Promises Kept

My husband Bill, my second husband—the good one—who is currently recovering (successfully) from back surgery, has often said the following:  “With you there are no short stories—only long stories.”  And that’s the case today, so buckle up, my friends, you’re in for a ride.

In the late seventies and early eighties, I lived in Phoenix while working in the insurance industry.  Those years constituted the darkest time in my marriage to my first husband, a man who died of chronic alcoholism at age 42, a year and a half after I divorced him.  I often drove from appointment to appointment, wrestling with the idea of staying in my marriage or leaving it.  If I left, would I be able to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table?  Since those were questions with no easy answers, I often listened to music as a distraction, most especially music that spoke to where I was in life:

Gordon Lightfoot:

Cobwebs and dust, cobwebs and dust,

I hate to leave you, but leave you I must.

Helen Reddy:

I am woman hear me roar

In numbers to big to ignore.

And Janis Ian, I loved all of her heartbreaking lyrics:

In the winter extra blankets for the cold, Fix the heater getting old, I am wiser now I know but still as big a fool Concerning you.

But the song of hers that spoke to me the most, both then and now, is her iconic ballad, At Seventeen.  For a girl who was six feet tall in seventh grade, who had feet the local shoe salesman called “gunboats,” who wore glasses, and who was smart, middle school and high school were both nothing short of hell on earth.  Like the girl in Janis’s song, I was one of the girls for whom Valentines never came and “whose name was never called when choosing sides for basketball.”  As a perpetual outsider, I felt a real kinship with those words and with the artist singing them.  I remember telling people that I felt as though Janis Ian and I had walked “in the same moccasins.”

These days that’s probably considered an outrageous example of “cultural misappropriation,” but after spending five years of my life working and teaching on a reservation, I think I’ve earned the right to say that.  And if you disagree?  That’s perfectly fine, just don’t be disagreeable about it.

But I digress.  Fast forward a couple of decades.  When I started writing and doing presentations at book signings, I often ended by singing that song “At Seventeen.”  It closes with these heartfelt words:

Dreams were all they gave for free

To ugly duckling girls like me.

I end my presentations with that song because those words are incredibly true for me.  The dream of becoming a writer was all I had back in those tough “old days,”  and my readers—my very loyal readers—are the people who have made that dream come true.

So now we fast-forward a couple of decades.  It was 2008.  Bill’s much needed and previously scheduled bi-lateral knee replacement surgery suddenly got moved from August to June, and that was a good thing, except there was a conflict.  On the day he was supposed to be transferred from the hospital to rehab, I was supposed to be in Boise, Idaho, as the keynote speaker for a writer’s conference—a date that had been set in stone more than a year earlier.

At the hospital I told my daughters, “I’m going to call the conference, tell them my husband is in the hospital, and I can’t come.”  And what did my daughters say?  “No, mom. You gave your word.  You go to the conference and keep your promise.  We’ll look after dad.”

Let me say here that is it especially provoking when your kids suddenly grow up and start spouting back all the things you tried to teach them.  So muttering under my breath, I shaped up, flew to Boise, and did the keynote at noon on Saturday, ending with singing At Seventeen.  I thought that was the end of it, but it wasn’t.  On Sunday night when I was back home, I opened my computer and there was a message from Janis Ian.  “Hey,” she said, “I heard you sang my song in Boise yesterday, and that you did a good job of it.”  Someone at the conference who was a fan of my work and of Janis Ian’s work went straight back to Nashville and tattled on me.

And that was the beginning of a friendship that endures to this day.  Janis and I are both very different.  She is gay; I’m straight.  She’s short: I’m tall.  She’s a Democrat; I’m a Republican.  She’s Jewish; I’m protestant, but the point is there’s much more that unifies than divides us.  We’re both women who stand with one foot in the world of art and the other in the world of business.  We’re both in long-term, committed relationships—and when the four of us are together, we have FUN!

And how did this happen?  It happened because, at my daughters’ insistence, I cowgirled-up and kept my promise.

So now we fast forward another decade to 2018.  Bill has another round of long-delayed surgery, this time for his back, that was scheduled to occur exactly a week before an event in Newport News, Virginia.  It was a trip we had planned to make together, but clearly that was off the table.  Those of you who read last week’s blog, know that between looking at his challenging recovery and watching Hurricane Michael approaching the East Coast, I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic abut going.  But go I did.  I had signed a contract that said I would be there, and so I was.

The weather report was dicey, even in Virginia.  Hurricane Michael sped up once it made landfall and moved up the coast faster than anyone expected.  Originally it had been predicted to hit Newport News around 9 am on Friday, but by the time I was headed for the event Thursday evening, it was already raining.  I can tell you for sure that my “moisture barrier” hairspray wasn’t nearly up to the task!

Readers of the blog also know that I’m a self-identified fan of ID-Discovery, and I make no bones about the fact that Joe Kenda, Homicide Hunter, is one of my all time favorite shows.  So I was seated on stage, getting ready to do my warm-up Q and A when a lady came up to me carrying a copy of Proof of Life.  “You mentioned my husband’s name in this book,” she said, “Joe Kenda.”

I didn’t see my eyes, but they probably bugged out of my head.  “You mean Joe Kenda, Homicide Hunter?” I stammered.

“Yes,” Kathy Kenda said, pointing.  “And he’s right over there.”

She had him come up and we had the photo op moment —frizzy hair and all!  And after the event, he came up and told me I was a talented “storyteller and raconteur.”  I call that high praise coming from someone who is definitely a master of both those things.

So what’s the moral here?  Keep your promises!  Because of kept promises I now get to be friends with some of the real icons of my life—Janis Ian. Joe Kenda, and Kathy Kenda, too.  Let’s all take a moment to honor the long-suffering spouses of law enforcement officers everywhere—the ones who wait with bated breath through every shift!

Yes, Janis, dreams may be all they ever gave me for free, but boy howdy is it fun when they do come true.

Thus endeth the latest long story!

Joe Kenda, Homicide Hunter

30 thoughts on “Promises Kept

  1. So glad to hear the Virginia event was rewarding – I was worried about you with the storm issues! Love your red jacket, always such a good color on you.

    ceci

  2. The first time I went to one of your book signings, March 2015 at the Red Mountain Library in Mesa, Az, you told your Janis Ian story and sang “your song”, which also told my story. I teared up while you sang and told you how inspiring you were (are). You remain an inspiration in my life.

  3. Awesome story and good moral – always keep your promises. They may not be beneficial to you – as yours were – but they may help someone who desperately needs a miracle. God bless you, JA!

  4. Everyone can look back on their lives and all of us can relate to tragedy that happened to us. Some worse than others, but everyone has them. Because of that we need to be more sensitive to the people around us. I have often said that I never met someone I disliked, once I got to know them. I may not like them but I don’t dislike them. Everybody is human, even those we envied or though they had it made. It is s important to reach out to everyone.

  5. My comment has nothing to do with this particular posting other than to say it is beautiful. I am also a fan of Janis Ian. I wanted to take this opportunity to say I just finished “Field of Bones” and while I have loved all of your books I found this one especially moving. The incredible strength of character displayed by Letisha and Garth was really worth thinking about long after the story is complete.

  6. Well, I have never seen Joe Kenda, Homicide Hunter, but will definitely look that show up. I just re-read Proof of Life. I feel like I can always depend on your stories. I also love Janis Ian even though I am most the things she is not except for short. Love her music. Also, love Helen Reddy and Gordon Lightfoot. I was a bit worried for you with Hurricane Michael because I live on the East Coast and was following its path. Oh, and I listened to Bill’s story about knee replacements several times since I was contemplating having the same. I didn’t because of the meds involved – long story. You did convince me I could never live anywhere that considered tacos, burritos or the like as a food group. Not that I am not happy for those who can eat them. Love all your series, JP Beaumont, Joanna Brady, and Ali Reynolds!

  7. My personal opinion. God gives us difficulties in life to teach us, humble us, and the knowledge learned through those difficulties to pass our hard-earned wisdom on to others and to learn if you just keep moving forward, even minute to minute, you can get through anything. I learned that contentment in my life is having a sense of humor and enjoyment in the little things that happen every day that bring a smile to my face and appreciation in my heart.
    AL ANON taught me the only thing I control is my behavior and my response to someone else. Their behavior is on them. Best lesson ever.

    Something I wish prospective parents get told: You need to be every day the person you want your child to become.

    I always enjoy your blog, sad, happy, or just life stuff.

  8. I enjoyed reading this blog along with your lifelong connections. I am also a huge ID Discovery addict with Joe Kenda being my favorite. Your solid integrity is an inspiration that has brought some very wonderful people directly into your life. Carry on!!

  9. Thank you for this blog…I understand more how and why you developed your J.P. Beaumont character (he’s my favorite of all your characters).. You too, saw so much of what an alcoholic’s family goes through and how it affects them, in a lot of cases, for most of their lives….I see where you got your information for Beau’s knee replacement surgery..I too had both my knees replaced (but not at the same time)..I wish your husband a complete recovery from his back surgery!!! May the both of you have many years of good health and happiness together…Yes, keeping your word is very important in life…Good to see you and the good friends that you made because you kept your word…Sending you my best wishes for the future…Please keep on writing about Beau!!

  10. Dear God, when I read your blog it was as if my life story (at least through the 70s) was being retold. It gave me goosebumps. I’ve not everwritten to any favorite author before and as we have lost Tony Hillerman, Sue Grafton and Lillian Jackson Brown I am telling you now how inspiring and motivational this particular blog of yours is for me. You are amazing. Thank you for putting your thoughts to words on paper – turned into wonderful stories. Bless you and your family.

    • Beautiful to hear that you are creating another adventure for Beau…I just finished “Proof of Life”and just loved it…Sending you and your husband my best wishes for long years ahead filled with love and good health!!!! Life is so short and we have to value each and every day.. With much affection, one who has loved your books for years!!! You have a wonderful gift!!

  11. Have been thoroughly enjoying your books for years–especially the Joanna Brady ones. Am also a big Joe Kenda fan. “My, my, my!”

  12. My husband, Terry, and I also love Joe Kenda and love the TV show.
    In a unique twist of fate, Terry also just had back surgery that was not successful. His back problems began back when he worked with Orange County Sheriff’s Department. That was before tasers and pepper spray; they got to tackle the bad guys! When you tackle someone around the knees, they often end up landing on your back, which is when his back pain began.
    Thank you proving that creative writing teacher wrong! Your ability to keep things interesting and new is one of the reasons you have so many loyal readers. Proof Of Life was wonderful! All of your series are wonderful (but my favorite is Ali Reynolds).

    • Sorry to hear that Terry’s back surgery isn’t as successful. We’ve started a physical therapy program. I wonder if that would help your husband as well.

  13. Who said there are no coincidences? She must have had an inside track.
    Your red jacket is stunning.
    Cowboy Up in Wickenberg AZ is a marvelous western women’s art show every April. Liked seeing you use the term. Catchy.

  14. I enjoyed your post, and so happy your trip to the east coast went well. A definite bonus was meeting Joe Kinda and his wife, it is one of my favorite shows also. I am also glad to hear your husband is doing well after his back surgery. I met you this year when you visited. Chehalis, WA. You helped make my 65th birthday very special, thank you again.

  15. Don’t you find that people are basically the same. If your a good person you will have good friendships. Doesn’t matter if your the same on the outside it’s inside that counts… Today a lot of people judge others by what’s on the outside, I find that disgraceful and sad. Personally I find that the differences in people are interesting. How boring if we were all the same. To bad we are not more tolerant towards others, I guess I was Naïve believing that in the past we were more accepting of others than we are now. We just hid it better. Part of growing up is keeping promises, you were richly rewarded it a good sign to the young that your word is still your bond even in this day and age… have a great week ..Jan

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