A reader’s dream—that’s the best way to describe the Tucson Festival of Books.
The Festival of Books (FOB) is particularly this reader’s dream, since it takes place on the University of Arizona campus, in the heart of southern Arizona. Imagine warmth, palm trees lining the grassy mall, and 120,000 bibliophiles wandering booth after booth of books, listening to authors’ talks, and enjoying gelatto in the sunshine. The air of the FOB pulses with a love of reading, of books, of writing, of literacy. People of all ages (an entire area is devoted to children’s literature and fun things for kids to do—including watch a circus) wander the mall.
Last weekend, we headed for Tucson and the FOB. This year, MEADOWLARK joined the books featured and off we went. I was deeply grateful for the opportunity to spend an evening talking about writing, reading, and the journey of Meadowlark with the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, whose mission reads, “Working for a world where women and girls are able to achieve their full potential and pursue their dreams.” The beauty and magic of book clubs and friendship wound together, as I spoke with an amazing book club in Tucson, and also saw a member of my own dear book club from my years in California at the Festival.
An unexpected blessing happened during the Festival, nearly 38 years in the making. During my growing-up years on the Cascabel ranch, I attended school in the town of Benson, an hour by dirt road from the ranch and only 45 minutes by highway from Tucson. For those who know me, Benson, Cascabel, Tucson, the Sonoran Desert have a very, very special place in my heart. I attended school in Benson from third through tenth grades. In eleventh grade, I lived in Chihuahua City, Mexico as an exchange student, and my senior year of high school, I moved with my family to California. While, technically I left after the tenth grade, this in no way kept me from feeling as much a part of my class as always, something I implored the Vice President of our class, who kept us all together via email and contact, to remember, which she has done magnificently.
I’ve stayed in touch with Benson friends, though years, miles, and the busyness of life for all has often kept years between any kind of contact. Knowing I’d be in Tucson, I connected with two wonderful friends from the Benson years, one of whom I hadn’t seen in 25 years, and the other I’d just seen for the first time in 25 years in December. The three of us were to meet at the Festival. I couldn’t wait.
As I stood under the shade of the author’s pavillion, I lifted my eyes and suddenly another face from 25 years ago walked through the crowd. I leapt up and we hugged and hugged. Then, another face. And another. Soon, a veritable Benson Union High School reunion was gathered at the pavillion. I found myself speechless. I had no idea and just kept staring and hugging and staring and hugging some more. A few tears later, we moved to gather around a table under the shade of the eating area—and settled in.
I sat at the table and drank in the roots and love at the table. There is something unique about friends from childhood and those high school years. As I gazed around the table, I thought of the 15-year-olds we’d once been and all that had happened since that time that none of us could have imagined—marriages, births, deaths, divorces, new marriages, parenthood alone and in partnership, grandchildren. Some of us became parents quite young and others have weathered infertility. We no longer have the 15-year-old bodies of our high school years. Years of living show on our faces now and I love that. Some of our bodies had betrayed us, cancer survivors sat among our small group. I took in each face and thought of what I knew of their stories.
My mom, Joan Wink, was the high school Spanish teacher during these years. Mom’s roots with my classmates run as deep as my own, and deeper with her students that came before and after me. She’s written frequently in her books about “the Benson kids” and all they taught her about teaching and life. Mom accompanied this photo with the caption, “How I love my Benson kids!” Appropriately, Mom was wearing her t-shirt that states, “Those who can, TEACH. Those who can’t, pass laws about teaching.” Hear, hear!
There is a connection with these deep roots and time shared together during our growing-up years that goes beyond the rhythms of daily life, that threads deep and binds beyond differences that might fray a more recent friendship. In our group, we did not talk politics or the economy or religion or the latest headlines. All of those conversations seemed to lift aside, winnowed by years of our roots and our memories of who each of us had been and had become, leaving only the depth of our shared history. We shared recent losses, old scars, and gratitude for healing and hope. We laughed, we told stories, shared memories, held babies, held hands, hugged, and told one another how very proud we are of each other. Somehow, our shared roots brought out the best in each other.
The drive home to Santa Fe, took us past my beloved San Pedro River Valley, home to Cascabel and my childhood. We didn’t have time to drive to Cascabel this trip, so I stopped to take a photo instead. Next time! The drive also took us through Texas Canyon, a sight I marvel at as much now as I did as a child. Those rock formations never cease to set my imagination aflame with possibilities.
We stopped in Hatch, NM (where the world-famous chile is grown) for the traditional green chile cheeseburger and a newly-discovered tradition, a mango and chile shake. Mango and chile, a flavor combination I came to crave and adore while living in Mexico. Divine. I hung my purse on the back of my chair—and discovered two hours later when we stopped for gas, that I’d left it there… Luke and Wyatt were especially thrilled with this latest development. Back to Hatch we drove and on hour number eight of our drive home, when we should’ve been pulling up to our front door, and instead had three hours of driving before us, there was a brief energy-filled exchange between Luke and me, after which Wyatt announced to the car, “And the matriarch asserts her dominance.”
Cracked. Me. Up.
In honor of National Reaching Month, KASA TV of Albuquerque featured New Mexico authors and books, including MEADOWLARK. Our conversation revolved around family stories and writing the land:
Our time in Tucson brought home for me the transcendent power of deeply rooted friendships and shared experiences. I was reminded how deep roots hold the potential to create openings for connection and caring no matter how many years have passed. In this wild journey of life, true connection and caring are gifts to be treasured.
Roots and love.