Friday, July 29, 2011

An unexpected treasure

Something completely unanticipated happened today. I received a note from Virginia Hamilton Adair's daughter, Kappa Waugh. I hadn't heard from Kappa for 5 years or more. With the note came an added surprise.
     You may know that Virginia--poet and professor--was important in my Chaucer process. Actually, Virginia was essential; without her I would never have written a word. When some considered my ideas foolish, she found them "fascinating." A new viewpoint adds life. When my senior project, an effort of considerable research, was perceived as "seeing things that aren't there," she found it enthralling. The freshest idea she'd seen in years. When a paper I'd written was accepted to be read at a literary conference, it was she who arranged a practice run-through in front of a group of her friends at her home. When I finished they asked questions! I hadn't expected that.
     Her interest never flagged. When I reported that Chaucer's 600th anniversary in the year 2000 had stirred up little excitement in the literary world, she said, "We need to have a Chaucer contest." And we did, indeed, under the auspices of The Chaucer Society. The question to be answered in 500 words or less was "Why, after 600 years, are we still studying the works of Chaucer?" (The winning essay is on my website Click "About Celebrations.")
     Even after Virginia lost her sight, she continued to write poetry every day on her portable typewriter. She was "discovered" in her 80s and produced 3 books of poems.
      When my Chaucer books were published I read them to her--a chapter or two each week. Twice she astonished me by anticipating the message Chaucer had hidden. Once her insight proved hilarious; and once she sensed the horror he had concealed.
     Virginia departed this life a few years ago. Not since that time had I heard from her daughter, until today. Folded with her note was a little lapel pin decorated with heraldic images and the words Ave Mater Anglia--Canterbury. It had belonged to Virginia. Kappa's note closed with: It seems right you should have it. What a kind thought! What an unexpected treasure!

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