A few days ago, I attended a funeral for Sue Willis, a high-school friend who had kept our Class of ’55 together by planning reunions and mini-get-togethers over the last half-century. There, I heard of another old friend who is making waves with her short stories and novels. Mary Ann Taylor-Hall has just published a new book, At The Breakers, and it’s now on my table, waiting to be savored. But, I started with How She Knows What She Knows About Yo-Yos, her collection of short stories, previously published in The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review and others. Her first novel, Come and Go, Molly Snow is on backorder with Amazon.com, and will arrive in late October. I can’t wait to see it again, as my first copy of it is still floating around Alaska, somewhere.
Wow! I’m only midway through the second story of the Yo-Yo book, and I’m so very hooked on her writing style and her skillful storytelling that I can’t put it down to re-enter real life. I would say that her style is unconventional, but why can’t we all write like that? Oh, how I wish I could!
And how has she learned so much about swinging a yo-yo, is what I want to know? This gal’s an expert. How has she learned so much about everything she focuses that descriptive lens of hers upon? These stories emerge from the inside of the scene, not as they would from an independent observer. As I read Mary Ann’s work, I conclude that I sure don’t know how to write, but I’m so hooked on whatever it is I do, that I can’t stop anyway. So, I’ll keep on walking my pedestrian path in my own publishing ventures, but I would highly recommend these books to you for a really special reading treat.
Mary Ann and I were close friends in high school and Girl Scouts, but we lost touch after graduation. She and Suzy Norman, another good friend and roommate, moved to Kentucky with their husbands and that was that. I’m really bad about keeping up my old connections. But, we had one memorable evening, almost fifteen years ago, at our 1995 high school reunion weekend. Good old Sue planned things to begin with a mixer on Friday night at the Admiral Inn in Winter Haven, Florida, our hometown. Then, there was a Saturday morning class meeting over breakfast, a golf tournament, and a dance that night; as well as Sunday brunch. Sue never did things halfway.
Mary Ann and her husband had driven down to Florida so she could attend the reunion, while he took in a tennis camp in the Sarasota-Bradenton area. Late Friday night, a call came that he was in the hospital with a heat stroke and she needed to get over there right away. Jim Pugh, Larry Poole, Mary Ann, and I, jumped into Jim’s Lexus and started over to the west coast around midnight. Jim chose the back roads to make better time.
It might have been around 2 a.m., when we rounded a bend in a remote, wooded area of Central Florida. A pickup truck sat smack across the highway, right in front of us. Only Jim’s extraordinary driving skills and quick, pilot’s reflexes prevented a fiery crash. He swung the car around, passed the empty truck and stopped some yards back in the direction we had just come. While he called 911, Mary Ann and I simultaneously burst from the car, headed in two different directions. Mary Ann boldly ran to the pickup, hoping to help the driver, who surely must have had a heart attack, or some calamity, to have wound up waiting for a broadside. Oddly, she found the doors locked and a man emerging from the woods.
I had grabbed Jim’s old football jacket and was now standing in the highway, using it as a semaphore to flag approaching traffic into the other lane so that they wouldn’t wind up where we almost did. I still remember the crazy thrill of standing out there in the dark in my high-heeled shoes and pretty pants suit, bought just that afternoon for the reunion; now acting like a crewman on an aircraft carrier, waving in the jets, and knowing that at any second one of them could plow right into me if I caught a sleepy driver by surprise. My mind willed each car, “Get over! Get over!” as I slung that jacket round and round, indicating the safe lane. It worked and each set of headlights veered around me, just in time.
Meanwhile, Mary Ann has commandeered this fellow coming out of the woods, claiming it’s his pickup, (later, we surmised he had set a trap with buddies still in hiding) and she has wowed him with her strong concern for his safety and well-being. By the time that Larry, Jim and I reach the truck, she has him sitting on the bumper, bending over to let the blood rush back into his brain; and asking him why in the world he had locked his truck, and what was he doing in the woods?
A crowd had gathered from the diverted cars that stopped to lend a hand, so we left it to them to push the pickup off the highway and wait till help arrived. We didn’t know what shape Mary Ann’s husband was in and wanted to hurry on over to the Bradenton Hospital, in case it had been a heart attack. It turned out he was fine. But that was that, for Mary Ann and the reunion. I haven’t seen her since.
Earlier that same evening, Jim Pugh had brought a lot of copies of her just-published first novel, Come And Go, Molly Snow, and had presented one to each of us old buddies. She signed them, before all our crazy action started later in the evening. I took mine to Alaska to read and I’m not sure how it got away from me up there. So finally now, I’ll get another to replace it.
But, what an amazing Powerhouse of a Fiction Writer that fellow Girl Scout and high school buddy, Mary Ann Taylor, turned out to be. I recently heard that her husband, Jim Hall, died this month. So, I’m thinking about her and wanting to sit myself down and write one of those things called a letter to “let her” know how much I admire and miss her. Sometimes, we write, write, write, so much that we don’t take time to do the really important writing.
Anyway, you won’t be sorry if you pick up one of these great books of hers.