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I used to blog, but it takes too much time if you want to write books.

I’m your author tonight...

April 20, 2011

April 20, 2011, Day Two
“Hi, I’m your author tonight,” I introduce myself to the young man in his thirties behind the counter. He’s slim and tall with sandy hair. A woman, a bit younger, who’s straightening books on a shelf behind him, turns and smiles. Kim and Mike are my booksellers tonight at the Park Road Bookstore in Charlotte.
This is my first stop on my North Carolina tour for my new book Arms Wide Open: A Midwife’s Memoir and I’ve been a bit nervous expecting maybe a dozen or so people to be here. I was prepared to talk about midwifery, the non-violent peace movement of the 1970s, communes, living sustainably on a planet in crisis but it’s going to be a slow night. It’s just Kim and Mike and me in the shop that located in a pleasant strip mall along with a score of other independent shops.
My hosts explain that the pleasant spring weather, may slow things down this evening and set me up on at a small cherry wood table with a high back leather chair near the glass door. A tall stack of my new hardcover book sits on one side and a small stack of my previous one, now in paperback, The Blue Cotton Gown sits on the other. Mike offers me bottled water and I glance at the clock. 7:15. It’s going to be a long night.
As I gaze around the empty store, colorful books line every shelf, and the owners, I notice, have made room, here and there, to display the covers, not just the back bindings. Nice touch. To pass time, I walk around, picking up a slim volume now and then, wishing I could read them all. At 7:20, the door opens, and a middle aged woman with a blue crystal on a silver chain around her neck, walks in. Our eyes meet and I know she’s a midwife. I feel like hugging her but I drag up another chair and ask her to join me at the table.
Cedar is her name and she, like me, has been a midwife for thirty years. She works for a very large OB/Gyn group in Charlotte, but has done births everywhere, teaching hospitals, birthing centers, and occasionally in homes. One of her nicest births was her oldest daughter’s, a peaceful event under her own roof. She has three girls. I have three boys.
Our conversation skips easily from one thing to another. Lately we both see more menopausal patients than we used to. We laugh at our gray hair. “That’s because we’re getting older I tell her and our patients too. Women I delivered when they were thirty have 20 year olds and are hot flashing now. Often they bring their mothers who are in their 80s to me.” Another customer walks in, talks to Mike, buys a few children’s books and prepares to leave.
I hold up my hand to interrupt our conversation and rise as the new patron passes. “Excuse me, would you like to meet a famous author?” She halts at the table. “Just kidding about the famous part. But I am the author. What’s your name?” Sometimes I surprise myself. For a shy person, I can be so bold!
“Carol…” She strokes the blue cover of Arms Wide Open where a young woman in a long white dress stands on an open hill, her arm spread wide as if greeting the morning. “You wrote this?”
“Yes. It’s a book about midwifery, parenting and mother earth and goes back to the hippie, homesteading, homebirth days then fast forwards to now, a memoir.” As an afterthought, I tell her about my first book, The Blue Cotton Gown. The conversation is relaxed and friendly. I like talking to women; it’s what I do everyday in the women’s health practice I share with my OB/Gyn husband in West Virginia. Carol, it turns out, works at the same hospital as Cedar and they have friends in common. She’s a diabetic educator and works with a population of disadvantaged patients with multiple serious health problems. She, like me listens to the patient’s stories, a sixty-year-old grandmother raising a 5-year-old grandchild while her daughter is in jail, a mother of seven just trying to get by on a welfare check, a three hundred pound man who needs bypass surgery but doesn’t have the money. I tell her she’ll like The Blue Cotton Gown, because she deals with the same patients; it doesn’t matter whether they live in North Carolina, West Virginia, Connecticut or El Paso. People have the same problems everywhere. I’m surprised when she buys a copy.
“I’m going to the beach next week, and need a book to read,” Carol explains as she goes out the door. I’ve been here an hour.
Soon Cedar leaves too, with a copy of both books, signed by yours truly, “For my new midwife friend, be well, Patsy Harman.” Before she leaves, I stand to give her a hug, touching the blue crystal with one finger.
A few other customers enter and leave, each with a few books under their arms or in bags but no one stops to talk. Most of them are over fifty. Mike, who turns out to be from West Virginia, grew up in the mountains where his father still owns a farm and went to college at a WV State University, explains that two other larger chain bookstores in Charlotte have closed this year and he notices most of Park Road Book Stores clientele are older. They’ve managed to stay open because their overhead is lower and they have tremendous patron loyalty.
I wonder, out-loud, about that, the future of bookstores. “What a strange sad world it would be to not have a place we could go to touch books and look at them. Maybe that’s the way of the future, Kindle and e-books. It would save trees and there is such a thing as a library.
“I’m something of a Luddite, myself,” Mike, the tall man, tells me. “I like the feel of paper.”
“It’s funny you should use that word. I describe myself and my other communards as Luddites in Arms Wide Open.” I point to the blue volume with the girl on the hill on the cover. “In the hippie days on the commune we, like the Luddites in England in the 1800s, chose not to use modern technology. We were trying to get away from an oil and coal based life-style, save non-renewable resources by using the energy of our bodies. We cultivated by hand, instead of a rototiller. We cut our wood with a cross cut saw, instead of a gas powered chain saw. We carried our water in buckets from a spring, instead of bringing it down to the cabins with an electric pump.”
Mike seems interested so I go on. “We were trying to live sustainably, a worth while goal in this era of global climate change, but the life-style itself was so extreme, it wasn’t sustainable….still it was a worthwhile experiment in truth, as Gandhi would say. I never regretted it.”
The conversation veers back to West Virginia, our mutual love of the mountains and the environmental impact of the Marcellus Shale disaster where the big companies are drilling for natural gas. Mike’s father has already been offered hundreds of thousands of dollars for the mineral right to his land but said no. “He could use the money,” the bookseller tells me, “but what good is it, if your water and land are ruined and polluted. Mike is a musician, plays old time tunes on the guitar. I tell him how music was such a big part of our lives on the commune.
No more customers come in. At 8:45 PM, I sign the rest of the books, place a sticker that says “author autographed” in the bottom corner of the jacket, careful not to cover the small woman in white with her arms stretched wide and return to my Econolodge room.
Later I wish I’d gone out to the car and got two of my copies of my book and signed them for both Kim and Mike. Tomorrow, I decide, as I crawl into my lonely king-size bed, before I leave for Southern Pines, I’ll go back with their gifts.