When I was six, my Great-aunt, Wylly Folk St John published her first book, The Secrets Of Hidden Creek.
She was 58.
After Wednesday’s post, you can probably understand why this knowledge is more than a bit comforting to me.
That said, Aunt Wylly wrote for years before publishing her first book. As a journalist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, she had to constantly meet deadlines and she was paid to write long before she graduated from the University of Georgia where 47 boxes of her writings are archived in the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library.
She went on to publish eight books, two of which were nominated for the Edgar Allen Poe Mystery Writers of America award.
My cousin, McKenzie posted a comment on Facebook yesterday where she talked about how she and her young son were reading one of Aunt Wylly’s books at bedtime and how it gave him more insight into who his Grandmother Becky was as a girl, as well as his Great-great-grandmother Wylly.
Aunt Wylly loved using real children as characters in her books so McKenzie’s son is enjoying reading about his grandmother as the teenager she was in 1966 when The Secrets of Hidden Creek was published. Much of the story’s setting and characters are clearly modeled after the real thing. First books often pull in parts of the author’s life and my unfinished novel is no different.
If you’ve followed my blog for long it probably won’t surprise you to learn that there is a character in my book who is modeled in some ways after my aunt and you might also understand why seeing McKenzie’s message on Facebook felt like a little cosmic push especially since I’ve been so unproductive lately.
Aunt Wylly would probably appreciate my thinking she was sending me a message given her interest in ghosts when she was alive.
The hammock in the first picture figures into the story that McKenzie is reading with her son. It was used on the book jacket in 1966 as you can see from the image below. In addition to Becky and Jenny, their brother, Chuck is in the illustration with them.
I have some lovely memories of time spent at the cabin with Aunt Wylly and later on with my cousins. And while my daughter doesn’t really remember it, she once had a chance to wrestle for the hammock like her cousins did as characters in Aunt Wylly’s book.
This oft fought for spot had to be replaced more than a few times over the years as the humidity of hot Georgia summers and squirmy children did their damage. One of my favorite memories of Aunt Wylly’s lakeside hideaway, it was always snug like a little cocoon, making a perfect nest to read a book and drift off to sleep. Comforting and safe, it was a place I where could let my guard down during a dangerous time in my life and just be for a while with normal kid worries and daring daydreams.
The seed of storytelling for me may not have been planted at the One-Shot cabin, but it was most certainly nurtured there … in a hammock, on a porch, overlooking a lake, with a secret hidden deep under the water.
Big thanks to McKenzie for helping me aerate my roots a bit.
What a great story! She sounds like an amazing and inspiring woman. I am not surprised by that! 🙂
She was, Caitlin. My aunt was a wonderful spot of light and normalcy in my crazy young life. I know you understand how important someone like that is to a child.
A lovely post, she sounds like an inspirational person to have as an aunt.
Thanks, Sarah. She was a woman ahead of her time as evidenced by her firm refusal to give back the Phi Beta Kappa key and her membership in the organization earned because her grades and because her legal name, William Michael Folk made them think she was a intelligent young man instead of the brilliant young woman she actually was. I’ve been told that women were not allowed to be in the University of Georgia chapter during the time she was enrolled.
This was such a peaceful, and inspiring piece. It should be good news to writers worrying about when they will publish that first book. This post is a great reminder that legacy is not dependent upon publication. Good luck with your writing as well.
” This post is a great reminder that legacy is not dependent upon publication. ” Thanks for reminding me of this, Leah. I won’t forget it. 🙂
oh, you’re welcome 🙂 Thank you for your heart in all your writing.
I so love this piece, Elizabeth. I often think that there are days, places and people in our lives who will live forever because of our dearly held memories.
I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Cheryl … I’ve been very fortunate to have some very memorable moments with people who matter deeply to me.
Elizabeth, your last paragraph made me tear up– so poignant! I love the way that you always seem to capture what so many would overlook as ordinary and chronicle it in an extraordinary way. You have such a gift for capturing the moment and pairing it with THE perfect picture to sum it all up. That picture of you and Miranda makes me smile. That very hammock was my bed—quite literally— for the bulk of my teenage years. I still remember that trip you guys made in ’93! The pictures made me feel happy and yet SO melancholy for the way things were…and how they could have turned out much differently. Reading Hidden Creek is incredibly emotional for me for more reasons than I could ever begin to describe here but I know that I am so, so lucky! Thank you for the post but more importantly, for being you, and carrying the torch for now. BTW, Wylly Folk St. John actually WON the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Uncle Robert’s Secret. Xo
Ah, McKenzie what a history our family shares … for all its good and bad we are still connected and telling our stories. We’re like an old southern oak, each having a branches to call our own while sharing the same root system.
I’m not sure I knew we were rolling around in your bed when Miranda and I visited in 93. Having slept in a hammock at night for a few months in my early 20s, I am amazed you managed it through your teens. I’m sure there’s story there that may need telling one day. I reread Hidden Creek when I was writing my post and it brought back memories for me too. it’s probably good that you can read it now with Mattox and add some new ones to help balance the past.
I went to the Edgar website excited by the possibility and found that she was nominated in 1973 and 1974, but sadly someone else won both years. The Secret of the Seven Crows was her other nominated book. http://www.theedgars.com/edgarsDB/index.php
I guess that leaves it up to us, McKenzie. We’ll just have to try to win one ourselves. 😉 xo
OF COURSE it was The Secret of Seven Crows! hahaha…I too, teared up when reading this blog. I miss The Cabin so very very very much! I love all of yall. We are lucky to have each other!
Thanks, Shelley for stopping by ‘ The Cabin ‘ to read my post. Even though it is no longer in the family, those memories can’t be erased or sold, they are ours forever. xo.
I’m a Canadian who has discovered Wylly’s work as an adult, feeling lucky each time I find and collect her books. That she is your family is heartwarming for me too! You see, I grew up on gothic mystery legends like Phyllis A. Whitney. The 1980s were before you could easily look someone up and I favoured so many oldies; it didn’t dawn on me that they might still be alive. So the ability to tell a relative like you that I love your Aunt’s work, Elizabeth, really amounts to a rare gift to me! Introducing myself to you, is the next best thing to thanking and praising Wylly. In gratitude, Carolyn. https://cmriedel.wordpress.com/reviews-mine/
I too spent teenaged summers at a beloved cottage. I’m a Canadian who has discovered Wylly as an adult, feeling lucky each time I find and collect her books. That she is your family is heartwarming for me too! You see, I grew up on gothic mystery legends like Phyllis A. Whitney. I hauled most of them from the store near that cottage, for a quarter. The 1980s were before you could easily look someone up and I favoured so many oldies; it didn’t dawn on me that they might still be alive. The ability to tell a relative like you that I love your Aunt’s work, Elizabeth, really amounts to a rare gift to me! Introducing myself to you, is the next best thing to thanking and praising Wylly. In gratitude, Carolyn.