Dr. Tarpley called me in his early stages of planning for a literary festival in Cooper, Delta County, Northeast Texas. He asked if I would join other Delta County native writers and read an excerpt from one of my books or short stories. I said sure—just like I always do when Fred asks me to do something. But this retired college professor of Lit and Lang and renowned linguist, grammarian, and researcher is full of enthusiasm and ideas and I was not confident he would actually pull this one together.
When I first started writing novels, people frequently asked me what I did when I left the financial services profession. My answer: “I Write.” The next question was almost always, “Yes, but what do you do the rest of the time?” or this one, “Yes, but what do you do for a living?” I soon began to give this answer: “I wait each day for Dr. Fred Tarpley to give me an assignment.”
Using Fred’s famous name gave my writing legitimacy, somehow, and the answer was close to accurate. I seldom speak in front of a group of writers or readers that someone does not approach me and ask about Fred or send a greeting to him.
For the Delta County event at the library in Cooper, Fred planned to have his former student Charles Bailey, also a well-known professor of English and literary critic, Susan Albright Hyde (A Listing Wind), and Judy Miller Falls (Brush Men and Vigilantes) to read. When Fred told me that he planned on having it on Sunday at three, I checked the Cowboys’ football schedule. I told Dr. Tarpley that the football game would not be over and few would come. I had a vision of us Delta County writers reading to each other.
When Fred suddenly took ill, I expected the event was cancelled and sort of put it out of my mind. But when Charles Bailey called me from Houston on Saturday night to say he was coming, things changed. I could not reach Judy Falls, Carol Beth King (now Delta Chamber prez), or anyone who might know details, but if Charlie was driving from Houston, I could surely drive from Commerce. I called Susan and the event was on. Then someone told me it had been advertised in the Cooper Review and Paris News. Fred would want his idea to come to fruition, even if he could not be there.
To my surprise, all of the seats filled (thank-you Delta County readers). Fred will be proud to learn this. I felt appropriately chastised for my negativity and was once again reminded of how infectious Fred’s positive influence can be.
Judy Falls told some very personal and inspiring stories about people she has met and circumstances encountered as a result of her flawlessly researched book about this area of Texas and conflicting loyalties before and during the Civil War. Charlie read two short stories from the late Dr. Gaynor Janes, eldest son of Dr. Olen Janes. Charlie is related to this famous and revered Delta County family of physicians. Then Susan Hyde read from her soon to be released novel about a 1936 murder trial in Delta County (and a poignant love story). Charlie followed with a story published in Memories of Old ET that brought back memories of the ETSU campus during the period surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination and funeral.
I read two excerpts from my novel, Go Down Looking, to be released May 2012. I also wanted to talk about the interconnectedness not just of the readers, but of the people who attended, but there just was not time. For example, Charlie and I graduated from Cooper High in the same year and attended ETSU in Commerce at the same time. Judy Falls was only a few years behind us. Judy and I have worked together on several writing and research projects and I have called on her for Delta County research on more than one occasion. Her book and my Biscuits Across the Brazos came out the same year. And or course, Carol Beth (Berry) King served as emcee in Fred’s absence.
Growing up in Delta County, I knew of Gaynor Janes and revered his father, but had never met him until my first book was released. When he discovered that Dr. Olen Bartlett in the Rivers trilogy was based on his father, we became fast friends. It was very poignant to hear Charles read the stories that Gaynor had shared with me. Gaynor’s wife D’ drove from Houston to hear her late husband’s stories read. As for Susan Hyde, I worked with her when her book was in manuscript form and wrote a very early review. Also, the murder trial that inspired her novel was a story I related to my grandchildren that kept them entertained for years as we traveled the paths that two young girls and their mother followed. They were mesmerized by that story more than anything I ever read them.
Fred is improving in a Fort Worth rehab center. Wish he could have been there.