Heroes in the Library

It’s one of life’s ironies that you don’t realize how much someone’s impacted your life until they’re gone. More specifically, you realize that you never told that person how much they meant. It isn’t until they pass that you think, “Oh! I wish I had said something!” You think about how that person shaped who you are, in major or even subtle ways, and sometimes realize that you wouldn’t be you if it weren’t for that person’s influence, guidance, or mere presence in your life.

This happened to me several years ago when my high school field hockey coach died of cancer. I had never been the star player, but she was a loving and tough coach and had pushed me to excel, while being incredibly patient. When I heard of her passing, I was in college, president of a co-ed field hockey club team that regularly beat intercollegiate, professionally coached teams. We had a blast, it was a bright spot in the stress of classes, and I often used drills in practice that I had learned from that high school coach.

She had beaten cancer before and come back full strength, so hearing that she was gone was a shock. I thought, “Why didn’t I write her a letter – tell her what I was doing with my life and what an incredible outlet field hockey was for me?” A couple of years later, I coached my own little team with the Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation and thought of her again – how proud she would have been, and how much I loved it.

I recently learned that another hero of mine had left us: the author, Norma Fox Mazer. Once again, the first thing that leapt into my mind was, “I never wrote her a fan letter.” After researching her body of work, I realized that I hadn’t really read much, not even her most recent book, Missing Girl. A writer of realistic fiction, often dealing with teens who are grappling with tough life issues, the descriptions of her books appeal to me immensely. But it was the one book of hers that I did read, which shaped my life in a major way.

I, Trissy is the story of a girl whose parents are separating, whose little brother is a pain, and who lets out her frustrations on the typewriter her father gives her. The pages actually look typewritten, complete with typos and cross outs of the young girl. I related to this story because I had a little brother who bugged me to no end, and felt like my parents didn’t understand me either. But most of all, I admired Trissy’s prolific and heartfelt writing. I hauled my own father’s typewriter out of the box and began to type. I had already been keeping handwritten journals, but there was something aesthetically pleasing and certainly physically satisfying about banging away on the keys and hitting the carriage return.

It took me years to remember the book’s title (I would search the one phrase I remembered, “The Mad Typist strikes again,” over and over). Then I found a used copy on Amazon and immediately sent for it. It was as funny and poignant as I remembered, even though I couldn’t relate as well anymore. But I did recall how much I had felt it reflected my own young struggles. And I realized just how much she inspired me to write. Much like Harriet the Spy stirred me to write secrets in journals, Mazer inspired me to try different formats and write my heart out. Both books also taught me about the cathartic pleasure of writing in the first person. Since then, I have written poetry, short stories, long unfinished stories, boxes of letters, and years of journals and blog posts. Writing continues to be a creative outlet and joyful part of who I am. Ironically, I, Trissy was Mazer’s very first published book, so ostensibly she was bound to get better. But from my eyes, it was perfect. 

(The Central Rappahannock Regional Library does not currently own a copy of I, Trissy but you can check out many of her books through our catalog, at www.librarypoint.org, or by clicking here.)