Here's what I meant to say when I met Tomie dePaola.
Last Saturday, I went to see author Tomie dePaola at the Norwich Bookstore. He comes annually for a post-Thanksgiving signing, and we’d always been out of town for it until now. He was one of my first favorite writers, and I jumped at the chance to get his signature and tell him how much I loved his work. So off we went.
The line, mostly of nostalgic adults like me, wrapped around the second floor. A stack of Tomie’s books sat on display for purchase. Owner Penny McConnel came through the line with a pack of sticky notes. She paused to speak to each person, wrote something on the note, and tacked the note to their book covers.
“And who is your book going to?" she asked me.
It occurred to me that everyone else had books to sign as gifts. For other people.
I had no such intention. I was there for selfish, unholiday-like reasons.
“Um…no one,” I said. “I mean, me. It’s for me.” I was sheepish. She smiled and moved on, sparing me from having to approach Tomie dePaola with my own dang name stuck to my book.
My kids looked on, but were perplexed by me as I stood there grinning, clutching a
paperback copy of "Strega Nona Takes a Vacation" that seemed fairly easy reading for a grown woman. At last, my turn came. I
prepared to bestow heartfelt praise and thanks on my literary hero.
“Hi! It’s so nice to meet you!” I gushed. I handed over my book.
Tomie smiled. “And who is this for?”
“Lisa,” I said. He glanced at the girls. “Which is me,” I added.
We took a photo, in which I look like I'm about to swipe him off his chair and take him home.
He thanked us for coming out as he handed my book back (he really is the nicest person). This had all happened too fast. Wait! My heartfelt speech!
If the line had been shorter, and I’d pulled myself together for thirty seconds, I would have told him I loved his books because they brought me to another time and place. That reading “Strega Nona” marked one of the first times I understood the thrill of knowing something a character doesn’t know, and that a punishment for a mistake can still be delivered with compassion. That he showed me what a good story looks like, and my kids are now readers and writers of their own stories, too.
“It’s SO nice to meet you,” I said. Yes, again.
The next people had moved
into position. My kids were halfway down the stairs. For someone who loves words so much, you'd think I could've come up with a few more, but you'd be wrong.
But it was still a highlight of my life. Besides, I’ll be back next year.