Pulpwood Queens and Death Wishes
“I can’t get you both in the shot,” Steph said.
I was posing with Winston Groome, author of Forrest Gump, but alas, who knew he was so tall? As you will see in the attached picture, the top of my head leveled off three inches below his shoulder. Winston lowered his head a bit and Favorite Stephanie got the picture.
This wasn’t the first time I had heard Mr. Groome speak but it was the first time I had managed to get my arm around him.
Let me explain.
For the last three days Fairhope has been awash in authors. It all began on Thursday night at Page & Palette with Kathy Murphy (see pic). She wrote The Pulpwood Queens’ Tiara Wearing, Book Sharing Guide to Life. Perhaps you saw her on Good Morning America or read about her in the LA Times? Several years ago, her first book club met in her hair salon / bookstore in Jefferson, TX. Yes, a hair salon / bookstore. Now there are 767 “Pulpwood Queens and Timber Guys” book clubs in the U.S. and other countries.
I am ashamed to say that I had never heard of the Pulpwood Queens. When I got wind of her upcoming presentation at P&P, my foggy brain somehow conflated “pulpwood” with “pulp fiction.” I bet you were thinking that too, weren’t you? But after listening to her and talking with her at length after her presentation, I can tell you, pulp fiction it isn’t. One of the quotes from her book is “If truth is beauty, how come nobody gets their hair done at the library?”
Kathy is a gritty girl from Kansas who fell on hard times, losing her father, her job, her marriage, and her house all within a short period of time. In response, she took to her bed for a week, read a stack of books and ate a jumbo size box of Russell Stover chocolates. Or maybe it was two weeks. In any case, she bounced back up, bulldozed her way into the University of Texas at age 59, got a BFA at age 63, and would really, really like to go to the Savannah College of Art and Design for a master’s degree. But it costs too much.
DreamWorks has optioned her book, however, so when the movie gets made, she might be able to afford SCAD.
And as a result of Kathy’s visit, Favorite Maggie and I are planning to attend the annual Pulpwood Queens Girlfriend Weekend in Jefferson in January. But their motto, “Take It to the Limit,” gives me pause. Remember, I have been with Maggie to the Bahamas for a week. Need I remind you of her leopard print bikini, her impromptu swim in the Sea of Abaco, her dancing on the bar at the Bahama Inn (well, not ON the bar but only because the barstools were too shaky for climbing), and the episode at the airport? You remember. At the very least, my January blahs will be eclipsed, and Kathy can probably bail us out of jail if we need it.
Today, Saturday, Maggie texted me to say she was leaving in 15 minutes for the Eastern Shore Art Center to hear Bev Marshall, author of Back Home, along with another lecture by Kathy. I threw on some clothes, pulled my hair into a ponytail, and dashed over to the art gallery. When I entered the airy, white-walled space, my eye went immediately to a tall, thin woman in white jeans, a lavender T-shirt and and purple-figured scarf tied around her head, African style. You know, with the big, complicated bow in the front. It was Maggie.
“Kathy did this,” Maggie explained. Indeed, Kathy had a similar black/gray scarf tied around her head, one of a kind silk creations painted by Kathy herself. You see, Kathy is staying in a condo at our Chateau Royale complex, courtesy of Favorite Ed, who owns the place but lives in Connecticut. Maggie set it up. I wish I had a picture of Maggie in her exotic garb – she bought a lavender/purple floaty cape, which Kathy had for sale next to her books. She wore it out of the gallery with her matching headdress. Needless to say, when we went to P&P afterward for an ice rage, everyone stared. When we were sitting outside, a little girl passed our table, stopped dead in her tracks, and said to Maggie, “Can I hug you?”
Back at the art gallery, we settled down to hear both Kathy and another author who is staying in our complex, Bev Marshall. Her book, Coming Home, details her life with her husband after he got back from Vietnam. There have been a lot of Vietnam books published lately, but none from the viewpoint of a wife. Bev’s husband, an Air Force veteran who flew supplies to special forces in the Mekong Delta, was on hand, standing unobtrusively at the back of the room. His name is Jack, but he goes by Butch. I cornered him. We ended up outside the gallery – he smoked a cigarette while I interrogated him. Wait…no, no. That sounds like something out of Hill Street Blues. (If you’re too young to remember Hill Street Blues, I feel sorry for you.) See pic.
Anyway, by the time Maggie and I got to Page & Palette for our drinks, it was almost 5 p.m. At 6, Alex Kershaw, author of The First Wave, would be talking with Winston Groome in P&P. Mr. Groome has written several books about WWII. Alex’s book focuses on several little known heroes of the D-Day invasion. Perfect pairing.
At one point, Alex, a native of Great Britain, told of General Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., who insisted on going ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day. He was an old man at the time but he stomped up and down the beach leaning on his cane. As I listened, I wondered about General Roosevelt’s reason for joining such a dangerous fray, a place only for strong young men. The other generals who were overseeing the assault – Omar Bradley among them – watched through binoculars from the USS Augusta offshore.
Alex Kershaw, a Brit who now lives in the U.S., ended his presentation with a word of thanks. He looked earnestly at the audience members in the jam-packed room. I can’t quote him exactly but, here goes:
“Europe hasn’t had a war in the last 75 years,” he said. “The Germans aren’t trying to kill the French and the French aren’t trying to kill the Germans. And it’s because of you. Your young men put their lives on the line to save Europe, to free us from the greatest evil in the world. It’s because of you that Europe exists as it does now. So, thank you.”
After Alex’s presentation, I got in line to have him sign my book (see pic). With a question gnawing at my mind, I waited until the last book was autographed, then approached him.
“Why do you think General Roosevelt went ashore at Utah Beach?” I asked. “Did he want to get killed?”
Alex Kershaw scrunched up the bridge of his nose. “Yeah, he had a death wish.”
“Did he serve in WW I?” I asked, driving to the point of my question.
“No, but his brother was killed in WW I,” Alex replied.
I launched into my real question, laying some groundwork first. “I have a friend who commanded the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan,” I began. “A couple of weeks before they came home, he went to the most forward outpost and…,” here I rounded my eyes for emphasis, “walked patrol with his men. Do you think he was trying to get killed?”
“No,” Alex said firmly.
“But … , “ I stammered. “He had been into Granada and Panama and Iraq and never gotten a scratch. A lot of his men were killed in Afghanistan. Don’t you think he at least wanted to get wounded?”
“No,” Alex said again, putting his palms together before his chest and pointing his fingertips toward me. “That was pure.”
I looked silently into his intense eyes for a few seconds. Pure?
“That was truth. Profound truth.” His voice held a tinge of reverence.
“When you lead men who die, you are among them,” he said.
“Read. It makes you a better person,” so wrote Kathy in her Pulpwood Queens book.
I’m not sure if it makes us better, but it gives us the opportunity for intimate communication with fascinating minds.
Love to all,
With Winston Groome, May 18, 2019, at P&P
With Kathy Murphy at P&P, May 16, 2019.
With Alex Kershaw, P&P, May 18, 2019. Isn’t he handsome?
With Jack “Butch” Marshall at Eastern Shore Art Center, May 18, 2019
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