For several months, at least six, that inner voice had bugged me on occasion, nudging me to write best-selling Southern author Anne Rivers Siddons.
I’d be driving down the road or mopping the kitchen and that nudge would come, whispering that I should drop her a note and tell her how much I appreciated what she had meant to my life. Since her devoted husband, Heyward, died a few years ago, I knew that a note would be comforting to Miss Anne, who was ailing.
Absolutely, I fully intended to do it. When Dottie Benton Frank, a mutual friend of ours and also an enormous best-selling author, had just up and died at the tender age of 63, shocking us all, I felt keener about the note.
But I never wrote it. I will regret it always. As I mopped or fed the horses or weeded the garden and the thought would come to me, I’d tell myself “as soon as I finish this, I will write.” Then I would forget until the nudge came again. Miss Anne died less than two weeks after Dottie’s death, making that September a devastating month for readers of Southern fiction.
In 1988, I bought a hardcover of Miss Anne’s awe-inspiring, extremely thick tome, Peachtree Road. It was the first time that I ever read her work but I would, eventually devour every one she wrote, even though I am more a reader of nonfiction. I consider “Peachtree Road,” with its intricate stories of life in Atlanta during the 1950s and 1960s (particularly during integration) to be a book as worthy as “Gone With The Wind.” A modern day version.
As it turned out, I had a first edition. I accidentally discovered the book one day in the now-defunct B. Dalton Booksellers. Twenty years later, I met Miss Anne at a speaking engagement at, of all places, the Atlanta History Center, which is next to the Margaret Mitchell House.
Someone from the History Center took me back to a small office to meet Miss Anne privately. I stumbled over my words, thanking her for incredible storytelling and for pushing me forward to tell stories. She was lovely, gracious and signed my “Peachtree Road” in the kind of curvy script we seldom see these days.
From then on, we “knew” each other although we were not friends who kept in touch. A few years after that memorable meeting, she blessed me with an extraordinary gift: She read the galley (an unedited version of a book that comes out a couple of months in advance) of “What Southern Women Know About Faith” and offered an endorsement of the book.
She emailed me how much she enjoyed the book and the importance of her faith, then offered a blurb for the cover. As I read the endorsement, I clutched my hands to my heart, rocking back and forth in the chair while tears brimmed my eyes. It was as though I was walking through my sweetest dream.
An endorsement from a popular author like Anne Rivers Siddons moved booksellers to buy more copies of the book upfront, then influenced book buyers to take home a copy. She was a key factor in the book’s commercial success.
Let’s put aside deserved sorrow over not doing what I should have done. For the rest of my days, that regret will linger.
Instead, let’s talk about the first published work. It was a book of essays released in 1975 by Doubleday then re-released by HarperCollins 20 years later. “John Chancellor Makes Me Cry” is chocked full of the lyrical, smart writing that would become her signature style. I found it because in my distress over her death, I dug deep to find one of her books I had not read. It was pure joy.
As Mama used to say, “something good always comes outta somethin’ bad.”