I’m Renea Winchester, and I’m a reader.
|Mariana Black Library|
I’ve always been a reader. At an early age my mother drove my brother and I to the Mariana Black Library. In my hometown of Bryson City, North Carolina a trip to the library was a big event. There were no bookstores in this single-traffic-light-town. The nearest bookstore was over an hour away in the “big city” of Asheville, North Carolina.
My brother and I rode in the backseat of the Cutlass Supreme, trying to ignore each other the way siblings do. Since our legs were too short to climb the steps, Mother took us by the hand and helped us up the steps until we reached the glass doors that opened to possibilities small-town folk can only dream about.
“Don’t move,” she said while holding out her hand in the stop position. “I’ll be right back.” Then she scurried down the steps back to the car and retrieved an A&P bag full of books.
“I wanna do it this time,” I said, my hands reaching for the bag. My brother would whine, “No, it’s my turn. You did it last time.” We’d continue fighting over who would feed the metal-mouthed contraption marked “Book Deposit.” It didn’t matter that the library was open and staff were waiting to take our book returns. Neither of us wanted to hand anything over to a person when we had access to a magical portal that shot books through a brick wall. Mother fairly distributed the stack of books then held us as we pulled the handle, placed the book on the shiny mouth, then listened as it vanished into the wall with a tumble.
Inside, the smell of mimeograph fluid mixed with books so old the bindings were threadbare. Dreams were not only born here, they cultivated and grew. As I matured, I longed to read all the Nancy Drew books in consecutive order, but others before me had fallen in love with the series and kept their favorite book. I used to wonder how anyone could “forget” to return a library book. This from someone who checked out Harriet The Spy week after week after week, and gave serious thought to eternally borrowing (not stealing) the book.
While many consider my weekly library visits commonplace, to my mother these visits fed an insatiable hunger inside her spirit. For you see, her father could not read. In fact, he could not write his name. That is why she reads…voraciously, and that is why I write.
For me, my soul can’t imagine a world without words. Sometimes I think about my grandfather, this man who died before I was born, and imagine his daughter coming home from school, with books clutched to her chest, excited about what she had learned, eager to share.
Her favorite book was Black Beauty. At last count she owned five copies.
As a parent, one of my favorite pictures is of my daughter reading. She’s in bed, a book propped open, Big Bird by her side. She’s “reading him to sleep.” Only Big Bird is still wide-awake. My mother never experienced the magic of a bedtime story. I wonder, did she ever read to her father? Or was he too proud.
Surely it pained him to be surrounded by books and unable to read. He knew the bible from “cover to cover,” yet couldn’t transfer the words he heard others read onto paper, nor could he absorb the written word he saw into his heart. After my grandfather died, Mother found a tiny leather-bound book where he recorded his debts and the prices of goods he sold. It is one of her most prized possessions. However, looking at his “mark” and attempts to document dollar amounts makes me weep.
That’s why I read, because he couldn’t. I write because people and their stories matter.
Like you, I’ve known my share of heartache. I’ve been divorced. I’ve had cancer. I’ve received telephone calls that launched me into a journey I never thought I’d take. I’ve watched loved ones suffer through agonizing battles just to live another day…specifically, my mother who is struggling with ovarian cancer. I’ve been so frustrated I could scream…and have. I’ve been so happy I could cry…and did.
I write to bring stories to you, the reader, in a way that ties us together. I write to introduce people that matter, in a way that says, “Welcome home. I’ve been waiting for you.” I write to make my grandfather, whom I never met, proud. I write because like Kathy, founder of the National Book Club called The Pulpwood Queens, I believe in literacy.
ttle Creek Books will release my non-fiction book, In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love, and Tomatoes. I hope you will buy this book and enjoy reading about this wonderful man. I should warn you that once you step In The Garden With Billy you’ll become entranced, as I was, by a magical man who-like my grandfather-earned a living by “the sweat of his brow.” Despite modern-day advances in technology, Billy’s world remains the same. His pace is slow. His love is pure. His tomatoes are delicious. I am proud to invite you into the world he and I share, and I’m proud to have another opportunity to contribute to this blog.
Billy and I are hosting a book launch festival on his "little strip of land," Saturday, October 23, 2010 from 2-4 pm. If you're in the Atlanta area and would like to meet Billy, send me an email and I'll forward driving instructions. At Billy's we're all family.
Renea Winchester is a two-time winner of the Appalachian Writers Association Award. Her work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Georgia Backroads, Smoky Mountain Living, Longleaf Style as well as Georgia Public Radio 90.1 FM. Little Creek Books will release In The Garden With Billy: Lessons About Life, Love, and Tomatoes October 25, 2010. She blogs at http://blogthefarm.wordpress.com and may be reached at www.Renea.Winchester.com