“Road Report” by Bobbie Ann Mason

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Road Report
By
Bobbie Ann Mason

A few years ago, I gave a reading at a library in  Kentucky, and in the  book-signing line I met a nine-year-old girl with her  mother, who told me that  the child, Samantha or perhaps Emily, had done a  special school project  on me. The students each chose a Kentucky author and  played the role of that  author for a day. Samantha dressed up as me in some  kind of frontier shirt and  a long skirt (that’s me?), and gave a presentation.

Photo of Bobbie Ann Mason by LaNelle Mason.

The mother handed me  a sheet of paper Samantha had written in her role as  me. It read, “Hello. My name is Bobbie Ann Mason. I am a Kentucky  author. I  was born in 1940. AND YET I am still alive….”

Good news, readers! I am still alive to this day. Also, I can drive  yet. The days of the book tour are over, but the  self-catered tour  thrives, and there is no shortage of public libraries  eager to entertain a  visiting writer and even sell their books. Often  this is where you find  the most dedicated readers.

Recently I was invited to the public library in the  small town of Greensburg,  in south-central Kentucky, about eighty-five miles south of Louisville. I had  marked two p.m. on my calendar, on a Saturday afternoon. Before I left, I  had a notion to double-check what time zone Greensburg occupied. I lived by Eastern time, but Greensburg, as I had suspected,  is just across the  boundary into Central time. Therefore, two meant  three o’clock. I  set off at 12:30 for a leisurely drive, allowing  myself extra time for the  seventy miles or so, because the route was on state  highways, not four-lanes.

I had brought some food with me, since I don’t like  to stop at fast-food  joints. I didn’t expect to find a roadside picnic  table, so half-way  there I pulled into a vast Wal-Mart parking lot and  ate my meager snacks while  checking my e-mail. Alas, I forgot the chocolate! I  set off again, admiring the hyper-green countryside. There had been  some recent rain after the  punishing drought, and the fields were lush. In the distance I could see hills,  and the land started a rolling and dipping effect,  but the road was good. When  I stopped at a McDonald’s in Campbellsville to  indulge in their restroom, I  found some urgent messages on my phone, “Ms. Mason, are you lost? We were expecting you at  one o’clock!  Several people are waiting for you!”

Heaven and earth! I was a victim of the time-zone  border wars! I had  thought the two on my calendar meant two their time,  not my time.

I checked my makeup, struggled into my silk shirt,  wiggled out of my Teva  sandals and into some uptown sandals, and hurried on  the last ten miles.

They were waiting for me! The spacious open center of  the library had been set  up with chairs. It was a comfortable, pleasant place  to read a chapter from my  novel, and I launched right in. The beaming faces made me feel welcome. While they were waiting, the library had  served everyone lunch, a substantial spread of fancy finger foods that I could  have enjoyed too if I had  not loitered with my repast in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

The friendly audience had plenty of questions for me,  and a few shared their  own stories of World War II, the subject of my  novel. I had brought my props–a B-17 model, some photographs. It was a  war I had tried to imagine,  but some of the older patrons there had clear  memories of that awful  time. Inside the library was a large display of photographs of local  veterans, a project done for Veterans Day last year.

Afterwards, I signed books and chatted. I signed a  book for a woman named  Maxideen, who had lived in France, where my novel  takes place. Then a man named Larry Coomer showed me a folder of photos. He said he had driven the sound and cinematography truck for the filming of my novel about the  Vietnam war, “In Country,” in the summer of 1988. He was very proud  of doing that job. He showed me a glossy photo of the crew, about fifty people  with director Norman Jewison in the center and young  actress Emily Lloyd, a  teenager then, smiling radiantly. Everyone had loved  Emily. I recognized a few  faces. I didn’t see Bruce Willis, but then he had  avoided everyone and  hid in his trailer. Mr. Coomer asked me to sign the  picture. I had  had little to do with the movie, but the photo made  me nostalgic, especially  about Emily. Emily, the funny, lovable lead in the  movie–my Sam–is now  42. Where is she now?

Then Mr. Coomer asked me to sign the script. It was  written by Frank Pierson,  the renowned screen writer who had died just the week  before at age 87. He was  a trim, elegant 63 back in 1988.

And yet I am still alive.

I hated to leave Greensburg, a very pretty little  town all spiffed up with  tourism grant money, and I vowed to return with a  more careful knowledge of  time zones. Greensburg is a fairly remote small town, yet enthusiastic in its love of books. Thirty-three kind people had waited  for me, and they had bought  thirty-five books, brought in from a Barnes and Noble  thirty-five miles away.

And I am not at all surprised. The annual Kentucky  Book Fair, a huge event in  the state capital attended by thousands, has been  raising money for the state’s libraries for thirty years. Besides, Kentucky boasts an enormous population of homegrown writers–who grew up  nourished by libraries. Libraries hold our histories, our memories, our stories. Now  and then a writer who is  still alive may show up as proof of something still  going on in the realm of  books.


Kentucky author Bobbie Ann Mason‘s work includes: In Country, Shiloh and Other Stories, An Atomic Romance,  Nancy Culpepper, and a memoir, Clear Springs.

She is the winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award, two Southern Book Awards, and other prizes, including the O. Henry and the Pushcart. She was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the American Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. She is scheduled to sign at the 2012 Kentucky Book Fair on November 10 in Frankfort, Kentucky.



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