On Sunday, November 16, Water Lessons traversed another milestone: its first book signing. And it occurred at one of my favorite locales in Austin: BookPeople, designated Bookstore of the Year by Publishers Weekly in 2005. Yes, BookPeople, that magnificent three-story monument to literature at the corner of 6th Street and Lamar. Speaking venue of writers, chefs, musicians, actors, U.S. Presidents, Supreme Court Justices. Filled with curiosities and tchotchkes as excellent as its books.
I sold many copies of the novel, and I was able to visit with many new readers, published writers, aspiring writers, editors, and book aficionados. Some of my favorite people on earth, sharing membership in a special tribe. Lovers of storytelling, language, good literature. And some of the coolest people in Austin administrated the event: BookPeople employees. That friendly, enlightened crew that handwrites book reviews and tapes them to the shelves, out of the sheer love of literature.
Though I knew he was watching, I wished my father, deceased one year, could be there in the audience. In a bookstore he had twice visited and thoroughly enjoyed. I scanned the crowd for the sign I had asked for. Not without amusement, I half-expected to see someone clothed in Mississippi State garb, or something referencing Gulf oysters. Perhaps something even vaguely Native American, or Celtic.
After the signing, I recalled some of my loyal supporters who had attended the event. First, Ron Hajewski, a talented musician hailing from Buffalo. I couldn’t conjure another meaning from the initials, RH. Though I know my father would have really liked my friend.
I remembered chatting at my signing table with Teri Turner, who bought several copies of my novel for her book club, and her bright nine-year-old son Wyatt (who I later learned read four chapters of my novel on the drive home). Then I had it. Teri Turner, Wyatt…TTW.
Theodore Temple Wall. TTW. Those were my father’s three initials he scrawled everywhere. Perhaps, just perhaps, my old friend elected to give me another sign in the manner I have often requested: initials and numbers. Perhaps, in spirit, he had accompanied this salt-of-the-earth duo. And perhaps he was reinforcing a thought I had tossed around in my mind for the last few weeks.
Death can be unexpected, brutal, and merciless. Those left behind can grow disillusioned in any afterlife or meaning behind it all.
But whatever one ultimately thinks lies on the other side–“the undiscovered country, from whose bourn, no traveler returns” as Shakespeare once famously penned–we can take heart and be grateful for those special people we see walking with us. In that select few, we can find inspiration and a rallying cry…and the very best in others.