Nine year old Mary Frances sat in her sherbet-colored plaid dress, blond wings of hair and legs swinging, picking marzipan pumpkins from a paper plate. She sat next to me in one of those hard, cool metal folding chairs, nervously waiting to read her poem to the assembled room full of fellow writers, family members and friends.
Fifty-seven year old me sat beside her in my long black sleeveless “perfect travel” dress; the one that goes to dinner or lunch or an all day drive on an interconnecting network of highways. That dress can be (and has been) washed in a hotel sink, rolled up into a backpack, or even a briefcase. I had a stack of books at my feet, and a few typewritten pages rolled up like a flute in my lap.
I was waiting to read, too. On the way into town, I told Buck I would look at the book, the Emerald Coast Review XIV, and check to see if my story really was in it, and if it was, did they actually print the whole thing, (since it was 1300 words longer than their word limit), and if they did, was it printed right-side up? Oh, me of little faith. It was all there and looked so nice I was smitten with gratitude for the volunteers with the West Florida Literary Federation who work so hard to read, sort and sift submissions each year to produce the Review.
Even so, I was scared as a rabbit thinking about getting up in front of that room, holding the microphone and reading my own words. Someone else’s words I could all night and all day. But my own. . . well, I nudged Buck and told him I thought it was enough that I had come and we had picked up several copies of the book, and why don’t we go on home. . .
Buck said, “Be sure to hold the microphone close to your mouth when you speak.”
We stayed. Mary Frances and other winners of the school poetry contest read their work. Some of the adults whose essays, stories and poems appeared in the Review read. When it came my turn, I tried to keep the pages close to the lectern so it wasn’t so obvious that they were shaking like a leaf.
Mary Frances had written a poem about being a part of a military family, where packing and unpacking is a way of life; where Dad was in Iraq and now is home; where Pensacola is their new home. Her poem’s last line was “Unpack. Stay.” I looked at her Dad in the next chair over. As she was returning to her chair, he leaned over to me and said softly. “There’s a postscript. I’m leaving for Afghanistan in a month.”