I gave a reading yesterday at the Albany Institute of History and Art during the Thanksgiving Gift Fair Family Festival. Every floor was bustling. Local artisans of high-end arts and crafts ranging from silk kimonos to hand-painted Christmas ornaments to batiked tableware were selling their work. One of the big draws for children was a Lego competition and toys from the time period of my book. Here we go again. I guess I really am history.
I have very warm memories of the Institute, as it was always called. It was my first museum. I loved the mummies in the basement and the Dutch room with its shiny blue and white delft tiles and fireplace. When my kids were small, we went to the Festival of Trees to see the gingerbread villages—they were so impressive.
I never had any artistic talent (sadly desire, only desire). When my mother signed me up for Saturday art classes, I was sure some magical transformation would occur. But alas, I was only meant to paint word pictures. Damn, had I only known that then. Vindicated, I can now claim the artistic soul I knew was in there somewhere.
It’s not the same Institute of my childhood. It has been transformed to a state-of-the- art facility that can show art from world-class collections. The renovation has melded old and new, keeping the gorgeous Rice Room as the showpiece it is.
So here I was invited to read and sign books. Elizabeth Bechand, the museum gift shop manager, has expanded the gift shop to include a room with books lining the walls. Albany history in all forms – memoir, non-fiction, novels. I didn’t see Albany poetry. Hmmm. Maybe we can do something about that.
As I was setting up, a boy who had just begun to read chapter books came over to me with a notepad in the shape of an apple. His grandmother told me he loves to read and wanted to meet a real author.
Gavin and I chatted about the books he likes to read and I asked him if he liked to write stories. “Yes, I do!” (All of his answers were exclamation marks.) And what kinds of things do you write about? “My life!” Does it get any better than that? Maybe the Institute will be a special place for him as well.
Given where I was reading, I chose the chapter about Albany circa 1968. In the audience were a number of women who had their own stories about the time. Two had been teachers in the Albany schools and another worked in the Senate. We chatted, exchanged stories, reminisced.
It’s hard to describe how I felt. I know I talk about the searching for home, in all of its incarnations in STANDING, but I felt a really strong pull that afternoon. In some way I can’t yet describe, I felt a circle close.