From A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul

The Night I Wrote

My Pulitzer Prize Winner

I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.

Helen Keller

As a writer, I’ve felt that someday, somewhere my work would touch human hearts, bridge continents, unite generations. One night, it did.

I’m at McKelvey’s Tavern, sipping Amber Bock. The Blues Band is on a break. A small, white-haired man sits two barstools away.

“I’ve got ten kids,” he boasts. “And two grandbabies on the way. My youngest daughter is in the Army. I think the world of that girl. Last five years, she’s been in Germany.”

“Does she call you?”

“Sometimes. But with her schedule and the time difference, we don’t talk much anymore.” His lips tighten as he looks into his beer. “It costs a bundle to phone over there. She tells me, ‘Call collect, Dad.’ Nah, I can’t put that expense on her.”

“Write a letter,” I suggest.

“Can’t hold a pen,” he says. “I’ve had four strokes. My arm is paralyzed.” To show me, he lifts the lifeless limb with his good hand.

I grab my journal, open to a clean page, and lean forward, pen in hand. “What’s her name?”


I look into his bloodshot eyes and ask, “Shall I start with ‘Dear Suzie,’ ‘Hi Suzie,’ or ‘Suzie, how the heck are ya?’?”

“All of that.” He grins, exhales smoke.

“Dear Suzie,” I slowly repeat, then pen the words. “You talk, I’ll write.”

He presses the bit stub of his cigarette into the small tin ashtray, reaches for another Camel, lights up and inhales. “Tell her I’m down to one pack a day . . . and . . . I eat every day . . . at the Senior Center. The food is wonderful. Spaghetti, cake, ice cream. All you can eat.” He adds with a chuckle, “Just no beer.”

I listen and write nonstop.

“Tell her I think the world of her. Tell her Jen and Dave are getting married and Pat and Tim are getting divorced. Tell her Uncle Wilbur is still up on Doe Island, workin’ the pumpkin patch. That’s where all my kids grew up.”

As I listen, a kind of intimacy opens between the wizened-faced man and me.

“Tell her not to worry. I’ve got no complaints. I dance every night I can.” His eyes sparkle. “Tell her to remember Grandpa Jones. He died jogging—at 104. That gives me more than twenty years. Tell her . . . I think the world of her.” His voice quivers. He gulps his beer, wipes hismouth.

Two blank lines remain on the second side of the paper. I pick up his limp arm, place my pen in his rigid hand, and squeeze his fingers. “You sign it,” I urge.

To add leverage, he couches his left hand around his writing hand. I watch him etch each stroke. The scribble reads “Jove Da.” I know he means “Love, Dad.” The pen rolls out of his hand. His right arm flops to his side. With his left arm, he reaches a finger beneath his glasses, wipes a tear.

“Thanks,” he says in a half-whisper, then clears his throat.

“No big deal. I write in this journal every day.” I pat his shoulder and leave, saying, “When the Blues Band plays next Saturday, you bring Suzie’s address. I’ll bring a stamped envelope.”

On the way home, I wept. I knew I had just written my Pulitzer Prize winner.

Shinan Barclay

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