Two weeks ago, I celebrated opening day at Kimball Farm with two women I am consistently delighted to have in my writing village. When I found out that Andra Watkins was going to be doing some book events in central MA, I more or less badgered her into meeting up with me, despite a punishing schedule, because the best ice cream I have ever eaten was going to be available for the first time this season on that very day in the very town where she was presenting!
Opportunity knocks, friends, but you have to let it in. Especially if Opportunity is carrying a cup of Kahlua Chunk ice cream that could feed a platoon.
Lisa Kramer (who is that friend who will show up for your stuff) joined us on that brilliant Thursday to stand in line and laugh for an hour, and then scarf down delicious frozen dairy perfection, and I left feeling buoyed. Because friends. Fellow authors. Ice cream.
And a freshly signed copy of Andra’s memoir, Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace.
I had – until last night – three favorite memoirs. Stephen King’s On Writing, Sophie Morgan’s Diary of a Submissive, and Kristin Kimball’s The Dirty Life. Words, sex, and farming. What did they have in common that spoke to me? A love story. And yes, I consider On Writing to be a love story.
Seems now I have a fourth.
Not Without My Father is a love story, too. A child’s love story. What begins as a publicity stunt for a talented and ambitious novelist becomes a love song to making the moments of your life count with the people most important to you.
Andra is a storytelling daughter of a story teller, and she gives space on her pages for both her own and her father’s voices. We accompany her on her journey from Natchez to Nashville, along 442 miles of physical misery, hilarity, fear, and transcendent joy. Framed around the music that kept her company on the road, Andra’s chapters unfold like the pages of a map, and like the unfolding reveal of the trail ahead, Andra’s vision lengthens from simply meeting her mile goal to living a life less ordinary with her aging parents.
This is not to say that Not Without My Father is a tender, gentle tale of a family’s journey. Andra presents herself to her readers as she is, shredded feet and exhaustion included. It’s grim, funny, sometimes awkward, and not shy about bodily fluids. It’s also incredibly sweet.
By the end of the story, she not only discovers more of who she is, she sees more of who her father is, who her parents are, and who they are together. She has made memories with them that will keep them with her long after they’re gone, and she urges us – her readers – to do the same.
It wasn’t until I sat down to explain why I loved this book, that I realized I’d made a memory just by insisting that Andra bring me a copy to buy and get some seriously good ice cream on a sunny spring day. Sometimes, it takes a five week journey to make the memories, but sometimes it’s just being in a lovely moment with friends, and I thank her for reminding me of that.
**I bought my copy of Not Without My Father: One Woman’s 444-Mile Walk of the Natchez Trace with my own money, directly from the author. All opinions are entirely my own.