My mother was a reader. Her tastes, like those of her daughter, were eclectic. But if push came to shove, she could name a few favored authors: Jane Austen, Robertson Davies, Anthony Trollope, George Eliott, Dorothy L. Sayers. But then, with a smile that went straight from her heart to her entire face, she'd softly say "Georgette Heyer."
I was working at a summer camp, up in the hills of West Virginia in 1974, when I received a distressed call from my mother.
"Mamele*, I've got some terrible news. Brace yourself."
I immediately sat down, simultaneously clutching the phone and taking inventory of our mutual loved ones. No one was ill, unless you counted my Nana Nadel, who was tucked up in a nursing home, happy in her memories, which was all her Alzheimer's, then called senile dementia left her. That must be it.
"Oh Mama, I'm sorry. She lived a full and rich life though. How's Daddy?"
"Your father's fine. Why do you ask? Yes, her life was full-- 71 years. She would have been 72 next month"
I was confused. My grandmother was in her upper 90's. Something was definitely wrong her.
"Um, Mama? Wasn't she older?"
"No, Mamele, she just wrote about Regency England. She didn't live it!"
I was even more confused. It took a little while, but finally I realized my mother's urgent call was to relay the death of Georgette Heyer.
A well-worn set of Heyer's Regency novels occupied a place of honor on the bookshelves of our home as far back as I can remember. When I first tumbled onto Jane Austen's work, my mother quietly handed me one of Heyer's novels, and, almost reverently, whispered that I might enjoy this author. I tried reading the book (I forget which one) but it just didn't grab me. Over the years, I'd take various titles off the shelf, but none won my heart the way my mother's was captured. She even used to say that at the end of her days, when she'd lost her marbles, to set her in front of a window with a couple of Georgette Heyer books to read. When she finished one she could start the other. When that was done, she, she could start the first again, because she wouldn't remember the story and would enjoy it all over again. Indeed, in the end of her days, one of the last novels she read was a favorite Heyer.
What made me recall all this was that a Georgette Heyer mystery** fell into my hands via one of the local Little Free Libraries here in Charleston. I've been a bit nostalgic, and decided to give it a whirl. Know what? I liked it. It reminded me of some of my favorite 1950's era black and white mystery films, with enough wit to overcome the camp. Maybe it's time to pull Arabella off the shelf and give it another go. It would make my mother smile.
*little girl (affectionate) in Yiddish. A pet name of my mother's for me
** Footsteps in the Dark