Putting the "Thanks" in Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The following is an essay I wrote for Metrosource Magazine, and it got such an amazing reaction, I wanted to share it with you. No matter where you are for Thanksgiving, or who you are with (or without), I wish you much love, happiness and -- of course -- marshmallow-covered sweet potatoes! 

The cutout of my hand was waving back at me, and I couldn't contain my tears.

It was the first Thanksgiving after my mother's death, and I had reluctantly gone to the basement to look through the orange storage containers that held our family's fall holiday dishes, mementos and decorations.
I had come as a test: Yes, or no to celebrating Thanksgiving this year.
There, on top, sat the childish art project my mother had helped me make decades earlier. I remembered her tracing my little hand onto a sheet of construction paper, before we cut it out and colored it to create a Thanksgiving turkey.
"Wade," my mother's looping handwriting stated on the turkey's belly.
The beautiful thing about my childish art project was that my mother had let me fashion pearls around the turkey's neck. I had also given the gobbler heels. It was more Carol Channing than Tom Turkey.
And it perfectly summed up my relationship with my mother. We celebrated each other's quirks and uniqueness without judgment.
I couldn't stop crying in the basement. I had failed my test.
"No Thanksgiving," I said to Gary, when he greeted me at the top of the stairs. "I can't do it."
He held me.
I just couldn't bear celebrating Thanksgiving without my mother. It was the first major holiday since her death, which still felt so raw.

My mother adored Thanksgiving.
She happily rose at dawn to start cooking. She loved to drink coffee and watch the Macy's Day Parade after fixing a big country breakfast.
She relished her Riesling.
And yet – like the turkey she helped me make as a kid – my mother was a juxtaposition of the traditional and non-traditional.
Yes, we did a green bean casserole with Durkee's French onions. Yes, we had stuffing. Yes, the sweet potatoes were topped with marshmallows.
But, my mom loved experimenting with one new dish each year: Fresh cranberries with dates, walnuts and orange. Or, a caramel-apple tart instead of a pumpkin pie.
Celebrating Thanksgiving without my mom would be like celebrating without the turkey. The thing I looked most forward to, the person for whom I was most thankful, was gone. I couldn't imagine simply enduring this holiday. It would never be the same.
As the weeks passed and Thanksgiving neared, Gary said to me one morning, before I'd had the chance to fully caffeinate, "We're hosting Thanksgiving, and all of your family is coming."
I spat my latte.
"No!" I insisted.
"Yes!" he persisted. "Your mother would want you to celebrate."
"I hate platitudes!" I yelled.
"It's the truth."
I Zombie-walked through the early morning prep for Thanksgiving and greeted my family in similar fashion.
When it came time to set the table mid-morning, I headed to the basement to retrieve the décor and my turkey cutout was still waving at me.
I lost it yet again.
"Think of how much your mother loved this holiday," Gary whispered to me, out of earshot of the family. "Why are you trying so hard to forget about her? Why don't you treat her like she's still here? Because she is. And she always will be."
His words resonated, changed me, almost instantly.
So, I went upstairs and sat a place at the table for my mom.
I put out my hand turkey as a centerpiece.
I ran to the store, where I picked up the ingredients to make fresh cranberries with dates, walnuts and orange, as well as a parsnips recipe she'd wanted to make for years but that the family had pooh-pooh'ed.
I watched the Macy's Parade.
I drank too much coffee and then too much wine.
I cried like a baby, and I laughed like a mad man.
Mostly, my family and I celebrated my mother, and when I gave thanks, I thanked my mom for being such a wonderful, loving, beautiful, quirky presence in my life.
And then I cleaned the dishes and put up the decorations, the little turkey cutout of my hand waving goodbye as I placed it on the top of the storage bin.
"Never goodbye," I said, returning its wave. "Until next year."

Libraries Change Lives

Thursday, October 23, 2014

"As a child, my number one best friend was the librarian in my grade school. I actually believed all those books belonged to her."-Erma Bomeck

I was honored to be the kickoff keynote speaker for the Michigan Library Association's 2014 annual conference in October. The event was held in Grand Rapids at the Amway Grand, and the entire experience matched the hotel's name and beauty: It was a grand day.

I received such an overwhelmingly positive response to my keynote, on which I talked about my enduring love for libraries and my gratitude for their influence on my life, that I was asked to share some of my thoughts. A few excerpts follow.

My suggestion? Visit your local library. Our libraries are not only worlds of information and enchantment for children and adults, they remain the centers of our communities.


This morning is particularly special to me because one of my earliest and fondest memories is going to the library, hand in hand with my grandmother, who used to volunteer there. Walking inside our local library, to me, was akin to entering heaven. It smelled like another world, a magical world, a world filled with secrets that I needed to know.

My grandmother was a voracious reader, and she and my mother helped make me one as well. My grandmother's two favorite books were The Bible and Walden, and she jokingly said that in the Ozarks, where I grew up, it was heresy to read much else than the Bible or to put any book on a similar level. But she felt reading wasn't just great entertainment but a key to understanding the world and those who were different than she was.

I spent hours in that library, reading, talking to the librarians about their favorite books. It was there that I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys (Nancy Drew, of course, came first for me!). I read Where the Red Fern Grows and Call of the Wild. I read newspapers. I read magazines. I even read Erma Bombeck.

My grandmother's refrain was always: " How many books do you think you can read this week?"

Every summer was spent with my grandma and grampa at their log cabin on Sugar Creek. We had nothing but each other and books: No microwave, no TV, no phone. When my grandma would head up for groceries, she would also return with a truckload of books. She would read to me as we rocked on a glider that sat on a bluff overlooking the water, I would read in tree swings and on innertubes as I floated in circles. I would read on our rocky beach and by candlelight before I went to bed.

I read, and I read, and I read. And that's when I started to write.

I often felt as if I didn't fit in, and the local library served as my refuge. I was encouraged not only to read, but to be smart, to think critically, to think beyond the small world in which I lived. More than anything, I was encouraged to dream, and let me tell you this, once that seed is planted, it immediately takes root in a child's soul. There is nothing bigger, or more special, than a dream.

Even in college and graduate school, libraries remained the center of my – and my friends' – world. That is where we studied, we researched, we gathered, we read.

And despite the stunning sea change in our library system today – as well as in publishing, believe me, I understand – that core has remain unchanged. Reading changes lives. Books change lives. Libraries change lives. And they remain the centers of our communities and our lives. I'm here to restate the obvious: What you do changes lives.

It changed mine.

And it continues to do so:  I have traveled the US speaking at libraries – from Michigan, to Chicago, to California and the Carolinas – and I have been stunned at their enduring power. I have spoken to children in grade school and to women in their 90s. You have made me feel – more than anywhere else save for our nation's independent booksellers – that what I do is vitally important. And if you don't think that fuels a writer's soul – you are very mistaken.

So, I simply want to say, upfront, what I'm sure too few people say to you on any given day: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Autumn Bookmarks: Falling in Love with My Past & Present

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I found a leaf, by chance, pressed between the pages of an old encyclopedia I had sitting on the bookshelves in my writing studio.

I hadn’t picked up that encyclopedia in decades but happened to pluck it off my writing studio bookshelves, also by chance, as I felt suddenly compelled to reconnect to pages, to my past, rather than pull up an online “dictionary” via my MacBook software.

The leaf I happened upon – stuffed amongst the “M’s”, I assumed, because it was smack-dab in the middle of the dictionary where the weight was equally distributed – took me back to another place and time.

I immediately remembered the warm October afternoon my mom and I had found this gigantic oak leaf as we walked a trail in our sun-dappled Ozarks woods. I had picked up that leaf for an autumnal science project and then, after my assignment was over, had used it as a bookmark in my encyclopedia, a book I used to read obsessively, as I was fascinated as a kid by words, their origins, their definitions, their synonyms.

Book and leaf had remained united for decades.

The day I found that leaf, I reconnected to my past and was reminded that the fallen pieces of our history shouldn’t always be forgotten or tossed away and replaced by the newest and latest.
That leaf and that encyclopedia were important pieces of my past: My mother, my Ozarks childhood, my love of words made me who I am today. They were my seeds of growth, just like the acorns I used to stumble across in our woods turned into giant oaks.

There is a beautiful symmetry in life, I’ve come to realize, an ability to grow up, move on, change, become a new person, without forgetting who you were. The trick is not to run away from our past but to allow ourselves to remember.

That rediscovered leaf – brittle, flattened, crumbling – allowed me to reconnect with my history.
The Octobers since Gary and I have moved to the Beach Coast – this is now our eighth – have become stoked in new traditions based in the past.

We gather acorns from our woods, which Gary stacks in McCoy pots and places around our cottage, “Turkey Run.” We stand under our towering sugar maples (now my favorite tree), wait for a strong wind to come and let the dazzling rainbow of leaves rain down over our bodies and gather at our feet.  We then pick through them and gather our favorites – Gary loves the brilliant red while I adore the yellow-orange – which we use to decorate tables and fireplace mantels.

And, yes, we now press a few of those breathtakingly colorful maple leaves into a random assortment of books that stack our cottage – those bookshelves in my office, the canoe-shaped corner cabinets, the pine shelves that line Turkey Run – knowing that one day, in the future, we – or someone else – will happen to pop open a novel or even one of my memoirs, and there will be a fallen piece of our past waiting to open a piece of our future.

My old encyclopedia remains on my writing desk and holds two bookmarks: A leaf from my past and one from my present.

Friday, September 12, 2014

I'm hosting an "after hours" party! Wanna come? Seriously excited to be the keynote speaker at the Michigan Notable Book's "Homecoming for Celebrated Authors" event on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Grand Rapids Public Library (main library) honoring nine of this year's Michigan Notable books and authors. Drinks, food, fun, book signing ALL FOR FREE. Registration is limited and required. VIP reception @ 6:30; ends at 8:30. Come have wine and words with Wade, but, most importantly, come celebrate and get your hands on some of the state's most noteworthy books for 2014!

September 20th Writing Workshop

Thursday, September 11, 2014

2 spaces left for the Saturday, Sept 20th writing workshop.

 Click here for more information!

Sentimental September

Monday, September 8, 2014

            Even though it's been over three decades since I last lived at home and headed off to school, I swear I can still hear my father singing at the top of his lungs the moment September arrives:

Hey look me over, lend me an ear
Fresh out of clover, mortgaged up to here
Don't pass the plate folks, don't pass the cup
I figure whenever you're down and out, the only way is up

            My dad was an early morning man, thanks mostly to the military. He never needed an alarm clock. As soon as the sky brightened, the first bird chirped, he was up to greet them.

            I never needed an alarm clock either. My father's booming, off-key voice was enough to wake the dead. So was his banging of pots and pans, jangling of keys, and making of coffee.
            For years, he was my wake-up call, and that call began with the start of school in September.
             No matter how old any of us are, whether we have kids, whether they're still in school or long gone, September is filled with nostalgia.
Though still warm, it marks the official end of summer. I can see it in the trees, some of whose leaves have turned more yellow, some of whose branches are tinged in color.
There is a return to routine, a societal flow as constant as the ever-cooling waves along the beach.
September is a sad farewell to summer and excited hello to fall: We can all recall the start of school, the ringing of the bell, the smell of the lunchroom and new books, recess, friends, old and new.
            Much of September's nostalgia still applies today, even as I near 50.
As August's days end, I find myself saying goodbye to good friends I have spent time with over the summer months in our resort town, as they head back to their city lives and urban routines. Labor Day feels like an adult version of the last week of school.
            Though I am sad to say goodbye to my friends – just as I was in school – there is an excitement about what lies ahead, too. September means a return to routine for me as well: Days spent waking early and writing with the windows open, evenings spent relishing the last warm days.
            September's nostalgia makes it one of my favorite months. It is a middle ground for me, not only on my annual calendar but also on my calendar of life.
It is not quite summer, not quite fall, but a beautiful transition.
            I am smack-dab in the middle of my own middle ground in life – not young, not old – and while I have great sentimentality for my past, it is tempered by my excitement for the future. Perhaps that is why September resonates so deeply in my soul: It still feels so young, but you realize, you know that it is aging, its days now more numbered rather than unending.
            Sadly, my Septembers have become even more nostalgic, as my father is now battling dementia. He is weak but still doing well, but his memory – especially of my current life and of current events – is sketchy at best, and my heart breaks for him when he cannot recall things I've just told him.
But every September, I still ask him to sing his wake-up song – like he used to so long ago – and, amazingly, he can typically recall many of the lyrics.
And so will I, no matter how many Septembers lie ahead.

Happy 4th! What You Need to Cherish (and Read) This Summer!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

As I near 50, I’ve come to appreciate that some of the most memorable moments from my childhood were not only the simplest but also quintessentially summer: Bobbing down ice-cold streams in innertubes with my mom; fishing a quiet, deep hole with my grampa; marching in 4th of July parades, my giant trombone blaring “You’re A Grand Old Flag”; Jack Buck calling a Cardinals game over the radio; roasting marshmallows over roaring bonfires; watching fireworks boom in a night sky; reading a great book (or cheesy paperback); and making homemade ice cream, drooling while staring at that slowly rotating churn, praying for time to fly.

Well, those final prayers were granted: Time did fly, and life changed. And, sadly, so does summertime as you become an adult. We work during most of those precious weeks of glimmering sunshine. We shuttle children to the activities in which we once participated. We slide summer in when we can, like a much needed nap.

I used to take two weeks of vacation every summer and cram in as much fun as I could. I would hit city waterparks and pools, pack picnics and fight traffic to watch mammoth urban 4th of July fireworks spectaculars. I would take weeklong beach vacations, saving the other week for travel during the holidays.

         But there always seemed to be something missing: That Norman Rockwell nostalgia – that feeling summer would last forever – which existed in my youth I believed that could never be rediscovered.

         And then I moved to the coast of Michigan. I knew the move meant I would rediscover a slower pace away from the constant buzz of city life, but I was surprised to rediscover that slice of Americana pie, that simple beauty and nostalgic wonder that makes summer special.
In my little resort towns of Saugatuck-Douglas, I rediscovered small-town parades, complete with marching bands and hard candy thrown by kids; art festivals; lazy beach days floating in the water that led to lazy nights roasting hot dogs and marshmallows; reading a great novel (or cheesy paperback) in a hammock strung between two pine trees; farmer’s markets and fruit stands; musicians playing from a white gazebo in a park by the water.

         Through this rediscovery, I rediscovered me.

         Yes, I still work most summer days. In fact, now that I work for myself as a fulltime author, I seem to work harder, longer days than I ever did before, without giving myself a break. And I often travel too much away from the place that I love.

         But I now find myself on summer days not sitting in an office tower, or board meeting – praying for time to fly so I could reach those precious two weeks – but writing in my office overlooking a forest of ferns and pines, or hauling my laptop to the screen porch, the roar of the lake in the distance. I savor my summer, even while working. My lunch hour is a long run along the lakeshore with a short swim in the lake, a jaunt to the local farmer’s market, or an extended break to hit the beach. Though busy, I no longer have to cram in summer hungrily, like a melting twist cone.

         In addition to rediscovering the nostalgia of summer, I have also rediscovered what I now consider to be the most precious summer gift of all: Perspective. I have the ability to understand that – although I’ve grown older, much older, much too quickly – that the most memorable moments of life – the ones that equal any book deal, TV appearance or large lecture – are the simplest. Yes, the grand moments provide a gilded frame to life, but it is the small details that make the portrait so beautiful.

Which is why, as I sit on my screen porch reading a book and listening to the sounds of summer – the moaning frogs, the whippoorwills, the crickets, the baseball game, and, of course, my old ice cream maker – I no longer pray for time to go faster, I no longer rush the magic of summer.

I sigh, I smile and I simply wait for the ice cream maker to slow.


What Wade's Reading This Summer (while waiting for my ice cream)!

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Yes, I know I'm late to the game here, but it is a stunning read – thrilling and so beautifully written at the same time. The novel is not only haunting me at the current moment but also making me jealous of Gillian's gifts.

Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer
The perfect summer beach read from the "Queen of Beach Books." The novel is about two childhood friends who drift apart but find they are forever bound by the beach and to each other. Nancy writes lyrically of her home.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
I re-read a classic every summer, and this is my all-time favorite. Holden's voice and take on the world, adults, fitting in, wealth, love and death are brilliant. Moreover, Salinger's messages about pressure and expectations still feel so spot-on and important today.