April 1971 – Beaufort SC
It was a cool April morning just before first light. The birds were awakening early, and their songs filtered through the open window. The sheer curtains danced each time the breeze blew across the windowsill, begging me to get up and greet the new day. I dreamed about the Author Jesse Earle Grant, and I saw him standing behind me telling me to write my stories. It was time to type the words that are only yours to write.
Like every morning since I came here to stay in his house, I could smell the fresh coffee brewing in the kitchen. I was grateful, yet it was a bit strange, and I knew he was not only a poet but also a hermit and few people have ever stood face to face with him. I often heard him but when I looked, he was not there. Perhaps when I write my book, he would stand beside me at the bookstore introducing me as his student, a proud mentor passing the torch of poet to me.
I walked into his library, the curtain already pulled, and the morning light softly touching the desk. There sitting boldly awaiting me on the desk was his beloved Royal Typewriter, paper stacked neatly within reach and waiting for me. He had left a note on his stationary and in his handwriting, he said, “You asked me where to start, as with all stories you must start at the beginning.”
I closed my eyes, putting my fingers gently on the keys and the stories crowded my mind trying to be the first to be written. The first words told of a boy and his father putting watermelons in a wagon for the long ride on a dirt road to the farmers’ market, then the words battled each other trying to release their memories. I could hear Jessie say, “type the words slowly, savor each one before moving on, not only do you write them they must become part of who you are and not just a book.”
I typed until early evening when the smell of shrimp and grits floated into the library halting my writing and inviting me to eat. There on the white oak table sat a plate of Cajun shrimp and grits, a mason jar of sweet tea and for dessert banana pudding. A note on gilded stationary left behind said, “Take your time, write your book then prepare for the next part of your story. You will see me again, as you have seen me many times before, you just didn’t know it was me. Just know that I am always near, perhaps a spirit guide, an old man by the train tracks or a poet living on an island forgotten by most.” I sat on the porch rocking away knowing that my life had changed in many ways. I have always loved books, yet never dreamed I would have my own story told.
Soon it would be time for the next part of my journey, a historic town filled with history, stories, writers, artists, and poets. I had a longtime friend that was a shoemaker and a watercolor artist, and I knew Charleston was next on my journey.
A loon called out in the distance, and I felt sad as I packed my knapsack for tomorrow’s departure. It would be good to see my friend again. The sunset painted colors in the inlet and a gentle breeze were the island’s way of saying goodbye.
They say that you can never go back again, yet if you can write a story, if you can reach back and touch those long-ago memories you can go back again.