June 1, 2023

No News from Doodlebug Island . . . by William F. Jordan


Slanting rays of late morning found me seated at my desk at the Doodlebug Island Run-on Newspaper writing a biting editorial about something or other when the front door opened and Matty Bigelow came in. “Shouldn’t you be at your post in the library?” I asked her. “Or you here to remind me of an overdue book?”

“Well, now that you bring the matter up, you do have not one but several items overdue, but we’re in no hurry to get them back, not with the promise of a hefty settlement when you get around to returning them. But that’s not really why I’ve come. I’d like you to read the manuscript I’ve been working on.”

With that, she extended a manila envelop containing the not-so-many pages of her work. But when I reached for it, she retained her hold as if reluctant to give it up. “I’m not sure you’ll think it worth publishing. In fact, I’m not sure I even want it published. It seems so small considering all the time I’ve spent thinking about it and putting it together. You’d think a body would have more to say after a lifetime of experience.”

“Maybe that’s because it takes a lifetime learning what’s important enough to talk about or record,” I suggested.

“Yes, or maybe the feelings that accompany experience are so personal they’re impossible to describe.” She was quiet for a moment, lost in reflective thought. “That’s the reason I suppose I’m reluctant to share this with anyone. Writing about the cold, hard facts of a person’s life somehow seems like a betrayal of those emotions and memories that were so much a part of everything. They appear to accomplish so little by way of validating that person’s life.”

“Validation may be the wrong reason to write. Sharing thoughts works always for the betterment of the careful, sensitive reader. Events in our lives are merely springboards for meaning. Now, what say you leave this with me? I’ll read it for publication quality and be frank with you. It’ll be our little secret!”

She smiled for the first time, “I had hoped you’d say that.” She released the envelop and quietly left.

The editorial could wait, I decided. My little piques and boiling points weren’t hard to rekindle, and I always ended by tempering the editorials that reflected them, anyway. So, I began reading Matty’s work. As noted, it wasn’t voluminous by any means, and by four o’clock that afternoon, I finished it. But it certainly wasn’t finished with me!

Now, I’ve known Mattie ever since she moved to Doodlebug Island and took a job in the library a few years ago. Like other Islanders, I found her to be gregarious and friendly, patient, quick-witted, and immensely helpful. Everything about her spoke to a joyous optimism that seemed to spring from a concern for others, for she seldom if ever alluded to her own history or concerns.

So, it was a shock to read about her personal tragedies and sadness that burdened her life before she came to live among us. “I will not dwell on my personal griefs,” she wrote, “for everyone experiences his own. Suffice it to say that I lost my father in WWII, my cherished husband in the Korean War, and my darling son and only child in Afghanistan. Between wars, mother, whom I lost to the ravages of melancholy, and I knew want.

But, I learned through these repeated blows that life, even as it is surrounded and bound by grief, must be lived – not out of expectation – but by daily, hourly, even minute by minute choices. We cannot avoid fate’s destiny, but we can decide the attitudes that will describe our journey.”

This summation, so simply and beautifully expressed, appeared as a foreword, and was the theme of her work. The essays, stories, biographies, and poems that followed were equally well constructed, sensitively written, and thoughtful.

Mattie was surprised when I popped into the library next day with all the books and other items I’d borrowed, and with a check sizable enough to cover any overdue charges with enough left over to express a suitable apology. I handed her the manuscript but retained hold of it just as she had.

“This is beautifully well done,” I told her, “and I’m hoping you’ll let me publish it!”

Tears welled up in her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered and nodded almost imperceptibly. Neither of us could say more.

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