ALBANY, NY — I won an AWARD!!!The Denise McCoy Legacy Award for humorous children’s literature was given to Alvin Ho Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals and Other Fatal Circumstances. Woohoo!!! Yay!!! Hooray!!!
That’s the good news.
The bad news is that I’ve struggled for more than a month to tell you about it.
Worse, I’m still struggling.
How hard could it be to tell you about winning an award?
Not hard at all, I thought. It’s the first award I’d ever won in which I was invited to a special dinner, signed a sqillion books, sat on a stage while someone made a speech about my work, got a super-duper trophy plus a huge check!
It’s very author’s dream come true!
So why couldn’t I just come out with it?
Was I dazed? A deer caught in the flashbulbs?
Yes and no. To tell you the details of what happened would have been no problem. The problem is not the accounting of facts, but the rendering of something that cannot easily be explained, or fully known.
So let me start with the facts, the easy part.
Denise McCoy, who spelled her name with a little d, was a bookseller in Albany. She sold many books. She especially sold many children’s books. If you had a homework assignment and didn’t know which book to use, she could tell you exactly what you needed. Her favorite books were the funny ones which made you laugh. She herself liked to laugh and to make people laugh. She was little and fat. She could ride a horse, no problem. Once she slipped a little and rode a horse upside-down and laughed as though that were the normal way of riding a horse. Her friends are still laughing about it. That’s only one of many funny stories about denise. Her biggest talent was making friends. Very, very good friends.
Denise died in 2003. But her friends are still her friends, and they are friends with one another. Every year for the past nine years they’ve gotten together and continued denise’s work. They read a bunch of children’s books and they pick the funniest one and give it the Denise McCoy Legacy Award (formerly the Little d Award). They invite the author to dinner. They present the award at a ceremony. They arrange for the author to visit an inner city school. They give away hundreds of autographed copies of the winning book to young readers throughout the capitol city.
Denise’s oldest very, very good friend friend is Lynn Derry, from first grade. Lynn picked me up from my hotel and brought me to dinner at a very nice Italian restaurant. The room was filled with denise’s closest friends and relatives.
This is where it gets hard.
I don’t have a photo of Lynn, but here is a photo of her husband, George Chelius:George said he was “accidentally in the restaurant,” as he greeted the ladies around the table. When he got to me, he started to read from this letter that he wrote to the Boston Red Sox outfielder, Jim Rice.In it, he says that he is sending Rice a silver dollar that he always keeps in his pocket. He is continuing his father’s tradition of giving it to a stranger having a special occasion. He says that not only will the silver dollar bring him luck, but it will assure him induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame the following year.
And presto! Rice is inducted into the Hall of Fame the next year (2009), and sends autographed balls and a photo to George;With that, George reached into his pocket and presents me with a silver dollar!
I’m struck speechless.
Then he reaches into a bag and gives me something else —
His own treasured baseball — signed by Bill “Spaceman” Lee.
Just because he knew I’m a Red Sox fan (see Alvin books!).
Something inside me explodes, like a little cup unable to hold the sun.
How else do you describe the transformation that happens when you receive such unselfish kindness and generosity from a complete stranger? All I could think of was the scene in Victor’s Hugo’s Les Miserable where the monsignor gives Jean Valjean the silver candlesticks that he had intended to steal. It changes Valjean forever. I felt like that. Changed.
Here I am holding my newly bestowed treasures: Thank you, George!!! You didn’t stay for dinner, but your gesture was repeated over and over again that evening.
As I sat at the table with denise’s friends, the room filled with kind words. Memories. Funny stories. Laughter. Their long-treasured friendships surrounded me on all sides and pressed me in.
I marveled. I wondered.
Were it not for denise, none of us would have been there. Her friends would be going home from their jobs. George would have kept his silver dollar in his pocket and his baseball in a safe place.
And the next day I would not have gone to the Griffen School in downtown Albany, where Ms. Derry presented me with the award and I gave an author presentation. The young authors at the school would not have had a yummy pizza lunch while I held a writers’ workshop.I never would have met Shareem, who was filled with all sorts of wonderful ideas for his writing:And wonderful ideas for his pizza too!!!
I wouldn’t have signed a sqillion books for Shareem’s school: Or signed a sqillion more for the young readers and their families who came to the annual book giveaway at the offices of 15Love, started by the tennis great Arthur Ashe, which teaches life skills to youths through tennis and educational programs. Nor would I have this beautiful trophy: Do you see the word, “legacy” above? It means a gift from the past — in this case, a gift of friendship that continues to inspire, to be life-giving, and life-changing.
Thank you, denise.
And many thanks to her friends and family at the dinner who shared with me a side of life that is so hard to describe because it is both poetic and sacred: Lynn Derry, Gail Donovan, Joann Hoose, Eleanor McCoy, Katherine McCoy, Mary Williams, Allyson Shea and Amber Marino. It was a real honor to sit among you.
And a special thank you to Tom O’Brien, denise’s brother, who first notified me of their award.
And thank you again to George, whose lucky silver dollar I carry with me everywhere.
Past recipients of the Little d:
Bruce Hale Murder, My Tweet
Christopher Paul Curtis, Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money
Sara Pennypacker, Clementine
Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Lois Lowry, The Willoughbys
Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
Tom Angleberger, The Strange Case for Origami Yoda
Tommy Greenwald, Charlie Joe Jackson’s Guide to Not Reading