Young at Heart

Saturday afternoon I received this letter in the mail. As it is only the second fan mail I’ve ever received via the postal service
(reader emails are equally thrilling, I assure you), it was a very big deal. It arrived at the end of a couple of hectic, stressful days—days I had literally no time to write anything at all, days I wondered why I put the stress of one more thing (my looming deadline) on my already full life plate. Bonnie Jones’ letter was the uplift I needed, all the reward a writer can ever hope for, and I thank her for taking the time to send it to me.

More on Ms. Jones in a minute, but first a few random thoughts that I hope to tie together by the end of this post.

First . . . One of my very favorite pictures of my maternal grandmother was taken shortly after her marriage. In this tiny, black and white photo, I can tell she is wearing something black and very sheer. She’s leaning against the wall in a striking, seductive pose. No doubt my grandfather took this photo, and no doubt—when I someday see her again on the other side of the veil—my grandmother will give me a good talking to about describing this picture to you readers 😀 But I love this picture. In it I see a young, healthy, vibrant woman. She is happy, confident, romantic . . . sexy. This is my grandmother long before I knew her. Before the hardships of life—divorce, poverty, cancer—had grayed her hair, wrinkled her face, and stolen her breast.

Though taken years before I was born, it is also a picture of the grandmother I did know. The one who sent me boxes of Christian romance novels. The one who stroked my hair and let me cry my heart out the weekend of my senior prom, just days after the love of my life (now my husband) left for his two year mission. This is the grandmother who could ill afford the phone bills she ran up, listening to me drone on and on about castles and knights and damsels in distress as I told her, week after week, about the romance novels I was writing and would someday publish. This grandmother, though physically weakened by age, still held onto—in at least a corner of her heart—the young woman she was in that picture.

Taking after my grandmother, and being a true romantic, I loved the movie, Titanic. One of my favorite scenes is toward the beginning of the film, when the older Rose sees a mirror that once belonged to her. She picks it up and looks in it, remarking that the image staring back at her is somewhat different than she recalls. When she says this, it is almost as if she’s startled to find she has changed so much. It’s as if inside she is still the young girl who boarded the Titanic for its maiden voyage so many years before. Much like my grandmother, she may have aged physically, but her feelings and emotions are still that of a young woman. Her heart loves just as deeply.

Last week Annette Lyon wrote a great post about being “Kicked out of the Young Club.” After reading it, I took a second to reflect on my own age—a whopping 40 years old now—and how I felt about that. I have to admit 40 was a difficult birthday, but only because I was nine months pregnant and totally miserable! I fully expect 41-49 and beyond to be much, much better. Now that I am healthy and wearing jeans with zippers again, I am not at all bothered by my age. I know the numbers say I’ve hit the middle-aged mark, but in my heart I only feel about twenty-five—and on some days it’s more like seventeen. When my sixteen-year-old daughter and I shop for prom dresses, I still get very excited at the prospect of finding the perfect lovely, floor-length, take-your-breath away dress, though now it’s for my daughter instead of me. I still love dancing and get that delirious, so-in-love feeling on those rare occasions my husband holds me in his arms and leads me around a dance floor. I’ll never feel like I can kiss my husband, or have him kiss me, enough. There’s nothing quite so wonderful as curling up with a good love story on a rainy day, as I did last week. Last night I smiled as I heard “The Happiest Millionaire” playing downstairs as my daughters and their cousins munched popcorn and giggled while watching that fun, classic, Disney romance. Why was I upstairs washing dishes? Instead I wanted to join them before I missed the really good part. In short, I don’t feel forty. Nor, I am guessing, does Bonnie Jones feel like she’s in her seventies.

As I mentioned in a previous post, one of my very favorite lines was nearly cut from All the Stars in Heaven. I literally begged to keep it, citing it as one of the most romantic lines of the entire story. My editor and I went back and forth on this a few times. There were some concerns with this section of the story, as one of the readers for Covenant had remarked (in her review of my manuscript) that my writing could, “turn an eighty-year-old woman on.” At the time this really made me laugh (though the editors at Covenant did not find this particularly funny). I assured them this was not at all my intent. There is only one person on the planet I am interested in turning on, and that most definitely does not happen through anything I write! However, I am interested as an author, in reaching my readers, in touching them some way, evoking emotion that whisks them away for a short while, then returns them to their lives relaxed, uplifted—and hopefully better for having experienced a little romance.

To me this seems an incredibly tall order, a daunting task—one I surely cannot do on my own. Fortunately, I don’t have to. Bonnie Jones, my grandmother, and numerous other readers already have that spark of romance in them. Perhaps something I write reminds them, but it’s what is inside that allows that to happen. It’s because through all their seasons of life, and no matter what stage they are in, they’ve remained young at heart. I thank them for that and hope, with all my heart, that I stay the same too.