Custom House Maritime Museum, July 6, 2018. Photo Courtesy of Carrie O’Donnell
(Originally posted July 15, 2019) One month ago, nearly to the day, Cynthia August and I packed up our little attic in Chateau Thierry and headed home. The week we spent with Eben in France was tucked away in a special corner of my heart, while the rest of my attention was quickly consumed with kids and farm work and freelance work, and house work, and on and on. My life is full, and I am so lucky. The trap here is that amid the happy slog of my days, there is precious little time to stop and consider the other person who I am now responsible for, in some small way. When I said in the book that Eben is part of my family, that was no joke.
Courtesy of Kathie O’Neil
This will be a shock to some of you, but this book has required me to do two things that cause me a fair amount of anxiety. First, I have to ask people for money. I do this all the time professionally without a qualm, but if I had my druthers, I would never have to take a dime from my friends. This book, however, has demanded that I advocate for it, talk about it, and even, *gulp*, sell it. Thank you to all of you who have shoved a $20 in my hand while I looked away and blushed.
Second, I have a persistent fear of public speaking. I do it a lot, and I’m reasonably good at it, but the hours before a talk are agony. This story has demanded to be told, by me, in public. Thanks to all of you who sat through an hour of me sweating and shaking.
The first post-publication event for A Newburyport Marine was at the Book Rack on June 29. It was a perfect evening with family and friends, and a chance to thank so many people who had helped to bring the story to life.
The following week, I was the featured speaker at the First Friday event at the Custom House Maritime Museum on July 6. The run-up to the event was not auspicious. I dropped my laptop on the pavement just before the event, had the wrong adapter for the projector, and it was a sweltering day so my hair was huge and my face was dripping. Then my beautiful friends arrived, bringing drinks and encouragement and shoving aforementioned $20’s into my sweaty palm, and the breeze came up from the water through the open windows, and I looked around the room and Eben’s face looked up at me from the cover of the book. “This is for you, kiddo”, I said as I got up to speak.
Image courtesy of Custom House Maritime Museum
When she was thirteen, my daughter performed at the Firehouse, singing and playing the piano. When I asked her if she was nervous, she replied that she was, but then she remembered that singing is what she does to calm herself. As soon as I began to see people reacting to Eben’s story – tilting their heads to get a better view of his school picture, or sighing when his fingerprints appeared on the screen, the fear was gone. This is the thing I have promised to do, to remember Eben, as he asked in his last letter home.
The Portermen remember Eben in song.
After the talk, and a truly heart-breaking rendition of The Green Fields of France by The Portermen, a woman came over to tell me that after hearing me talk about Eben at the library, she had incorported a visit to Eben’s grave on a recent trip to France. I met another marine whose life’s mission is to keep the memory of his friends alive, and he deeply understood why Eben was so important to me. Another women I have known for years gave me a hug and asked me for my email address. Two days later, this picture arrived. On June 12, one hundred years after Eben’s death, while I was in France with Cynthia, sitting by Eben’s grave, Sue and her husband, and Steve Bradbury, and others, left flowers at Eben’s memorial in Newburyport.
I will remember you to all, Eben, even when it’s hard. You will never be forgotten. And from Eben, and from me, love to everyone.