Being an author can sometimes bring about strange adventures. For example, a week ago I found myself in Beryl, Utah.
I hadn’t heard of it either. But a school librarian contacted me several weeks prior and asked if I’d do a school visit there. Beryl? I looked it up. That’s FIVE hours away. Whoa.
There were a million reasons to say no. Reasons like: I’ve got seven kids and mounting laundry, gas is expensive, and ten hours on the road would be horrendous. I told the school I’d need my travel expenses covered. Fine, they said. And, I’d have to charge them additional fees for the assemblies. Fine, they said. And…I’d need a screen, microphone, and a projector wired with sound….fine, fine, fine. I clicked on a map on my laptop and showed my husband. “Should I go to Beryl?” I asked.
“Barrel like a barrel of monkeys?”
“I’m not sure. But it’s five hours away, in the middle of nowhere.”
He leaned over and squinted at the map. “Yeah, you should do it.”
“Those kids probably don’t get too many author visits way out there.”
The kids. He had a point.
I replied to the school and said yes, I’d be there. I marked it on my calendar, figuring I’d deal with all the details later. There was a sense of both adventure and dread in committing to it.
Ten days later, I got an email from a little girl in Beryl. She had found my email on my website. To protect her privacy, I’ll call her Melissa. “You’re coming to my school,” she wrote. “I can’t wait to meet you! I’m a writer, too. I write stories and poetry. I’m ten years old.” She attached some writing samples and went on to tell me all the difficulties she’d been having with crafting her work. She wanted advice. She sounded like someone at least twenty years old. I read Melissa’s writing samples, and was astonished. This was either an adult playing a trick or a truly gifted child.
Intrigued, I wrote back. I complimented her writing and talked about the realities of revision. I applauded her for seeking feedback at such an early age. She responded that I had given her so much hope and…could I stay at her house when I came to Beryl?
This made me smile. But no, certainly not. That would be….errr… inappropriate. Right?
Melissa emailed pictures of her home, their guest room, and random snapshots of her mother and brothers. She pleaded with me. “My mother says there isn’t a hotel anywhere near here except one motel that’s really scummy.” So I did a map quest on hotels in the area. She was right.
“Should I stay with this little girl in Beryl?” I asked my husband, giving him the details.
“That seems a little unusual.”
“Have you asked her parents?”
“Better do that.”
I wrote to her mother, and she replied that they would love to have me stay in their home. Cooking was her passion, she wrote, and they enjoyed hosting guests. I looked again at the picture of the guest room—it was roomy and immaculate, with a huge bed and down comforter. I thought it maybe it would be nice to have people familiar with the area take me in, rather than stay in a motel.
I accepted their invitation.
And so I found myself in the strange predicament of driving alone one afternoon on a long stretch of highway to Beryl, Utah, intending to lodge with strangers. After four hours on the I-15, I was traveling east, eating raspberries from a bag and listening to The Lovely Bones on audiobook. I passed through a tiny town, a few sparse houses, then farmland, then nothing. There were only hills, trees, and a stunning sky that hung so low you could almost reach up and grab a fistful. I started to wonder, with this surreal sky, if Beryl was a fictional city in a fable. There was no sign of life for miles in any direction. People lived out here?
Feeling like an explorer, I stopped to take pictures, then continued down the road, finally discovering a few signs of humanity. A couple of houses became visible, some abandoned. Then, a little school appeared on the corner. It was quiet--closed for the day. I stopped to read the name. Yes, it was the school that requested me. Who attended this school, and where did these children live? There were several busses parked alongside it. Ahhhh. I decided these kids were bussed from the hidden crevices of Beryl. I passed the school, driving along a tree-lined road with little white igloos. Upon closer inspection, each one contained a baby calf.
As I approached a white house surrounded by trees, three young children ran toward me, waving. They could have been my own nephews and niece. I rolled down my window. “Are you Kristyn Crow?” They cried.
“We live right here!”
I parked and got out. I marveled at what it must be like to live with so much open air and freedom. A fourteen-year-old boy approached with a smirk. “We don’t get famous people around here too often. Can I help you with your bags?”
Famous people? Me? What a laugh.
I gave Melissa a big hug on the front lawn, recognizing her immediately even though we’d never met. It was like finding a lost family member. She wore a wide smile, two thick ponytails , and clothes that looked like they’d visited many trees, streams, and patches of tall green grass.
Inside her house was the noise of a lively family, where several kids in diapers ran happily. There was the laughter and chatter of Melissa’s parents, uncle, and a good friend, who were all staying in the house. They welcomed me. We shook hands. We talked. It all seemed easy. Then Melissa got out some of her poetry. I read it aloud, to the amusement of everyone in the house. Poems about rain, families, jail, vegetables--all very humorous. I was fed a lemon tart with cream and berries. And there was the strange sensation of having traveled back in time, even though this house was well-equipped with big screen televisions and computers.
We all became better acquainted. “Did you tell anyone at school I was staying at your house?” I asked Melissa.
“Yes,” she said, “But they wouldn’t believe me.”
I stayed overnight in their family guest room, thoroughly spoiled by the specialness of it. There were chocolates placed here and there, my own adjoining bathroom, and windows that overlooked the land on two sides. As I dozed off to sleep, I thought, whatever this experience is…it was supposed to happen. There was just something oddly familiar about it, like I'd already seen this movie before, and now I was playing it out in the flesh.
The next morning I slept in, knowing the children in the house would already be at school. I left a gift in Melissa’s room – a copy of the art from my book COOL DADDY RAT, pre-bound. Her mother fed me a breakfast that would top any five-star hotel. I thanked her, and headed to the school for my assemblies. As usual, I met with the administrators first and then set-up my PowerPoint. Soon the children filed into the gym. In my presentations I tell the kids a little about me and what I do as an author. Then I read my books, talk about how picture books are made, and have the kids play rhythm instruments along with BEDTIME AT THE SWAMP. At this assembly I was sure to tell the whole crowd I had stayed at Melissa's house, and how wonderful it was. It made her smile.
Afterwards, I signed copies of my books for kids who bought them. I noticed Melissa wasn’t one of them. Another girl asked her, as they filed out of the gym, “Did you get some of her books?” Melissa shook her head no, a disappointed look on her face.
Oh no, this would never do.
After I had packed up my equipment and loaded my car, I signed three copies of my books with a special inscription, and drove back to Melissa’s house. I knocked on her door, and she answered, surprised. “I wanted to give you a copy of my books,” I said. I put them in her hands, and I’ll never forget the look of glee on her face. “And Melissa, I want you to know you are VERY talented. You can write to me ANY time and share your work with me. I mean it. I want us to keep in touch for a long time.“ She nodded her head, and we hugged. Then she ran off into the back yard with the books, her little siblings following.
That night, after my five-hour drive home, I got this email in my box:
Sometimes the world makes me crazy,
I feel like my body wants to be lazy.
I can never seem to hold back this fear.
Then one at a time I shed a tear.
I feel sad and so alone.
But at the same time, 20 people are at my home.
A person once told me,
It's not what you say it's what you see.
You can be sad,
but something you may see makes you glad.
I've had that feeling before.
I've had it once more.
But when I met Kristyn Crow,
I didn't feel so low.
She brought me up like clouds in the sky.
She made me feel as though I could fly.
The world is changing all the time.
And sometimes, it's not just mine.
Everyone has their ups and downs.
Everyone has smiles and frowns.
I had the frown for a long long while.
Then Kristyn turned it to a smile.
I believed in myself more than ever.
A switch had been pushed, or even a lever.
All I knew is that I was someone new.
Someone I could grow into.
Now I give my complete thanks all to her.
Melissa [Not her real name.]
I cried. I sat there staring at my laptop and cried, making my husband and kids curious.
I cried because I'm just so grateful. I had the opportunity to maybe, just maybe touch the life of a little girl in Beryl. A little girl with hope, a little girl with talent. No matter what profession we may have in this life, I believe each of us is responsible for mentoring others. Perhaps I was blessed to have mentored one of the greatest authors of the next generation.
I mean, really, you never know.