Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A Biographer’s Joy

There is often a letdown when a project is finished and my focus has to change: after the children’s graduations, after my husband retired, when we moved to a new place to live. All these were happy occasions but they marked the end of an era. And then, of course, the new becomes the norm and life continues.

But I hadn’t expected a letdown after Drawn Together was finally launched. It was such a triumph to finally finish a very long project, and wonderful to see the manuscript turn into a real book, complete with cover, pages, and illustrations. I realized I felt bereft because I was saying goodbye to Berta and Elmer Hader, two meaningful people with whom I had spent ten years. But they also brought many new adventures and people into my life as I researched manuscript and art collections, wrote to and telephoned strangers, and connected with old and new friends who shared the same Hader passion. I felt I was also saying goodbye to all that.

But now my mail is bringing  interesting surprises. One day an excited email showed up in my mailbox, from a woman—Betty--I met years ago in my small town of Roseburg. We kept in touch sporadically after she moved away, and she bought a copy of Drawn Together through the mail from Concordia. She had just started reading the book and had come across a reference to someone familiar: Gertrude Emerson, one of the Haders lifelong-friends. Gertrude was an adventurous woman, who took a trek around the world in 1920, came back to the US, edited the then well-known ASIA magazine, and founded the still active Women’s Geographical Society. Gertrude married an Indian scientist, Dr. Basishwar (Boshi) Sen, and spent the rest of her life in India. Betty had known Gertrude’s entomologist brother Alfred, though she never met Gertrude herself, and she had also had married an Indian scientist who knew about the Sens. She was surprised to find new friends in a book. I was surprised to find we had friends in common. Who would have thought? 

Another letter bringing joy was one from an old friend from the northern Chicago suburbs—another place I lived for years. She found the book through my blog...and I had no idea she even knew I had one. She liked the book, which was good, but what was wonderful thing was catching up with long ago good friends, and finding out what their families are doing. It is way too easy to lose touch with people when we move away, but this new social media is reversing that. It’s a big world out there—but it is also very small.

I hope to have more of these serendipitous events, as the book moves out into that big and small world. I love feeling I am still linked, though tenuously, to the Haders, people I grew to love without ever meeting. It reminds me that past and present are totally linked, as well as all those people I knew once upon a time and those I have yet to meet. It also makes those ten years of sitting at my computer seem worth it!

Now that I have time to read for enjoyment, I plan to read  other biographies, and feel connected to those subjects and authors. When I was a child, history seemed very far away. Now I realize how close it really is. Why did I feel such a letdown?