When I breezed into the beauty shop amidst the chatter of voices and clatter of hair dryers and curling irons, I noticed the thick book dropped casually in a chair and it struck me as a bit strange. It's rare to see anyone reading that book these days. It was probably the first time in decades that a copy of it has seen the inside of a beauty shop.
My attention was quickly diverted as Sandy gaily called out, "Hey there!" and thus we began our own chatter, adding to the commotion and chaos.
A bit later, a woman, her hair draped in a towel, stopped by my chair to speak. It was Mrs. Lovett, my seventh-grade English teacher, the woman feared by all seventh-graders for her tough composition and literature classes. The teacher from whom an A was cherished and hard won. I adored her. In her composition class, she deemed my essays worthy of reading in front of the class and pointing out the vibrancy of the writing.
It's probably fair to say that I was her favorite and she was mine. She began to encourage my writing, telling me that I had a gift. I remember that the first piece I wrote was about a newspaper editor named Reg Murphy, who had recently been in the headlines for being kidnapped and held hostage until he was released for a ransom. Mrs. Lovett had instructed us to write on the person we most wanted to meet. Mine was Mr. Murphy. With a wide smile, she read it in front the class as an example of the kind of writing she loved to read. I got an A+ and many years later, I met Reg Murphy. I now call him a friend.
If I were to trace completely the path of my writing, I would be hard pressed to remember all the stories, all the stops along the way. Without question, though, I can say that my career path begin with earnest in Mrs. Lovett's class. When that class ended, I had an A so I signed up for every class from her that I could take. Oh yes, she was tough. She was demanding. She refused to cheerfully entertain fools. She drove me to be better.
Later, when she was preparing to leave, she came back around the corner, grinning and holding up the copy of that book. "Gone With The Wind." A teasing smile crossed my face and I quipped, "Now, this isn't the first time that you're reading it, is it?"
I laughed at my own joke. After all, this was the book that I read cover to cover all 1,036 pages -- the summer before fifth grade. It moved me like a mountain shook by an earthquake. The power of the story and the beauty of the words rattled me to the core. I knew I had to tell stories like that, the kind that would linger in minds long after the reading was over. And, this was the English teacher who had blessed my literary journey, who had assured me that I had the anointing to write such stories.
A sheepish look filtered through her eyes. She nodded slowly. My mouth dropped. "You're kiddin' me."
"No. I've never read it."
I've read that book three times. I can quote the opening lines and the very last words and many sentences in-between. I can write a thesis on how the book is unique in that there is no resolution at the end, how just when you think it will resolve, a new conflict arises.
How could it be that the book that started my literary journey and the woman who encouraged my calling had never met before? That both were pulling me in the same direction but they were strangers to each other?
Goodness gracious. The things you learn at the beauty shop.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of "There's A Better Day A-Comin'."
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