“What a rare find,” Ashley gushed reverently, carefully running her finger tips over the aged orange spine. “Aunt Elsie gave me this for my sixteenth birthday. I can’t believe it’s still so well kept after twenty years!”
Riding on a cloud of elation, the book lover floated out of her family lawyer’s office and into her car. Gently placing the carefully packaged book into her purse and the other bits of inheritance into the backseat, Ashley went on with the rest of her ‘day off’ chores for the afternoon. It was only later, after grocery shopping, picking up kid, supper, showers, and short-sheets that she was again able to take out her inheritance.
“What did Mr. Jackson want today honey?” Her husband, Sam, asked as he turned back the sheets and set the fan in their nightly ritual.
“My great-aunt Elsie’s will was found,” she shrugged and hid a grin as she pulled the bags from her purse. “She left us a few things.”
From the first bag Sam removed a few trinkets, an old family portrait, and a check written out to them that would mean never having to pinch pennies again.
“Your aunt was a saint,” Sam whispered in awe before running around to pick up his wife and twirl her through the room. “We don’t have to worry about money anymore baby! We can finally take the kids to Florida and the glass bottom boat rides!” He stopped his laughing and dance and peered into Ashely’s face. “Why aren’t you smiling honey?? Ash, what’s wrong?”
Ashley was staring down at a letter, written in a shaky hand, which had fallen from between the pages of her 1st ed. Tom Sawyer.
My darling niece, (she read)
I hope this finds you happy and whole. I will miss reading your letters but will always be watching over you, my sweet.
Remember, if you do no feed yourself, your family will starve too.
“Sam, she included my last letter with notes on the story I sent to her,” Ashley seemed completely bewildered. “Why would she do that?”
“I don’t know dear,” he yawned and gently took the letter from her, setting it with the book on her bedside table before snapping out the light. “We’ll figure it out.”
For weeks she pondered her aunt’s meaning. What could a high-school birthday present and her silly little story have in common? She only ever wrote anymore. In fact, she hadn’t had much chance to do more than jot an idea down since her Aunt Elsie had passed away over a year ago.
Almost two months after placing the worn 16th birthday present beside her bed, Ashely once more picked up Tom Sawyer and began to flip aimlessly through the pages. Suddenly, she sat bolt upright and rushed into the kitchen, where Sam and the kids were discussing dinner options.
“I had forgotten about this, listen.” she lovingly traced the antique words as she read them aloud, “Never give up on your dreams just because life interferes. Feed your talents and they will bloom.”
“Wow mom,” fifteen year old Jen smirked, “Aunt Elsie sounds like you!”
“Where do you think I got it from?” Ashley smiled, “I had just found out that I couldn’t get in to this big, hoity-toity retreat camp for young writers – I wanted to be the Mark Twain – and had decided that I must not be good enough so I was going to stop writing all together. I was completely crushed. Great-Aunt Elsie convinced me to never, ever quit on your dreams.”
“But mom,” twelve year old Daniel pointed out, “You don’t really write now. Do you? I mean, I never see you writing unless it’s the shopping list or notes to school.”
“No, not since Aunt Elsie died last year,” she admitted, “She’s the only one I ever allowed to read my work anymore. But that’s going to change right now! I have a blank notebook upstairs just waiting for me to fill it up. Once I get used to writing again, I can enter contests and send work off to agents and magazines.”
And slowly, she did fill up that notebook. Then another was filled, and a third, and then she began to lose track. The owner of the small business she worked for stumbled across one of the stories and began having Ashley write the ads and press releases for them. Then came a few magazine and journal acceptances, a blog, an agent, and a new car.
Five years, twelve notebooks, eighty-three colored pens, and an untold number of napkin scraps later, Ashley, Sam, Jen, and Dan posed for the dust-jacket photograph of her first book, with an old family portrait and a beloved book, on the deck of a steamboat. The book was dedicated to Aunt Elsie and entitled The Inscription.