Driving the back roads to a small town known for its "artists are always welcome here" logo. To an establishment known throughout the community for its gold and red striped awning. A cottage home. Inside cozy couches square off in front of an enormous hearth. Rolls of rich fabric lean against bricked walls. Footsteps echo off the antique planked floor. Polish pottery lines the shelves. Steep painted stairs point the way to the second level kitchen. A well worn farmer's table lies dressed in fine linens and mismatched dishes.
One of my favorite respites, this little cottage here, and I have some nerve to think I might be worthy. But nerve is all I have. That and my garden pages nestled neatly in the trunk of my car. That's where we meet. The owner and I. Peering into the trunk of my car, she reads the first piece, the one about my father. She weeps. I do too.
Even though the words are familiar to my heart, the tiny electrical spark of emotion that zaps between us is unfamiliar, and unexpected. For the first time, perhaps the most poignant in this writer's life, I am read. It is not the memory of my father that reaches her heart, it is the stirred memory of her own. In that moment, I realize what a precious gift this is, to be able to say what others cannot or have forgotten how, to feel another heart tremble and quicken. My intent for each page comes from my own space, until I see her face and know that her story and mine have different characters, but follow the same love lines home.
What should be a five minute thanks but no thanks conversation, dissolves into a two hour family reunion snuggled deep in the sofas, garden pages lined up and leaning in close. The two owners, husband and wife, sharing dreams. The upstairs walls become a gallery for the garden pages. Flyers sent, trumpets sound, and my first "show" begins. Saturday, September 11th, four years after the original, and customers are slowly but surely returning.
In that eight hour day, my life surely changes. I stand quietly aside and watch people read. Some smile. Others tear up. Some tug on sleeves, here read this. One man lays his hand on his wife's cheek and smiles the kind of smile only they can share.
My Dad was just like that. That sounds like your sister.
Better. Stories. Their stories. Their lives. They share their stories and their lives with me. All the while I watch their hands run over the three little pots lined up on the painted frames. It comes to me in a rush.
The third pot is Charity, for what is more charitable than sharing one's life with another. The good, the bad, the funny, the wise, the mistakes, the terrifying lows and the exhilarating highs. What binds us together like duct tape...the details, the tiny day to day details, the breathing in and out moments, the unconscious daily acts of kindness.
Fans. I think, grinning foolishly, I have fans.
I want to tell them.
I am your biggest fan.
You, the readers of my words, fill me up. From this day on, the garden pages will continue, but the stories will be as they should, a mixture of your stories and mine.
So to my benefactors from the Cottage, and to those who found comfort and a smile in the garden gallery that day in September, I wrote you a fan letter on my road trip home.
I'll post it here in case you missed it the first time.
A Fan Letter
Dear (Put Your Name Here),
I've never written a fan letter before, but I am your biggest fan. I would stand in line to see you. I would be the first one on my feet for the standing ovation you so richly deserve. I would wear a T-shirt with your name on it. I would ask to have my picture taken with you. I would carry your autograph in my pocket and show it to all my friends. I would want to tell the world that we met and that you inspire me every single day.
Signed (Put My Name Here).