As I’ve been doing presentations on this tour, I’ve been talking about the importance of things coming full circle, not only with regard to life on the reservation but also in terms of my own life—like finally having the opportunity of meeting the grandson of my second grade teacher, Mrs. Spangler, and having the opportunity to tell him what a huge difference his grandmother’s presence made in my life.
Sometimes closing circles are good things; sometimes not so much.
At first glance, last night, in St. Louis, was one of the latter.
In the late fall of 1990, I was on my first-ever national book tour with my first-ever hardback, Walker Family book number one, Hour of the Hunter. One of the stops was in Bellingham. As I drove north for one of my first-ever signings at Village Books, I listened to the radio as Wolf Blitzer, from the roof of a hotel in the Middle East, reported on the bombing in Baghdad. The rest of the world may have been glued to their television sets that afternoon and evening, but I was driving through rain, heading north from Seattle.
When it came time for the signing, there were only five people in attendance. Realizing that, for whatever reason, those five people had chosen to leave the war behind in favor of coming to a book signing to see me, I did the whole-meal-deal for them, putting on a show that cut no corners. Those five had come out that night to be entertained, and entertain I did.
Last night in St. Louis, in a wonderful new auditorium in a recently remodeled main library, it was deja vu all over again. In a space that most likely would have held 250 to 300, there were only five people. FIVE! Two of them were people from my database who had come after receiving notices from me. The other three, presumably, came from publicity efforts on the part of the library.
It was, to say the least, a shock to my system. Most of the time on this tour, I’ve been speaking to audiences numbering in the 150 to 200 mark—to say nothing of Monroe, Oregon, where there was a standing-room-only crowd of 275. On tour, part of what sustains me, is the energy that comes back to me from people in the audience—their laughter and applause.
As a public speaker, one who is accustomed to being engaged with the audience, it’s terribly distracting to be faced with disinterested people. In Salt Lake, for example, I encountered a young couple who spent the entire event whispering back and forth to one another. I kept wondering why they were there to begin with, since they were so clearly disinterested in what I had to say. I was sorely tempted to call them out on it, but I didn’t. Boorish behavior on the part of the audience doesn’t justify boorish behavior on the part of the speaker, so I ignored them as best I could, because the other people in auditorium WERE interested.
Unlike the couple in Salt Lake, the five people in attendance in St. Louis last night were with me one hundred percent. It took me time to come to terms with the fact that they were the ones who DIDN’T stay home last night to watch the Cardinals win their divisional title. And even though they may have been few in number, they gave me the energy and focus to put on my big girl panties and give them the full-meal-deal. To Betty, Jan, Mildred, Angie, and the other one whose name escapes me, thank you for that! Thank you for being there.
As I write this blog posting, it’s Thursday morning. There are only two more ‘live’ events on the schedule—one tonight in Des Moines and one tomorrow in Omaha. Based on last night’s experience, I’m wondering what those will hold, but whatever the numbers, I’ll do my best.
The real point of this blog is to say thank you to all the fans who have shown up at events—not just the ones on the DOTB tour, but the ones on other tours as well, down through the years. Over time, some fans like Richard and Ruth, in Albuquerque, have become friends. Or like Terry, who drove across Colorado to see me, only to be turned away because a fire marshal said the room was too full. Or like Micki in Caldwell, Texas, or Lillian in Plano, who both stepped up and joined the Relay for Life Cancer Fighting Flamingo fight when we were losing our son-in-law to melanoma. Or like Bev in Peoria who told me about losing her husband during the Vietnam war and who now, because of our meeting on a book tour, has a Michael Reagan portrait of her lost Captain Barden hanging on her bedroom wall.
Inevitably, in a fan base like this, there are losses as well. For a long time, a man named O.V. Barlow, a Vietnam vet from Phoenix—who was battling four different types of cancer—would send me interesting comments on both my books and my blogs. Despite being in a wheel chair, he made a huge effort to come to a Second Watch event in Peoria, Arizona, when Bonnie Abney and I were there. He bought the book and then, due to his personal history, waited for months before was finally able to read it and tell me how much it meant to him. O.V. stopped commenting on the blog earlier this year and there were no replies to the e-mails I sent, asking if he was okay. A week or so ago, while in Phoenix, I called the V.A. Hospital, hoping he was an in-patient there. It was on the phone that I finally learned his first name was Otto. That’s also when I learned that he passed away this past April. Rest in Peace, Otto Barlow. And thank you for your service.
These are only some of the people whose presence and friendship in my life have come about as a result of my being out on book tours. There are plenty of others—and I count them all, each and every one—as a blessing in my life.
This is a shout out to all of you who have come to my events, including those precious few ladies, in St. Louis, who have given me the strength, determination, and energy to carry on. And it’s also a shout-out to the people in publicity in New York who have invested time and energy in making this tour the very best it could be. They’ve managed to snag far more interviews than I’ve had on ANY of the preceding tours.
Tomorrow night, after Omaha, we’ll fly home to Seattle. The jet will touch down briefly in Spokane to drop off my son, Bill J., who has been driving Miss Daisy and wrangling luggage and misbehaving electronics on this month-long venture.
By midnight tomorrow, I’ll be home with Bill and Bella and Jojo. In the morning, I’ll be able to put on my robe and drink my own coffee. A little later, I’ll don my walking shoes and go walking in the garden. It was still summer there when I left. It will be fall when I come home. I’ve fallen down on the number of steps on this trip, but I expect to get them back once I’m home.
Thus endeth Tales from the DOTB Trail. Thanks, too, to those of you who have followed the tour through this blog. I may not always respond personally to your comments, but your encouraging words are always greatly appreciated.
As for that five and five circle? This morning in the clear light of day, I can smile about that newly closed circle. And I can also go do what needs to be done today.
Onward to Des Moines.