During my career in newspapers, I often sent copy back to reporters suggesting improvements. With feature stories, the direction sometimes was to make it more personal. Why should the reader care?
I’ve had that same experience recently as a writer. I had long ago finished the preface to my book The Courtship of Two Doctors, based on my parents’ courtship letters. Book adviser Ellen Reid suggested I work on it again. Make it more personal. I struggled in my mind with how to do that. That night I couldn’t sleep, got up and wrote out a new beginning. I still liked it by the light of day, so sent it to Ellen. She loved it. Said it made her cry. It made me cry too.
Here’s how it starts …
“It is odd the things one remembers.
“Mother’s hands were always delicate. Fine-boned and feminine, the fingernails free of polish. I cannot recall any adornment other than white-gold bands and the modest solitaire Dad bought with the first-prize money for his senior thesis.
“My father’s hands were long and strong, sinewy, the skin thicker and coarser than Mother’s. As a child seated on his lap, with his arms wrapped around me, I would trace the dark hair along his wrists that disappeared under rolled-up shirtsleeves.
“I grew accustomed to placing my hand in theirs in trust, or feeling their cool hands on my fevered brow.
“Later I was touched with the sight of their hands entwined. How courtly it seemed when music would play, their eyes would meet, he’d reach out his hand, and they’d glide together into each other’s arms.
“Today when I think of those hands, they belong to thoughtful young adults wielding fountain pens and filling sheets of stationery. Seated at a desk in student quarters or a series of hospital wards, physicians in training Alice Baker of New Orleans and Joe Holoubek of Omaha opened up their hearts and shared their passion for the healing profession.