...I penned the following roughly a year ago under a different name. It's a piece I sometimes refer to whenever in need of inspiration. With revisions nearly complete, a simple idea growing wings and preparing for launch, I felt it appropriate to re-publish something near and dear...something I'll never forget.
Throughout the daily grind of time cards and babysitters, of pointless production meetings and forced overtime, we are surrounded by signs.
Small hints suggesting of a better life, floating about at eye level, or sometimes just out of the corner of one's peripheral vision, waiting to be discovered...yearning to be grasped by it's beneficiary...and boasting of the power to change everything.
Maybe it's the eery silhouette formed from that shock of sunlight through the passenger window upon the dashboard during a morning commute.
Perhaps it's a word spoken from the mouth of a complete stranger during lunch hour at a nearby table.
Something small. Something inadvertent. Something no one else would notice. For that's the beauty of it. Signs are only to be recognized for what they are by those who can see them. For those who can focus their attention at just the right moment...and see the sign. A sliver of light piercing through that somber tunnel of indifference.
Signs. They're out there. All around us. Waiting...
During the final leg of our family vacation to the Gulf Coast, we made a stop at my Great-Aunt's home a few miles north of Sarasota. I'd promised her nearly twenty years earlier that if I ever found myself aimlessly wondering the southern coasts, I'd make a point to drop by. A wife and three kids later...I kept my promise.
A short visit became an early dinner as we gathered around her dining room table and spoke of days long past. My "favorite aunt" carries with her a youthful spunk for her age, which I've always admired. And much like my late grandfather of the same family, when she speaks, people listen.
At some point during the afternoon I found myself rummaging through her collection of novels on a book shelf in her living room. Call it a nosy habit. I take interest in seeing what people are reading.
Not realizing that my aunt was standing next to me, I gave a start when she leaned in and pulled a book from the shelf just under my line of sight. She placed it into my hands and said, "See what you think of this one."
"Levi's Will," I mumbled. I studied the cover...two Amish boys walking toward a distant sunset. At first glance it didn't appear to be something I'd normally take an interest in. Then my aunt, in that calm tone of voice I'd grown accustomed to hearing over the years, mentioned something that caused me to catch my breath.
"It's a pretty good read," she said. "And we're related to the writer."
"What?" I stammered.
Noticing my sudden interest, she smiled and continued. "It's about two Amish boys who run away from home. One comes back..." She hesitated for a moment, then said, "But one never does. Not for a very long time anyway."
"W. Dale Cramer," I read the author's name aloud. "Is it a true story?"
"Kind of," my aunt said. "I can still remember when it happened. Quite a few years ago. You'll have to read it and see what you think."
I made it a priority and read "Levi's Will" as soon as we returned home.
It wasn't the type of novel I normally read. And yet, it turned out to be one of the best stories I'd come across in a long time.
Based on the life of Will Mullett, an Amish teenager who decides to run away from home, or more appropriately, the iron-fisted lifestyle of his father, Levi. His younger brother Tobe accompanies him as far south as Florida, before eventually returning home. Will Mullet never does.
The story, based on true events, chronicles the life of an Amish boy from Apple Creek, Ohio, who finds himself starting a new life practically a million miles from anything resembling his kind of normalcy.
Places like Carr Road, Millersburg, and even Winesburg become major backdrops to the plot when, after many years away, and having made a new life for himself, Will finds that he's yearning to return home.
A chill ran up my spine as I read of a scene which takes place in a restaurant in Winesburg, Ohio between Will and his son towards the end of the story. The small town of Winesburg only had one restaurant back in those days. The funny thing is, as a boy I spent a good deal of time in that very diner. In the kitchen to be exact. I'd become good friends with the owner's son, a boy of my own age, and together we'd take it upon ourselves to sneak into the kitchen after school and loot the shelves for french fries and sodas. To read of that very restaurant out of the pages of a book written by someone distantly related to me was quite the experience.
Upon finishing the novel, I found Mr. Cramer's website and on a glimmer of hope, decided to write him a letter. I really wasn't sure what I was expecting in return for my efforts. I've corresponded with other writers over the years...Steve Alten, J.D. Rhoades, Tess Gerritsen to name a few, and some have been most gracious in responding. Others however, have decided that personally responding to their fan mail is far beneath them, despite the fact that we're the reason why they've found success in the first place.
I spoke of our possibly being related, with a brief history from my side of the family. Of my roots from Carr Road, and my passion to one day make a living as a writer, like he's already achieved.
It took him one day to respond.
W. Dale Cramer lives in Georgia. He successfully published his first novel after completing an online writer's course and realizing that he may have discovered something about himself.
He never went to college. He instead married his highschool sweetheart and together are currently raising their children. He spent many years as a common laborer before at last realizing his dream of becoming a novelist.
The letter he sent me corroborated my aunt's claim. In his home in Georgia he has a geneology book of his family dating back many generations. He not only found my family's branch, he found my father, born in 1953, and he found me, a dangling twig somewhere on the far reaches of the ever thickening tree.
He revealed the names of several of the actual family members who later inspired
the making of "Levi's Will." And he also admitted that Will, the story's main character, is based on his father.
Dale Cramer ended the letter with a few words of support. "If it's a story based on the Amish cultures in Holmes and Wayne Counties...and you can get it finished...you've got a great shot at getting it published."
I've saved the letter in my email.
...had I not nosed around in my aunt's book shelf that day, I may have never known that I was actually related to a well-known writer.
...had my wonderful aunt not placed "Levi's Will" into my hands on that balmy afternoon in Florida, I never would've later written a letter to W.Dale Cramer.
...had I not read of Mr. Cramer's own struggles, only to later reach his dream, along with his final inspirational passage, my own impatience at achieving success may have one day gotten the better of me.
Okay...I can take a hint.
I'll keep on typing...