Part of a 7-day series of essays by Zinta Aistars
"Perhaps this is what her life will be from now on, a series of small graces,
now that she's awake to the world again."
--from Flight by Ginger Strand
There are too many champagne bubbles flowing through my blood stream for a Tuesday night. But who's counting? Not bubbles, not I. There are times to celebrate, our own celebrations or those of friends', and my Tuesday is a celebration of Ginger Strand's new first novel, Flight, smoking hot off the Simon & Schuster presses. She's come home to Kalamazoo, and a little bookshop on the downtown Kalamazoo mall, called Athena's, has opened its doors wide to the breezy warm spring evening and Ginger's guests.
George, the bookshop owner, in a navy blazer setting off his stunningly white hair and goatee, is bustling everyone in, trying to find space in an already packed shop. Readings don't usually bring out this many listeners, but Kalamazoo loves Ginger, and her novel is taking wing.
Finding a seat, I settle in for a listen. I love readings. I'm on assignment tonight, having an advance reviewer's copy of the book on my office shelf in preparation to write an article about Ginger and her book for her alma mater's alumni magazine. But no one needs to know. My work is my pleasure. Ginger and I have chatted via e-mails but have not yet met--until tonight.
I pull my chair in as people crowd by. The little bookshop has never seen this kind of bustle. George and his assistants are scrambling for more chairs, even bringing in the little plastic ones from the children's section. Those without remain standing, leaning elbows on bookshelves, pressing into each other, mumbling pardon me's and 'scuse me's and oh, sorry. I decide without hesitation that I have spotted Ginger's mother. She is glowing, feet above ground, and her camera is flashing in every direction. She giggles and tells the audience to smile. And we do. No one argues with a proud mama.
Our chairs forced too close, the man next to me begins a nervous chatter. Do you know Ginger? he asks me. Have you already read the book? Your thoughts? He tells me he is a neighbor, house next door and lawn to lawn, and can now claim a novelist as a family friend. I'm treated to stories of Ginger growing up. Her father, too, was an airline pilot, like the main character in the book. Family, it's about family, and all the mess and fuss and loveliness that families bring. Sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers and soon-to-be relatives as they all come back home for a wedding with a wincingly reluctant bride.
Ginger begins her reading from the first page of the book. We are all ears. She reads of places we know, flight patterns from Detroit along I-94 ("…he's worn that highway like a coat for thirty years…") through Battle Creek to Kalamazoo, and just north, Grand Rapids. The audience laughs at all the right places, like family at an inside joke. It feels good to recognize places, things, people, and ourselves. There is a reason authors come home for their first reading. They belong, and we let them bask in their belonging.
The lines are long as Ginger signs her books. We mill and converse as we wait. There's Richard from work, and he's brought his two sons, and here's Carol, and Sass, and Fred, still in line and already on chapter two. I run into Cindy, whom I haven't seen in four years, and her sister. It's another kind of family. George brings out another stack of books.
At last, it's time to celebrate this initiation. The evening air is just right, sweet smelling and cool, and we head out en masse, up the mall and then right down South Street, corner of Bronson Park, to the grand old red brick towers of the Park Club, one of the oldest in town. And the champagne is already poured. Strawberries dipped in chocolate, tiny marbled cheesecake squares, and creamy bites in lacy paper with fresh raspberries on top. Nuts and cheese and grapes. I put down my empty champagne glass and it's magically refilled.
"Really," I say to my evening's companion, "I have no idea how it got full again… " But I am merely laughed at.
I watch Ginger through the crowd. She is flushed and dewy with pleasure. Perhaps a little unnerved. She's a hometown gal done good, and it is her night, and the champagne bubbles for her.
Evening over, I walk several blocks back to my car. The bubbling fuss vanishes behind me. Long day. Tired. But it's been a good one. I drive home with the sky already grown dark, and for a short moment, I feel the wonder of something longed for coming to fruition, of a dream realized and shared with friends and family, and how flight can happen… if we only let go, let go, and let the current of air draw us upward towards the clouds.