At almost 91, Mattie Belle is one of my oldest readers. I’ve known her since I was in ninth grade and became friends with her daughter, Delores. I was so touched when she sent me this handwritten card after she read my memoir.
Delores told me that when her mother finished my book, she loaned it to one of her fellow members at Holly Spring Baptist Church. After that woman read it, Mattie Belle shared it with another. It was very rewarding to hear how Delores’s mother recommended my memoir to others.
“Your Mama’s cutting into my profit,” I told Delores, and laughed, happy that the book was being passed around. So what if those church friends didn’t go onto Amazon and buy it.
I’m reminded of years ago when I went with Delores, Mattie Belle–and her friend, Peggy to the North Carolina mountains. That was the fall I was taking chemotherapy for breast cancer. I’d been hesitant to go since I’d just lost my hair and was wearing a wig. I didn’t know how comfortable I’d be with anyone, outside my immediate family, seeing my bald head when I took the hot, itchy thing off at the end of the day.
But I couldn’t have found a more accepting group of women to share myself at my worst– bald head and prednisone puffiness, at the heaviest weight of my lifetime. Peggy had been through her own hard time with some serious health problems that had left her in a state that was much less of herself.
In the providence of that weekend in the mountains, Peggy said she felt encouraged by me, and I was impacted by her story. She’d been through so much, but told about all that happened to her without the bitterness you’d expect. We ended up laughing as much as lamenting, finding comfort and joy sharing the fall beauty of the Blue Ridge and the balm of friendship during hard times.
Years later, Mattie was diagnosed with breast cancer and I sent her a card of encouragement. I remembered when I went through cancer, the voices I most longed to hear were those who’d been through treatment themselves. When I saw Mattie Belle after that, she referred to how we’d both been through cancer–part of that sisterhood regardless of our age difference.
A year ago, after I told my friends about my separation, Delores told her mother. She understood since she and Delores’s father went through divorce when we were in high school. Again, Mattie Belle reached out to me to let me know she was sorry for what I was going through. Over the two months that Delores stayed with me last winter when her husband was in a Durham rehabilitation center, she often commented on the similarities of my situation and what her mother had gone through.
Mattie Belle and I had both experienced the losses of cancer and divorce.
I keep her note telling me how much she enjoyed my memoir tucked in the pages of my copy. Over the past year I’ve only had the focus and energy to write a weekly blog post. I put off working on the sequel to my memoir– the next seven solo journeys in the seven years since the ending of He Heard My Voice.
It’s time to move forward with the sequel; Mattie Belle is waiting. Pulling out her note, seeing her handwriting and feeling her presence, I have just enough encouragement to get to work.