Maybe it’s my age, but it seems I’ve been spending a lot of time with widows lately – fictional widows, to be clear – and their stories are timely and compelling.
First, I was introduced to 75-year old Vermonter Sarah Lucas, from author Kate Malloy’s “Every Last Cuckoo,” who was dealing with the loss of her beloved Charles.
Then, I met Helen Ames, Elizabeth Berg’s heroine from “Home Safe,” a 59-year old Chicago author who was suffering from writers’ block after the loss of her husband and a substantial chunk of her retirement nest egg.
Then, a little book called “Saints in Limbo,” found its way to my desk and, for several lovely evenings, I shared the life of Velma True, a simple woman who lives on a farm outside the small town of Echo, Fla.
Velma’s husband Joe has died, leaving her so grief-stricken that she cannot leave the front porch without holding on to a piece of brightly colored twine.
People said it made no sense that Velma stayed tied like a crazy dog to her front porch. Or that she wouldn’t ride in a car but she would head out her back door, go down to the creek or through the woods to the back door of Rufus’ store.
Velma didn’t care what they said. She was taking it as it came – one day at a time. She knew what she could and could not do.
The day I spoke to writer River Jordan, the woman who put Velma’s story on paper, the wind was swirling around her Nashville home.
“We’re experiencing the beginnings of a major storm,” Jordan said.
Although she wasn’t born with her unique name, she made her living for many years as a playwright under the pen name.
“I didn’t want to be stuck with the Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain situation, so I legally changed it,” she said. “Nobody calls me anything else, not even my mother.”
When asked about Velma’s peculiar obsession, Jordan said, “I have a relative who had that sickness for a number of years. It’s amazing to me how we can have these weird neurotic things that hit us.”
Jordan pointed out that people will perform one way at work or at church, but when they get home, they “go to pieces. Soldiers who perform great as soldiers sometimes forget to pay their light bill. It’s a weirdness of the human condition.”
When asked how Velma’s story came to be, Jordan said, “It began at the beginning. I had a vision. In my imagination, the first thing that I saw was Velma sitting on her porch and it being that kind of day where there was expectation in the air. That’s what I saw.”
The idea for the brightly colored strings on the porch was like the vision, Jordan says.
“Suddenly, there are these strings blowing in the breeze and Velma’s holding on to them,” she explained. “I kind went ‘hmmmmm,’ you know, like when a dog tilts its head.”
Jordan said she kept the vision around for a while and felt a “touch of magic in the air, so I followed it.”
The magic Jordan speaks of comes in the form of a man who wanders down Velma’s road and gives her a plain-looking rock with the ability to take whoever is holding it back in time.
Of course, we expect the rock to ease Velma’s grief, but what comes as a complete surprise is the rock’s ability to heal current relationships in Velma’s life, including the rocky one with her rapscallion son Rudy.
“I love the way Rudy wakes up into his manhood, the fullness of his age, and him suddenly saying, ‘What have I been doing?’”
While Velma is initially enamored with the rock, she comes to realize the gift comes with its burdens.
She sets about to get rid of it in the creek behind her house, nearly drowning in the process.
Soon, dark forces are circling her small house and an eventual showdown between good and evil shake the foundation of Velma and Rudy’s faith.
“You know, it was kind of scary,” Jordan said. “But I did know how it was going to end.”
The response to the book has been positive, according to Jordan.
“I’ve had e-mails from women who said they would stop reading the book, look at their husband sleeping and look at their children differently, and not be as impatient with them,” she said. “That’s when you know the story is more than a story.”
Jordan also said Velma has stayed with her, long after the books was finished and during the publicity surrounding its release last month.
“More than any other story, this one has affected me after the fact. I’m lying in bed and I’m thinking about Velma and how her story relates to the moments in our lives,” she said. “She had something to teach me that I needed to learn.”
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