This little story came about while working with one of my clients, so after this opening paragraph, I’m writing in the context of my conversation with him about his project. And this piece, slightly modified, we’ll likely go into the front part of his book:
Once his book’s content (the narrative) was about 95% where Jack wanted it, he and I talked about moving beyond the working title. We knew—and had received independent feedback (from our wives and their friends)—that the original working title wasn’t appealing. I gave Jack my Naval Gunfire Support mission analogy. [NGFS deals with ships shore bombardment to support amphibious landing operations, counter-battery fire, etc.] It’s one that proves true with each and every book or story I’ve worked on. I told him:
“Jack, with working titles and cover designs… it’s like gunfire support where it’s not unusual to fire long… shoot short… then adjust to get on target and fire for effect.” He and I are surface warfare Navy veterans, so he got what I meant. And so it was. We knew we needed to get on target with the right title. We continued talking about the book, and that led to a stream of conscious bit from me on how I perceived the book’s content and scope. That line of discussion became a train of thought—for me—that triggered a memory. It went like this:
“When I was a young boy, I would occasionally spend a weekend with my great-grandmother. Now, I grew up relatively poor and my great-grandmother had lived a hard-scrabble life. She had raised her kids and helped raise her grandchildren through the breadth and depth of the Depression era and still to that day (this was in 1971) had little in the way of luxuries or even comforts that we today take for granted. She had never—to my knowledge—owned a TV but did have an old radio. In the evenings she would sit, chew tobacco, rock in her chair with the radio dialed in on a country and western station at low volume, and read. Two things only (every night): The Old Testament and the Montgomery Ward catalog.
“The Bible was big and heavy, black leather scuffed and scarred… it looked as old as she was (about 80 at that time). I’d watch her from the old couch that smelled of dog—even though she didn’t own one—as I read my own book. After about an hour, she’d glance at the side table at the catalog. After the third or so glance, she’d shut the Bible setting it on her lap (it would go with her when she grew too tired to read; the Bible was always kept on the small table next to her bed). And she’d pick up the catalog.
“Now, my Big Granny (we called her that though she was a tiny lady, just barely 5 feet tall and maybe 110 pounds at the most) never—ever—smiled. It’s not that she was mean; it was just that she had lived a harsh life that had rubbed away any softness. She might not have laughed or smiled around me (or anyone that I ever saw), but I could always count on her cooking my favorite foods (skillet-fried chicken and fresh biscuits with gravy, peach cobbler, and other good stuff). She had a cast-iron skillet as big as a 1950s Cadillac hubcap that felt like it weighed 30 pounds; she’d handle it like it was nothing and could cook a complete meal in just it. That’s how she showed love.
“Anyway, the first few times seeing her with the catalog, I noticed that after turning—slowly—several of the pages, that her face had lost its tension and the edges of her lips curved slightly up. The barest hint of a smile was on her face. Sometimes she’d stop rocking and lean forward to hold an open page under the table light. She’d squint at it, and sometimes the smile would grow, then with the briefest of a head shake she’d lean back and turn the page.
“I finally asked her, ‘Big Granny, what are you reading?’
“‘Not reading… just looking,’ her lips had straightened out. Big Granny wasn’t much of a talker, you had to go after—chase down—any conversation you hoped to have with her.
“‘Looking at what?”’ I wanted to know what it could be that would make her face soften.
“She stopped rocking, ‘Come here, boy.’
“‘Yes’m,’ I hopped off the couch and in three steps stood beside her.
“I thought of the story of Aladdin and the lamp (I’d read One Thousand and One Nights earlier that summer). ‘What’s a wish book?’
“She looked up at me, and for a moment I thought she might give me that little bit of a smile. ‘It’s got all the things I wish I could have, but never did… likely never will.’”
Now, that’s a memory I had all but forgotten. As Jack and I talked about his book—its theme and what he wanted to convey in it—I thought about Big Granny and her wish book. As my stream about it ran out and tapered off, Jack stopped me. “Back up. What did you call it? Wish book?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “It was her wish book.”
“That’s it!” Jack said. “That could be a great title for the book!”
I mulled that over for a moment and agreed with him. As Jack and I chatted, a wish of my own had come to me: She’s long ago passed on, but I wished that back then I’d been able to give my Big Granny some of the things she wanted. I also realized that she’d lived alone for a very long time. That made me think about how blessed I am to not want for things and how important it is to have someone by your side in life. Someone to share the ups and downs, the good and the bad. Someone to hold that wants you to, and that embraces you in return. Someone to have fun with. Someone to grow old with.
I came back to real-time in our conversation and to what Jack and I were still talking about and had another realization. He has created the perfect wish book for women (and frankly, I think for me too). In an entertaining—and often quirky, humorous way—it shows men how to get things right with the women in their lives; things I’ve intuitively done (do). And speaking as a man who has been married for 34 years (as of this writing), there is nothing more valuable to me than my wife and what we’ve accomplished together. To all you men out there who wish for the same accomplishment, his book can guide you how to achieve it.