A magical evening of support, love and discovery
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 started like any other day with coffee and the paper before heading into work. I opened my gallery and alternated between busy work and waiting on customers. However, at noon, my faithful employee arrived and I left to run errands. I wanted to drop off copies of my book to some of the people that were instrumental in making it happen. By mid-afternoon, I was back home for a bite to eat and a caffeine boost.
While at home, my phone rang and I was asked to hold for the mayor. When she came on the line, she wished me all the best and although unable to attend, she promised to pick up a book and run by to have me sign it for her. I was blown away by her thoughtfulness. Then, once dressed in a new shirt and sport coat, I drove to the bookstore where my book launch and author talk would take place that evening.
Across town, a close friend had picked up my high school girlfriend (and former prom date) at the airport. Although she lives in San Diego and had just participated in the Women’s March in DC, she decided, before returning home, to come to Nashville to support me.
It was now an hour and half before “show time” and after visiting with friends in the store’s parking lot, I thought I’d better go in and check out the lay of the land. The bookstore has a piano and I wanted to run through the song that I had planned to play as a part of my book presentation. Needless to say, I was surprised to find someone already there waiting to have their book signed and ask a few questions. Then another arrived, and one after that. It was more than an hour before the program was to begin and people were coming in early to find a seat. At the front table, I began to sign books and kept signing until 6:30 when I was asked if I was ready to start the program. I said yes, but please, a quick trip to the restroom first. Once I had closed the door, I took a deep breath, said a quick prayer and felt such a calmness come over me. I was ready.
The childhood friend that had written the very personal foreword for my book had not only known my family well, but also had spoken at my dad’s funeral. He was my choice to introduce me to the waiting crowd. Once I stepped up to the podium, the words began to flow. I told the story of finding the letters and what prompted me to open that box 15 years after the discovery. I explained keeping this newfound knowledge to myself for a couple of months before being ready to share my story. I told how I continued to compose music even though mentally, I felt I was in a dark place. I then sat down at the piano and played one of those melodies, Shattered Memories.
What I consider to be one of my most personal and difficult sections in the book is where I share those last days with my mother. In practicing at home, I rarely got through reading it without tears. Thirty-one years after her death, it still feels raw – like it had just happened. Somehow, I managed to not break down when the time came, although many in the audience were wiping away their tears.
The store estimated the crowd between 160-180 with every chair taken and a few displays pushed back as people found spots to stand. The crowd included my peers from the church I no longer attend, friends of my parents, artists from my gallery, high school and college friends as well as, a few of my gallery customers. Plus, there were several Facebook friends and friends of friends.
My sweet cousin drove in from Georgia to offer support and encouragement. My book is about her family too. One of my oldest friends, our poet laureate for Tennessee, was there. When it came time for the Q&A, she began with praise for my accomplishments and ended with much needed laughter. Thoughtful questions were asked and I answered as honestly as I could. And then the line began to form and I signed books until it was time for the store to close.
The following day, I had a note at my door from an elderly neighbor that attended saying how proud she was of me. Another neighbor stopped me as I started to go into work. He and his wife had also been there the night before. It was then that he had realized he had known my mother. For many years she had been the secretary for the Christian Life Commission and had been very helpful to him when he came on board a few years before she resigned. The rest of the day was filled with calls, visits, emails, texts and Facebook comments of support, love and praise.
Honestly, I could not be more pleased with the book’s launch. Several people have already reached out to me sharing their own family secrets and stories. I hope by sharing mine, others might find hope and peace within their lives.
J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.
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