A Trip Back To 2020

We had dinner guests last night. It was wonderful—like being in a Time Machine back before the Pandemic did its damndest to take all the fun and joy out of life. But before I tell you about our dinner guests, I need to tell you how we came to be friends. Readers of this blog already know that with me there’s no such thing as a short story—there are only LONG stories.

We own two adjacent properties in Bellevue. We live on one, and our property manager lives on the other. A number of years ago, the property next to our property manager’s changed hands, going to a young couple with small children. Shortly after buying their place, a large tree fell down near their house but thankfully not ON it. They soon showed up on our doorstep asking for help in taking down a number of dangerous trees on our property that were endangering theirs. In the course of that transaction, they became aware of my being J.A.Jance. That was important because the wife was well aware that her mother, living in Fairbanks, Alaska, was a huge fan of mine.

The grandparents, Niesje (pronounced NeeShu as in shush) and Roger visit here often, and the first time I met Niesje in person was when she came to the house with her grandkids on a trick-or-treating expedition.

During the past two years my husband has suffered from a medical mis-diagnosis that made it difficult for him to speak or eat, and we lived in a lonely kind of physically imposed silence. Aware of the dangers of caregiver burnout, I finally began looking for “ladies who lunch”—a way for me to get out of the house once a week or so and actually talk to someone. When Niesje and Roger came to visit, she and I went to lunch several times and have, as a result, become friends.

She and Roger have lived in Fairbanks since they both graduated from law school, and Niesje is a retired judge. When I was writing Nothing to Lose and needed boots-on-the-ground Alaska-centric details, she’s the one I turned to, and if that name seems familiar, it’s because you’ll find it on the dedication page of Nothing to Lose.

When the book was published, the runaway most popular character unexpectedly turned out to be Twinkle Winkleman. When fans begged me to write a book with her as the main character, that didn’t seem possible, because Twink is about as Alaska-centric as they get. But eventually I caved and wrote a novella called Girls’ Night Out. That will be published sometime next year, but I’m not exactly sure when. Stay tuned.

When I was done writing GNO, I sent the manuscript to Niesje for the same reason I sent Nothing to Lose—to make sure I didn’t make some kind of egregious Alaska-based error. Once she finished it, she sent her corrections to me, and I installed them, but that’s when the story takes an unexpected turn.

Niesje and Roger have been husband and wife for going on fifty years, and all that time Roger has NEVER read fiction—not at all. But Girl’s Night Out was right there, so he read it. For years people have told me that reading my books is like eating Fritos because you can’t read just one, and Roger is a prime case in point. As of now, some seven months later, he has read all of the Beaumonts, all of the Alis, and is halfway through the Joannas. Niesje says I caused an “earthquake” in her marriage, and their kids are nothing but astonished.

Then an earthquake happened in our household, too. Bill finally got a correct diagnosis and is now on the proper meds. He can speak again—well enough that we were finally able to have a verbal argument. It was wonderful, and I won, of course.

Now we can finally enjoy have company again, because Bill can actually visit with someone. So Roger and Niesje came to dinner last night. It was terrific. No, I didn’t cook. Well, I did make flan for dessert, but the chefs at John Howie Steak provided the appetizers and main course. And all through dinner we talked and laughed. We’re all of an age. We talked about being the products of Midwest upbringings, and subject matter included everything from pulling calves to S&H Green Stamps. When the evening ended, Niesje walked away with one of Bill’s paintings, one that features several cows standing in a grassy field which was actually the inspiration for one of the scenes in Blessing of the Lost Girls.

Once the evening was over and the dishes were done, I was still on a roll. I went to bed but couldn’t go to sleep because, like Liza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, “my head’s too light to try to set it down.”

So here’s my thought for the day. Think about any given newscast you’ve seen over the course of the last several years and remember how many times we’ve all been advised to be safe from this or that.

How about reminding us to remember to have fun? Safe may be safe, but fun is incredibly restorative, and laughter really is the best medicine. Art Linkletter is the guy I first remember mentioning that. His Kids Say the Darnedest Things may be long gone, and it seems as though laughter went out of vogue for a while, but it’s high time we brought it back.

And there it is again, my father’s favorite poem: Laugh and the world laughs with you.

Amen, sister. Preach on!