The story starts like most stories about discovering a favorite storyteller. I'd never heard of her.
It was the 1970s, and as a new member of an intimidatingly large (to me) church in a new town, I was doing what new church people do when
they want to make friends. Volunteering for everything.
On this particular occasion, I was in the church kitchen helping with a chili supper, and expressing amazement at the unlikely (to me) pairing of chili and cinnamon rolls. Whoever heard of such a thing? I'm from Southern Illinois, where cornbread is what goes with chili. Well, the cinnamon roll thing was the first in a very long line of lessons about what it means to be a Nebraskan. Ha.
As the women in the kitchen chatted, I mentioned that I love to read. A little white-haired lady looked over and said, "Well, then. You should read my neighbor's books."
"What's your neighbor's name?"
"Bess Streeter Aldrich."
Ahem. You can imagine what I thought. A prophet is never thought much of in his own country, and a neighbor isn't exactly the writer we all long to meet ... right?
I began with A Lantern in Her Hand and went on to all the others I could find. I smiled and laughed and wept and loved them all, mostly because Mrs. Aldrich had a way of infusing her stories with hope and faith, and that spoke to me.
In the 1990s, when my husband was diagnosed with a terminal form of non-Hodgkins' lymphoma, I was encouraged by Mrs. Aldrich's personal story. It included losing her husband (heart attack) and raising her children on her writing income.
It was the next century before I finally visited the Aldrich home in Elmwood, Nebraska, saw the desk where she wrote, the wicker furniture in the entryway (made at the wicker furniture factory at the Nebraska State Penitentiary back in the day). Ate cookies in her kitchen. Walked the stairs she trod.
The story goes that Mrs. Aldrich was walking toward the main street of town one day when a strange car pulled over and asked if the pedestrian happened to know where "that writer" lived. Mrs. Aldrich said something to the effect of "that writer is no one special."
I disagree. Hope resonates in her books. And doesn't the world need more of that
Here's a fun place to find Aldrich titles: www.abebooks.com
And if you're ever in Nebraska ... http://www.bessstreeteraldrich.org/house_tour.html