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December 27, 2010

Robert Barclay: An Unexpected Message from the Past, with Hope for the Future

Posted by Anonymous
RobertBarclay.jpgThis afternoon, debut novelist Robert Barclay --- author of the forthcoming novel IF WISHES WERE HORSES --- shares the story of an unforeseen Christmas message that helped bring him hope in 2008, along with his wishes for another fortuitous year.  
When I first picked up that carefully wrapped package on Christmas morning, 2008, it appeared much like the several others I had already opened. Nothing special here, it seemed. The label read, “To Rob, with Special Love, from Mom.” But when I opened it, I must admit that I was, at first, a bit confused. As I removed it from the box, however, I came to understand both the gift that my mother had sent to me, and the loving message of hope that it was meant to convey.
Because my parents live in upstate New York, and my wife, Joyce, and I are Floridians, we are not always able to see each other at Christmastime. My parents are in their 80s now, and travel has grown difficult for them. Their lovely home is large and quite full of the many and varied things one would associate with an aged couple that not only raised two rambunctious sons to manhood, but has also had very full times of their own. Their basement is especially crowded with such mementos --- some nostalgic, some quite needless.   
Because of this, during recent years, my mother has taken to giving some of these family items to my brother and me in the form of Christmas gifts. Not exactly like the demented, old woman in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation who mistakenly wraps up her live cat as a well-meaning Christmas present, but you get the general idea. And like that movie character, my mother sometimes misses the mark. Some of these unexpected little blasts from the past are very much appreciated and make us recall wonderful memories. But there have been other times when she seems to have erred, and has sent Bill and me things that we have, in fact (and may God forbid that Mother ever discovers this), quite literally thrown away. She does not do this because of any lack of Christmas funds, or because she believes my brother and I have suddenly developed some urgent need to relive our rather shady pasts. Rather, I think, she does it out of love. (That, I suppose, combined with a pressing need to rid her basement of some of the many things she no longer wants lying around. A rather clever maneuver, now that I think about it, and I can only hope that if I also reach the revered status of octogenarian, I can still remember this technique, for I will shamelessly use it to its best advantage on my stepson. It oftentimes seems that the elderly can get away with anything.)             
This time however, the basement gift she had selected for me not only hit the mark, but also tugged strongly on my heart, as well. It was an old book that I had never seen before. It was rather small, as hardcover novels go. The cover was a faded olive green. Its pages --- although still intact --- were quite dog-eared, deeply yellowed, and seemed as if the slightest human touch might easily destroy them. To my great delight, what I held in my hands was a very early (perhaps even a first edition) copy of THE LONE STAR RANGER by Zane Grey. My maternal grandfather Leon’s name was written inside, telling me that the book had once been his. It had been published in 1914, by Harper Brothers. Although I still do not know for sure, I assume that they were the precursors of HarperCollins, the same firm that is publishing my first novel, IF WISHES WERE HORSES, in February of 2011. Despite the many pleadings of my friends, I have resisted the urge to have the book appraised. For me, putting a monetary value on it would somehow cheapen its emotional reason for being, no matter how high its possible financial worth might be.      
However, at the time my mother gave me this book, I had only just begun writing IF WISHES WERE HORSES. Mother knew of the premise, and she loved it. But so far, no one other than my wife had read it. Nor could we know that it would sell, much less eventually be bought by HarperCollins. And there was another, perhaps even more obvious reason that she sent it to me, I realized. Not only is THE LONE STAR RANGER a cowboy story; so too, in its own way, would be IF WISHES WERE HORSES
Was her gift to me a hope for the future? Or perhaps a sign that I should keep on plugging away no matter what, because if a man called Zane Grey could do it, then so could I? Or, would it merely prove to be a touching gesture, should her eldest son fail in his chosen craft? Either way, I knew in my heart that her thoughts of the old book she gave me were inextricably meshed with her hopes for the new one that I was trying to write. And as it happened, she was right.  
Two more years have gone by since that Christmas morning. I am now writing another book for HarperCollins, and yet another Christmas has recently passed. So Mom, if you’re listening, you can still send one more old book to me this year, if you want.
If it proves to be another good omen, that’s all I could ask for…                                   
Tomorrow, ex-journalist Karen Abbott tells the story of her best (and bloodiest) Christmas ever.