And Here I Am
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
That is a strange opening line, but it’s really why I have this blog. Carol Wall and I had a long love affair. We were married when I was 19 and she was 20—a very unlikely couple. We had grown up together in the same small town, but the idea that someone like me would end up with someone like her was a real reach. As my South Carolina fans say, I had to “outkick my coverage” to get into her league.
In 1969, Carol Fretwell was the golden girl in Radford, a small town in the southwestern part of Virginia. Captain of the cheerleading squad, best student, best-looking—you get the idea. I, on the other hand, was sort of a hippie-radical-Catholic outcast. I was not a football player (a huge tactical mistake if you wanted a good date on the weekends), and I was generally in the “fringe element.” That all changed, however, on one cold winter night in February, 1970. We were in the finals of the New River District Basketball Tournament, and our small school had never won the title. We were down by one with seven seconds to go. I got the ball, drove to the basket, and put it up on the rim. It hung, and fell…in.
Suddenly, this hippie-radical-Catholic was not in the fringe element. I was merely eccentric—and maybe even a little cute.
I had my first date with the cheerleading captain two weeks later (to a basketball game), and we were married less than two years later on a winter afternoon in January,1972. They could have sold tickets to our wedding—the unlikely union of a shaggy-haired Catholic boy and an All-American Methodist girl in a Methodist church with a Catholic priest and a Methodist minister. It was over the top. It was perfect.
We were married for 43 magical years. Or almost 43 years. She died on December 14, 2014—our 43rd anniversary would have been January 8.
Carol Wall was a great wife, mother, and teacher. Her dream was to write. I have a copy of her first “book” on the mantle at home—A Puppy for Tommy and Sally—written when she was a fourth-grader. She had some writing successes over the years—what she laughingly called her “pretend-writing” career. Articles in Southern Living, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, three finished novels (two agented but not sold).
Then, when she started sending out proposals for Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening, all of that changed.
The glass slipper fit.
But that wasn’t all that fit. When cancer showed up for the third time with its knockout punch, Carol was living a dream that few writers realize. A superstar agent (Marly Rusoff), a rock-star editor (Amy Einhorn), a six-figure advance from a major publisher (for a first-time author—to be completely correct—a first-time author who was a 60-year old grandmother). Great publicity and reviews—People Magazine, Good Housekeeping, USA Today, New York Times Book Review, Oprah.com, Publishers Weekly.
She is gone now. And as for Breast Cancer Awareness Month… I am aware.
Her dream was interrupted. Our three children and I promised Carol that we would “take care of our book,” as she instructed our youngest, Phil, in July, 2014, just months before she died. So, that’s why I find myself writing a blog. We are all working hard to spread the message of this beautiful book. To be clear, it’s my honor to be here. And even though the circumstances sadden me and I desperately wish Carol, my beautiful wife, had been able to live her dream instead of me, her dream is really my dream, too. And not just because I loved her. It’s also my dream because I believe in this book and it’s message. Carol liked to say that, among the many lessons she learned from Giles Owita, possibly the most profound was that “the ground in winter holds a thousand lovely secrets.” Like Carol, I know that to be true. I know the mysteries of life to be many and that beauty often appears in the least likely places, and that we all have a path and a light to share.
If you’d like to listen to Carol talk, please visit her website (www.misterowita.com ). She says that Giles taught her “what to do when the script you have written for your life does not work out, how to graciously slip into Plan B.”
This blog is part of Plan B. Hope you’ll like it.