11/19/19

My Childhood Dream Came True at Midlife

When my daughters were little, my ex-husband and I often sang them to sleep with a duet of “When You Wish Upon A Star.” I believed then that all my deepest dreams had come true – them, marriage to a man I thought my soulmate, the Brooklyn brownstone we called home, career success – and wanted the same for them. It wasn’t until many years later, however, after my husband abandoned me, that I uncovered a more ancient dream, one that existed well before any thoughts of Prince Charming, a longing buried in my heart since childhood.

This year that dream came true.

I grew up in a small rural town in Southern Maryland. First in my family to attend college, first ever to put myself through law school, I made it all the way to New York City where I practiced entertainment law for many years. As a child, I built snow forts, played with Barbie, picked strawberries in my grandmother’s garden, and sprawled on the floor of the bookmobile every Saturday when it stopped in front of the post office. Each week I’d check out as many books as my arms could carry across the road to my house and return them seven days later for a fresh batch, my favorite writers in those elementary school days, Carolyn Keene, Agatha Christie, and Ursula Le Guin – all women.

I had a laundry list of activities and accomplishments in high school, but when it came to the college application blank labeled “hobbies,” I was stumped. Reading, that was it, morning, noon and night. Years later, my children took after me. Nicki, my eldest, had always been glued to books, so much so she’d read while walking down our Brooklyn sidewalk. For a time I was convinced I’d never be able to allow her to talk anywhere alone without fear of her getting run over.

After my divorce, in my 50s, when I cleaned out the house I could no longer afford, I came across evidence of my earliest dream. What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s the most natural of questions every adult asks children.

“I’m 24 and in law school!” my youngest said to me the last time she visited me in Savannah where I live now. “And one of your friends just asked me what I wanted to do with my life, like I’m still a little girl.” We laughed and clinked our wine glasses. She’d wanted to be an actress at one time and her sister, a gymnast. As a child, I’d told people “either a missionary or a teacher,” never daring to utter the unimaginable for a young girl from the sticks – a writer.

In 2014, I attended my first Savannah Book Festival. During the lunch break, I stopped at nearby Roly Poly for a sandwich and asked a woman sitting along if I could join her. Susan was a writer also; we exchanged cards. A year later, our mutual friend asked me to join her writer’s group, Wednesday Writers, and Susan and I looked at each other when I walked in, shocked at the circumstances that had brought us together again. Soon I’d learn that Savannah is like that, a series of overlapping circles where people come in and out of each other’s lives, never knowing when they’re likely to meet again or where.

For five years I attended the festival, secretly wishing the dream buried in my heart since childhood. Earlier this year, I published my first book, Disassembly Required: A Memoir of Midlife Resurrection, and applied to the festival, remembering what I’d learned from the journey recounted in my memoir – no attachment to results. In other words, let it go.
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Today the Savannah Book Festival announced my participation in the 13th annual festival on Saturday, February 15, 2020. I’m in awe and honored to be among so many great writers. And blessed after losing my Brooklyn home, to be embraced by the city in which I’ve made my new one.



Tags: Agatha Christie · Beginning again · book publication · Bookmobile · Books · childhood · Daughters · Disassembly Required · Divorce · dreams · first book · live after divorce · memoir · Nancy Drew · Pinnochio · Savannah · Savannah Book Festival · Ursula LeGuin · When You Wish Upon A Star · Wish · writing


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" Ostensibly about the break-up of her marriage and loss of her dream house, a four-story Victorian brownstone in Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens neighborhood, Beverly Willett's absorbing memoir is really about finding a home in one's own skin. A delight."

Courtney Hargrave, Author of Burden: A Preacher, A Klansman and a True Story of Redemption in the Modern South, a major motion picture starring Forest Whitaker
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