Always Take the Adventure

| by Donna Cronk |

In the late 1980s, I was a new mom and editor of a small twice-weekly Indiana newspaper. While flipping through Editor & Publisher, my eyes landed on an offer for a free copy of an essay collection by syndicated columnist Joyce Maynard. Her photo was with the ad. She had pigtails, huge eyes, an impish grin, and she was in her 30s. I didn’t know what she wrote but there was something utterly charming about her face. I requested the book.

Joyce wrote about giving up a job at The New York Times to live on a gravel road in New Hampshire, raise three kids and can tomatoes. These observations went into newspapers all over the country. I inhaled her “best-of” collection. Through her bright, cheerful and sometimes sad pieces, I was inspired to shine up my own weekly column.

I tracked down her other books, Baby Love, and a children’s book. I wrote her fan mail – and she responded. Those were the pre-internet and email days. I subscribed to a fan newsletter and even contributed an article or two.

She seemed a modern-day Erma Bombeck, teamed with a little bit hippie and a little bit east coast intellectual. Then came To Die For and a movie version.  Joyce was on my radar.

In 1996, Joyce wrote in her newsletter that she was moving to California. She said if anyone happened to be in Keene, New Hampshire, on a certain June weekend, stop by her massive garage sale.

At the time I was the mother of two little kids. I hadn’t been on an airplane since eighth-grade. But for some reason that I still can’t explain, I knew that I had to attend that garage sale, meet Joyce, and pick up a teapot or cookie jar. And for some reason that I also still can’t explain, my husband said I should go … but take a girlfriend.

I wrote Joyce a letter, explaining that I was hoping to attend and asking if she knew of any bed-and-breakfasts in the area. The letter no more than arrived at her home when the phone rang. It was Joyce! She asked why I didn’t just stay with her and help out with the garage sale. And yes, I could bring a friend.

I was in shock. This was really going to happen. I couldn’t have been more excited if Martha Stewart had invited me to her kitchen for a private cooking class. Really, I don’t know of anyone at that moment in time whom I would have been more excited to meet.

My friend Gay agreed to go with me. She did a crash course on Joyce, reading everything she could find, and her husband, by the way, didn’t bat an eye at this zany idea of her friend’s. We had our husbands’ blessings.

We flew to New Hampshire, rented a car, drove to Joyce’s doorstep and there she was on her front porch: sporting those pigtails and a red pair of Chuck Taylor’s. She was setting out the merchandise for the weekend’s sale. After introductions, we were encouraged to grab a marker and start pricing things! So we did. Gay found a $50 bill in a book and gave it to Joyce.

Joyce used the money to treat us all to pizza and we walked downtown (she, barefoot) for a late-night dinner. Joyce asked us what we would be if we could be anything. Gay gave an eloquent answer about being a first lady’s social secretary. Me? In that moment I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather be than myself sitting right there.

The next day we took our stations throughout the house where we answered customers’ questions. I had Joyce’s bedroom and in the closet for sale were things like Joyce’s wedding dress and ice skates. Somewhere near was a Kirby sweeper. All of these things were real-life artifacts taken from the pages of columns she had written about her life.

The police were outside directing traffic. I think half of New England had arrived at Joyce’s door. We, somehow, were insiders.

We went with Joyce to a party that night at someone’s home. The next day we gathered our keepsakes (like the tomato salt and pepper shakers, cookie jar and chicken knickknack I picked up) and left for a quick trip to Maine before we flew home the next day, giddy over our experiences.

I’m not sure I even slept while staying at Joyce’s. I couldn’t get over being there. But the lessons that resonate with me from that experience are these:

  1. Life is full of the unexpected and interesting. Like spending a weekend helping a nationally famous person put on a garage sale.
  2. I can do things no one, least of all myself, would expect. I didn’t know I was even capable of navigating an airport, rental car and drive to Joyce’s house but we did it (in the days before GPS).
  3. My husband has a lot of faith in and respect for me that he would whole-heartedly encourage me to do this wacky thing because he sensed, somehow, it meant a lot to me.
  4. My girlfriend went along with all of this because it meant a lot to me and I probably would not have gone alone. Her husband has a lot of faith in and respect for her – and me – or he wouldn’t have whole-heartedly supported us in this crazy thing.
  5. If I can do this, I can do other things I think are hard or impossible. I think this adventure improved my writing; somehow sparked it. Because of this, I immediately left a church I was floundering in and moved on to another one. It simply gave me courage to be a better me.
  6. And just because something seemingly impossible and certainly improbable happens once, doesn’t mean it can’t again.

Two years ago Joyce posted on Facebook that she was getting married after 20-some years single. When I private messaged her to congratulate her, she messaged back that Gay and I were invited to the wedding.

My husband said we had to go. Gay said we had to go. We had to go.

It was New Hampshire II on a hilltop the Fourth of July weekend. We watched fireworks under us in the night sky as Joyce and her new husband danced in the tent beside us. We sat among TV stars. We chatted about Joyce’s most recent book-turned-movie, Labor Day.

And we were just as amazed as we were in 1996.

Joyce once told me to “always take the adventure.” It’s how she lives her life.

It’s how I am trying to live mine.

    Donna Cronk is an Indiana newspaper writer and editor and she lives in Pendleton. She is author of the novel, “Sweetland of Liberty Bed & Breakfast,” and enjoys speaking to women’s groups and encouraging women to live their dreams. Reach her at newsgirl.1958@gmail.com

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