LaurieHZeller January 25th, 2008

It doesn't seem to get any easier, does it? From day to day, there are so many things that remind me of the three of them. Last night, I was going through some email in an account I am closing down, and found literally hundreds of communications from Sandy. Many of them are the East High School communications she managed for parents for years, so no problem deleting them. But one in particular I wanted to share with all of her friends, as well as Chase's friends, because it celebrates the bond that Sandy and Chase shared in great books. Sandy and I co-founded a book group together that is still going strong 17 years later. We are a strong, opinionated group, very engaged in our likes and dislikes in literature - no one stronger, more opinionated, and more engaged than Sandy Widener. Knowing that I loved the fact that she and Chase shared my taste for British fiction from the 19th century, she passed on Chase's essay on the topic. Laurie-- Seeing as you're the only person I know who would appreciate this, I'm sending it along. It's the essay Chase wrote that won her first place in the Fortnightly essay contest, a contest just for East seniors run by the Fortnightly Club, a group of ancient women (people like Quig Newton's widow) who have a club that dates from 1881 or something. See you Tuesday! XXX Sandy Chase Parr February 14, 2006 AP Lit-Madison Fortnightly Essay The book in my hand arched a shapely eyebrow at the dark shadow in the corridor. A word jumped out the side and landed stealthily on the floor. It righted itself, pinned back a loose strand of hair, and went off searching for clues. I was experiencing my first Nancy Drew. The words took me gently by the hand and thrust me into a world where a girl with a blue roadster, blond hair, and an unfailing moral code solved mysteries. My mom had given me the book. As a child, she too had been caught in the allure of suspense, danger, and impeccable fashion. I trusted my mom to always give me books that I would love—and she always did. Our love of books was a kind of unstated bond, one we never questioned. The Nancy Drews I read were the same ones she had read as a child. Their yellowed pages contained pencil scribbles and juice stains. Every time I read one, it was as if I became my mom’s younger self. Our breaths would be in sync as Nancy dodged the kidnapper. My white-knuckled hands gripping the edges of the book matched hers years earlier. After I read the last Nancy Drew left in our basement, my mom passed on more of her favorite books to me. But by then I refused to let my breath match hers. I looked inside the new books she had given me, like Rebecca and Pride and Prejudice, and all I saw were corseted words tossing me haughty looks. Their lips would purse as they saw my bright eyes skip lines, eager to get to the excitement. The rustle of starched dresses startled me when my mind would wander. Their disapproval of my unfocused, awkward self was almost audible. The words’ obvious condemnation made me timid. I was unable to see the wit sparkling behind their demure eyes. Their winks were lost on me as I struggled to escape their disappointment. So I took my mom’s books and stealthily hid them behind sugary magazines. Occasionally I would feel those words gathering their skirts and impatiently tapping their feet—waiting for me to appreciate them. I would toss a best-seller on top of them, hoping its chatty modernity would suffocate the elderly tomes. Instead of being surrounded by the flowery world of the 19th century, I searched for thrillers that appreciated my thirst for excitement and didn’t mind my inability to focus. Those words would pull on scraggly uniforms and light cigarettes while they patiently waited for me to pick them up again. Occasionally I would catch them going off and shooting someone randomly, but I would forgive them just as they would forgive me for skipping lengthy paragraphs describing their weapons. At the end of the book, we would say a quick goodbye and promptly forget each other. Sometimes, when caught up in a particularly bloody moment, I would hear a sniff of displeasure from my mom’s books, but the machine guns of my book would quickly overpower it. When my mom caught me reading about a World War II spy she would raise an eyebrow and I would respond by burrowing further into the world of tightlipped agents and exotic bazaars. After finishing my tenth book about the Cold War, I became tired of the routine of the words. They were always the same, these books, content to fantasize and plot. With a quick flick of the cigarette, they told me how little they cared. I started to look back at my mom’s books. Suddenly I craved their haughty looks and expectations. Sure, I still had moments where I felt their superiority, but I learned that if I put up with their pompous glances, I would be introduced to characters who also felt awkward at times, but whose awkwardness held compelling grace and charm. I became fascinated with the flirtatious, fiery words in Pride and Prejudice. When I chuckled in amazement at the audacity of Elizabeth Bennett, my mom glanced over at me with a smile. Ken Follett’s A Key to Rebecca angrily stubbed out a cigarette on the carpet and marched away as the Bennetts shot it a triumphant look, curtsied and then smiled conspiratorially at my mom. With love and sadness, Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller