It struck me about twenty minutes ago: I know where I was about this time twenty-five years ago on that last day of January.
It was a really cold night, and I was traveling home from Oxford, where I had been to dinner with a friend, who had also invited another couple to join us. The gentleman guest is quite an accomplished man of letters, quite a popular and well-known writer of Southern things, and unbeknownst to me, my friend had appropriated some of my little stories and vignettes from my someday-to-take-over-the-house boxes of paper. He'd given them to his friend to read, and had I known, I would truly have just died before I'd have let him do that.
And, as all conversations do when in such company, ours turned to writing and who was doing what and how was it coming along. I was just joining in admiringly for them both, and then was mortally embarrassed when the gentleman mentioned my stuff---my put-away-from-even-family writings, which my friend had "borrowed" or just plain snuck out of my boxes---in those days, everything was typewritten, so each and every word had been weighed after dashing down, with white-out and erasures and jottings on the first drafts, and probably the second and third.
I was also quite aware of the scores of wanna-bes who must have thrust their paper into the Writer's hands, heedless of his hurry, his privacy, his attention; I knew the reluctance and refusals which must accompany such imposures, and I would not in a million YEARS have ever made such a request---that's just TACKY.
But I remember the date so well, for it was the first time anyone actually known as a writer had read anything of mine, and I remember his words; I can see them float in the air as if in black-and-white. Sometimes they're sorta Verdana, sometimes calligraphy, but always, they give me a small bubble of joy and accomplishment.
He took the sheaf of papers out of his case and turned page after page, pointing out a phrase or a word which had caught his eye, and I could see markings on the pages. My heart sank and I could feel the flush creeping over my face, thinking "So long out of college, and I'm being GRADED again!"
Then he said, "Girl, you really know how to put the words DOWN!"
That was so SOUTHERN a sentence, so BUBBA a compliment, that we all laughed. And it meant wonders to me; I've always written down stuff for myself, mostly, with lots of things intended for family, for the children---little remembrances of their childhoods and infancies and the everyday things, the marvelous things, which are all part of raising a family. It was just so nice to hear such an unsolicited nicety from a stranger, and one I admire, at that.
We kept in touch over the years, the Writer and I; he'd send me an autographed copy of his latest book, and I'd send a letter of sincere praise and thanks and perhaps a tin of fudge for the holidays.
We'd talked late over coffee, dessert, more coffee, until the servers swept and the lights dimmed, and we all headed out into the dark. A few flakes of snow swirled past the windshield as we headed down the highway, and my escort looked over at me, at his watch, and back at me as the time passed midnight.
He grinned a big grin of satisfaction. "Happy February," he said.