A number of amazing things have happened to me as a direct result of publishing Preacher Kid. The one that will stick with me the longest happened on my birthday. I have a Christmas season birthday so it generally gets absorbed into the holiday and is only acknowledged by a small but crucial few. This past birthday was the first time in 10 years I have not spent my birthday in a mini-van speeding across I-90 from Boston to Cleveland.
I had a real birthday: I woke up in the house of my destination, surrounded by people I love. And there was cake. But this year, I learned that my sister had given my book not just as a gift to her three children, but to my cousin, Jamie, whose name she had in our gift exchange. Our annual cousin Christmas party was on my birthday, so the “surrounded by people I love” element expanded exponentially.
I grew up in an environment where my cousins were my first friends. For as long as I can remember, but with a blur as to how frequently, we met at my paternal grandparents’ house on Sunday afternoons for dinner with our cousins. The house was about a mile away from my house, even closer to one set of cousins, and my East Side cousins made the much farther trek. There was KFC and Jell-O on the outside tables for the kids and the adults ate inside (brilliant!). We played simple games that always developed a distinct element of daredevil or insanity. We loved and tormented each other, depending on the personalities, and we always looked forward to the event, even though it carried with it a small edge of danger and unpredictability.
All these years later, I look over our group and realize how close we have all fallen from the tree that sprouted us. It is no wonder most of my sisters and cousins are in medical, education or counseling professions – coming from my grandfather (the doctor), from my aunts who were extraordinary nurses and teachers, and from my dad and his brother who were exceptional teachers. We represent an extremely wide array of personalities and those differences are noticeable in everyone’s approach to their own lives and loves. But there is a strong underlying current that is the same. Somewhere in the craziness of those Sunday afternoons, grew love and compassion, toward each other and aimed at the world around us. Now as adults, we celebrate each other’s achievements, small and large, we counsel and console each other about life's daily grind, and we catch each other when we fall. We know each other better than many others do, even though we only see each other twice a year. We understand our inner core and know we will always be accepted and loved in this mix. That is surely why we work so hard to get together – an extraordinary objective we gladly relish at Christmas and during the last week of every July.
So this past December, I found myself in my cousin, Anne’s, amazing century-old house with my family of 5, my three sisters and their families, spending the afternoon with many of my McCarthy cousins - bringing our total to 31. My cousin, Jamie, had started reading my book and gave it a glowing review, demanding an autograph of his copy when I see him this summer. Kelly (lover of all things vintage) admired the pictures and I could have talked to her all day about Esther's story. Jamie made a toast to me and of course there was cake. Dan, nearing 20, sweetly reminded me of our bond as December babies and I could so easily picture him making someone feel grounded and safe as the firefighter he is training to be. I could not have been in a better place. And the whole reason I began my grandma’s story was so that her story would not fade away. Here it was, being shared and gaining a following.
These are the kids I grew up with. They knew Esther, my maternal grandmother, but not the way I did. And they were genuinely excited to learn about the life of the woman they had known. They made me feel great about myself and my self-publishing. It now stands as the best birthday of my life – beating out my 16th when my parents threw a surprise party for me - where my mom watched guiltily as I almost had a heart attack in my own basement. That was a rather longstanding benchmark for birthdays. Who knows what else this book will bring.
One other amazing thing I want to share is that my son, Liam, converted the book to an iBook and it is now available from the iTunes Store. The iBook version is the best version, for the clearer, bigger pictures and a little 1970 video!