I first met a young couple named Tiffany and Erik on St. Patrick’s Day. Tiffany and Erik have four daughters: Audrey, McKenna, Ellia, and Madelyn. Audrey, who is ten years old and in fourth grade, is the oldest. McKenna is seven, Ellia, five, and Madelyn, two years old.
About six weeks earlier, Tiffany had contacted me on Facebook Messenger; she wondered if I had any public author events scheduled in the Twin Cities area this spring. Audrey, who adores sock monkeys, had read The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea and she’d loved it.
I have a couple of school visits scheduled, I told her, but nothing that is open to the public. Then I asked, off the top of my head, whether she and Audrey ever went to Wild Rumpus bookstore in south Minneapolis. I said I’d be happy to arrange a “meet and greet” there sometime in March.
We agreed to get together on Saturday, March 17th, at 10:30 in the morning. Located in the Linden Hills neighborhood, Wild Rumpus is always busy on Saturday mornings. I checked the store’s online calendar in advance and didn’t notice any special events planned.
The store was especially crowded when I arrived. Two elaborately costumed people wearing silver masks nudged past me. Rambunctious toddlers darted between the shelves chasing clucking chickens. The cats—Booker T., Trini Lopez, and Walter Dean—had gone into hiding. The caged cockatiels were squawking.
I told Tiffany in advance how to recognize me: I’d be the woman carrying a sock monkey. It worked. Audrey spied me first; the rest of the family followed. We tried to visit in a corner of the bookstore, but found it too loud and distracting. With Audrey again in the lead, the seven of us exited through the little purple door toward two sun-drenched benches on that chilly spring day.
Each member of the family wore a touch of green; they were Irish and looking forward to a meal of corned beef and cabbage. Audrey had a green and white shamrock scarf tied around her neck and a shy, but delightful smile on her face.
Looking back on it, I remembered that a few weeks earlier on a flight home from Newark, I sat down next to an attractive, well-dressed woman, perhaps in her early fifties. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said in a calm, all-knowing voice.
Her professional name, I discovered, was Guru Mata. She is a Hindu spiritual healer from New Jersey who was returning to her birthplace, in the Twin Cities to celebrate her widowed mother’s 70th birthday. I rarely speak to strangers on airplanes; however, much to my surprise, she and I engaged in a wide-ranging conversation about matters of spiritual faith and healing that lasted almost the whole flight. “In life,” Guru Mata asserted, “there are no coincidences.”
Perhaps not …
A few days later, there I was … sitting on a bench with a young reader who loved sock monkeys. Ironically, Audrey’s sister’s name, McKenna, is that of a main character in my earlier book, Tango: The Tale of an Island Dog. Dangling from Ellia’s fingers was a shiny plastic, silver link necklace with a silver heart charm. (The plot of Tango turns on the loss and discovery of a silver link dog collar with a silver heart identification tag.)
On the bench Audrey told me what she’d liked most about The Secrets of Eastcliff-by-the-Sea: ALL the sock monkeys, the details, the mystery, and the fact that the ending wasn’t a fairy tale’s happily-ever-after ending, but happy enough.
“During all the years I struggled to write this book,” I told Audrey, “I held out the hope that someday, some way, a child just like you would love the story of Annaliese Easterling and Throckmorton, her simply remarkable sock monkey, and I’m so pleased that you did.”
The family thanked me for coming. I signed Audrey’s copy of my book and also the copy of Tango I’d brought along for McKenna. I suggested that the story of the little dog’s adventures on Prince Edward Island might be a good family read-aloud. In my imagination, I can picture this book-loving family doing just that.
I walked away smiling, and waved goodbye, feeling blessed.