It seems that I was destined to meet and work with the King family (if I believed in destiny). Unbeknownst to me, our paths were crossing long before I ever began writing their story. My father, Larry Hill, and Jay King most likely played basketball against each other in the late 1950s. My fourth grade math teacher was married to Jay King's high school basketball coach (whose daughter I would later coach and teach). Rebecca King Craig's and my high school volleyball teams played against each other in the early 90s, though we wouldn't formally meet until the fall of 1994, when I was a sophomore and she was a freshman at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. As a rule, we small-town girls stuck together, and when I learned that Bec (as we would later call her) was from the village of West Liberty, so close to my own hometown of South Charleston, Ohio, I knew we would become fast friends. We laughed to realize that we had competed against each other in high school. Now we really laugh to see where our paths have taken us--back to the small towns to which we said we'd never return. I returned home to teach high school English at my alma mater for six years, and Bec would eventually return close enough (Springfield, Ohio) to work for her parents at their store, Marie's Candies. Rebecca and I remained good friends after graduation, and when she approached me about writing her family's history, I knew the honor would be all mine.
The first time I met Marie King, in the spring of 2002, I was struck by her sense of humor ("I don't want this story to be dry. I want it to be personal and humorous"), her pragmatism ("I don't believe in changing clothes more than once a day"), and her spirit (in a word, spunky). She looked nice for our meeting--wearing floral pants, a long-sleeved knit burgundy top (in a stifling apartment), and three strings of beads in varying lengths that she played with as we talked. Her gray curls were neatly in place (had a permanent two weeks ago), and her bright eyes sparkled behind her glasses. She smiled wide and often. Every so often, she had to ask her granddaughter Rebecca and me to repeat ourselves.
As I would get to know her over the weeks and the year, I realized that this woman possessed the wisdom of a thousand lives. She knew so much, and yet was so humble. She never took herself too seriously, as would be later evidenced by the stories so many friends and acquaintances would tell. Nephew Merv Zook remembers Marie telling a story, twenty years ago, about falling off a three-wheeled bicycle. "She called it the most embarrassing moment of her entire life," he says, "but the way she could joke about it and take the mishap in such a light spirit made her not only a fantastic storyteller but also a person who could enjoy a good laugh on herself." It would seem so. I would later learn and laugh about times that Marie fell off a pony while riding with her brother Everett (breaking her left arm after already breaking her right arm three weeks earlier), and overturned her bicycle while granddaughter Rebecca was riding with her.
As we began our first interview, I suggested that Marie would probably get sick of all my questions, and of me, before the project was done. She said, "Well, I don't give up on things very easily." So I would learn.
And truthfully, I expected to learn about Marie as I researched, interviewed, and drafted countless pages--as her biographer, that was my job. I looked forward to getting to know the woman I had heard so much about from her children and granddaughter. My own grandmothers having passed away years before, I even wondered privately if Marie would mind if I coined her my adopted grandma. What I did not expect, however (perhaps naively), was how much I would learn about myself as I went through the biography process. I mean, this book wasn't supposed to be about me, right?
But I found that there were great lessons along the way, which is just another (add it to the list) of the blessings involved in the writing process--surprises that cannot be anticipated. As I worked through interview notes and correspondence from many of Marie's friends, I communicated often with Bec (All of my research was even making sense of Bec for me. I had always admired her intense work ethic and her impeccable personal integrity, and now I understood where it came from). As I worked and processed, I would call Rebecca to tell her about my impressions of Marie or what I was taking away from the story as I wrote. We had a number of meaningful conversations, because what we both realized was that Marie had so much to offer us as women. We came away encouraged, blessed, and empowered by what Marie had experienced in her rich lifetime. Here was a woman who married, raised a family, started and ran a full-time business, encountered incredible personal challenges, still found time to unfailingly serve others, and never complained (a consistent theme in the many letters I received about Marie). Never needed to talk about how "stressed out" she was, never needed to "vent." Never needed to turn to outside crutches to get her through hard times (whether that be as simple as weekly lattes and monthly manicures, or as extreme as codependency and chemical addictions). She simply relied on her family and her faith.
As Bec and I turned these thoughts over in our minds and our conversations, we thought surely she and I weren't the only ones who would benefit from Marie's wisdom. Surely, there is a lesson to be learned for us "modern" emancipated women. I have often wondered if our generation is doing it--"it" being life and all its challenges--better. I don't think we are. Yes, our mothers and our grandmothers made great sacrifices so that we could have the freedoms and the choices that we do today. And I am grateful for those choices. But I don't know that we're doing it better. Sometimes, I think we're softer, a little less-prepared to face life's challenges, a little more prepared to tell others what we're entitled to. Perhaps it's unfair for me to speak for others; I will speak for myself--I know that I am sometimes (often?) guilty of these attitudes.
And so, I have been challenged by Marie--her strength, her grace, and her compassion. Though my life's details are not the same, my response to life can be what hers was--that these days are a gift, that we are equipped to thrive where we are divinely placed, that joy can be found no matter our circumstances. A challenge and a lesson that I hope all readers-young and old, male or female, small-town or big-city-will take away from Faith, the Only Star.