Sunday, May 18, 2008

Mary: reader, knitter, and friend

My wonderful friend Mary Preisinger died a few weeks ago, just a month short of her ninety-first birthday and my world is definitely poorer for it.

Mary was my very first not-related-to-me reader. She sent me my very first fan letter back in March 1983. (You'll have to excuse the number of times I use the word "first" in this post but there's no way around it. It was a time of firsts for me.)

Let me set the stage. LOVE CHANGES was one of the launch books for Harlequin American and had come out in Reader Service but was still a few weeks from hitting the book stores. I was published . . . but not really. Somewhere out there I hoped people were reading me but if they were they were being very quiet about it.

We were living in North Babylon on Long Island at the time and every morning I would drop my husband off at the LIRR station in Babylon then stop by the post office at Sunset City (a strip mall on Deer Park Avenue with, among other delights, a video store and the wonderful Italian Food World) and check my PO box for mail. I don't really know what I was expecting but I was a brand new author and hope truly springs eternal. So can you imagine my absolute shock when I unlocked the box that morning in late March of '83 and found one small letter waiting for me!

It was from Mary Preisinger who was living in West Islip at the time, written in bright green ink, and her words made me cry. "I loved your book," she wrote. "Reading it took me back to the time when my husband was still alive and we would drive out to Montauk and walk the beach. Thank you for giving me back those memories."

I'm telling you winning the Pulitzer Prize (For romance? Not likely!) or hitting the New York Times could not have made me happier than that one small letter did. My words had touched a stranger's heart! It was the most amazing, wonderful, powerful, exhilarating experience of my life.

Now here's where it gets a wee bit weird. I turned into a stalker. Not in a bad way (don't all stalkers say that?) but West Islip was just one town over and I was really, really thrilled about my fan letter so I ran home, looked Mary's phone number up in the directory and called her. I know I should be embarrassed but I'm not. I didn't know a thing about author etiquette back then. I definitely didn't have a clue about how to be cool. I just did what my heart told me to do and thank God! That impulsive phone call resulted in a twenty-five year friendship that enriched my life in ways I can't begin to count. She knitted some gorgeous afghans for me. I fumbled my way through shawls and lap robes for her.

Mary and I talked like old friends. She invited me to visit her one day for lunch and I did. Over the years we shared books and laughter, secrets and tears. I moved to central NJ. She moved to Salem, Massachusetts, then back to Long Island and then finally to Ohio. But we never lost touch. Not for a minute.

I'm sitting here by the front window, watching the rain. I have a cup of tea on the table next to me and Mary's pale celery green, soft yellow, and ivory afghan draped across my shoulders like a hug. She's there in every stitch and always will be.

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Blogger Nancy Herkness said...

Barbara, this story brought tears to my eyes. How lovely that you kept in touch all these years and knitted for each other. It sounds like you and Mary had a wonderful friendship.

I'll never forget the first email (technology changed the experience a little) I got about my first book. It was from a Waldenbooks romance expert who had gotten an Advance Reading Copy. She said my characters drew her into their lives and she just didn't want the book to end. I was SO relieved that someone--an "expert" in fact!--liked my book. Like you, I started a correspondence and to this day have a warm spot in my heart for her.

I loved seeing the cover of your first book too. Only the hairdos have changed!

8:22 PM  
Blogger Barbara Bretton said...

Someone told me a long time ago that advances get spent and reviews (even the bad ones) fade from memory but the friendships you make in this business last forever.

Oh, Nancy, how I loved that cover! I have the original hanging in the upstairs hallway. It was everything a first-timer could have hoped for.

11:55 PM  
Anonymous Cathy said...

Barbara--you have my deepest condolences. If I lived close enough, I'd make you some brownies and bring them over, but I don't know how well they ship....

9:13 AM  
Blogger georg said...

I'm sorry you lost your friend.

I do remember one of my friends calling her favorite author. She figured out where she lived, called directory assistance, and then spoke to her for hours. It was slightly embarrassing, but still really happy for my friend.

Brownies are very mailable in the cold weather- just make sure you do it from within the states. Customs won't let them cross.

1:01 AM  

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