He was a large man, lumbering and imperious, with a hawk-like nose and light blue eyes that darted here and there so often, that I do not recall ever looking him in the eye. Of course, me being a child, I never would have. He was my grandfather and of the era that children should be seen and not heard. When he came to visit he would announce his arrival with a whistle, a who-whooo, who-whooo, much like the call of a mourning dove, and would always come bearing gifts.
On this occasion the gift he carried was a book in honor of my ninth birthday. Like the man himself, it was a heavy tome, almost unmanageable for me with its weight, its onion skin paper, its fine print. In his barrelling voice my grandfather asked me if I had ever heard of O’Henry. I had not. He touched the side of his nose and told me I should then get acquainted. And, like it was a homework assignment given to me by a teacher I longed to impress, I took the book upstairs to my bedroom and read it cover to cover.
I think we as writers each have a moment like this when we knew we were destined for the world of words; some minute or second that, for each of us, is The Moment. I don’t know what it was about The Collected Stories of O’Henry that got me writing poetry, but I do remember the first feel of that book in my hands, the soft burgundy of the cover, the fear that I’d tear a page if I turned it too anxiously, too quickly, without reverence, as if the book would know.