moment drifted away. She turned back and smiled. "Thanks," she said quietly. She started writing in my book.
Last year Rheta''s book, "Poor Man''s Provence: Finding myself in Cajun Louisiana," had just been published. It''s about adventures with Don and their newly-purchased "fixer upper" in Henderson, La. Rheta had found herself, her hopes, her dreams and a future, when Don suddenly died. Rheta now found herself in one of those places you hope you never find and then you do.
Walking out I was kicking myself for not taking my camera. I have a small collection of author photographs. I heard tell a story about a man with a wall full of pictures of himself with famous people. A friend said, "You must be real important to have your picture with all these famous people."
"No," said the man. "You''re real important when they have your picture on their wall."
Back in the car, I opened the book to see what she wrote: "For Shannon, a very sweet person."
I really wanted to put her picture on my wall.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.