One more note about the Oregon Book Awards, and then I’ll shut up and try to move on.
The night of the awards, my wife Deborah and I were sitting in the second row, a little to the right of the presenter, and next to Deborah sat a very charming older lady who was graciously excited about the evening, and who seemed to be pleased to know I’d been nominated. In front of me sat two of the other finalists–both good friends who I was very happy for–along with some other writer friends I hadn’t seen in some time–Jan Baross and Sharon Whitney. It all felt cozy and festive…and I was nervous as hell and completely convinced there was no way I was ever going to win.
So then Keith came out with a guitar, started doing my lines, and I became totally calm. I looked over at Deb and saw the comprehension wash over her. And what I thought was going to be terribly difficult–going up and speaking–wasn’t bad at all. (They had good monitors, and I felt my old radio voice coming back to me, which was kind of amusing since the play’s main character was a DJ and some of the background drew on my radio days. And I don’t know if it was the hall or they’d thrown a little reverb on the mike, but I got just enough slapback from where I was standing that I could hear a vague echo of what I was saying. Felt like I should have started singing “Mystery Train.”)
Afterwards, the older lady reached across Deb, took my hand, squeezed it, and gave me a megawatt smile. It was one of the nicest moments of a beautiful evening.
Later at the reception, I learned she was Dorothy Stafford, wife of the late poet William Stafford, whose work I dearly love and who took time to chat with me a reading in Northwest Portland years ago, when I’d first moved back to the Pacific Northwest after living in New York and New Orleans. It moves me now just to think of it. Mr. Stafford was Oregon class: real, sensitive, giving, and a writer who could crush and salve you with just a few lines. I remember coming away from that evening, some 18 years ago, and thinking: you know, it is kind of nice to be back–maybe this will work out.
Thanks for reminding me, Dorothy, of an Oregon we should never take for granted.