This has been a rough week. I’m not going to lie. I’ve never lost someone close to me, other than my beloved pets. Death has only been something I’ve heard of, and never experienced. But this week, I bath in it’s residue, feeling numbness throughout my body and the emptiness inside my heart.
On Monday, I learned my great-aunt, Eva McCall, passed away late Sunday evening or early Monday morning. Over the past few years, I haven’t referred to Eva so much as my great-aunt as I have an author I’ve published, a mentor, and a friend. She had just turned 80, which was a goal she hoped to meet. This may sound silly, but I thought she was just entering her prime. Her body may have been old, but her soul had stood the test of time; full of personality and creativity.
I’ve known Eva my whole life, but I only got to really know her in the last five years. She had just recovered from a brutal fight with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when I went to see her one day. Her hair had grown back, and I thought she looked the healthiest she had ever been. I personally didn’t believe she would survive the treatments, but she did, and she had so much more she wanted to do.
What do I mean by that, you ask? Well, Eva had written numerous books, prior to my visit after her remission. Edge of Heaven, Children of the Mountain and Lucy’s Recipes for Mountain Living had sold thousands of copies, were well-regarded throughout the community, and were noticed by notable people, such as Dolly Parton. I referred to her as the J.K. Rowling in the family.
During that visit, she let it slip that she was shopping around for a publisher for her latest novel, Murder on Haint Branch. From that point forward, I asked if she found someone who wanted to publish the book, and every time, she said no. By late 2012, I had begun studying as a public relations student and heard about how self-publishing was becoming popular. The next time I saw Eva, I said, “I don’t know anything about publishing, and I don’t know what your story is about, but if you’re willing to invest some time and money, I’m willing to invest my time and whatever expertise I can provide, and we’ll publish it together.”
It’s safe to say that Eva was not sold on the idea. She humored me, though, and gave me a digital copy of MOHB to read. I read that sucker in three days, and fell in love with it. It lit a fire in me, and I knew it had to be published. After continuous talks with Eva, she reluctantly agreed to do it.
I refer to MOHB as my first child. It took nine months to produce, and when it was done and in my hands, it brought great joy into my life. It gave me a high that no other substance could provide. I became highly addicted, and I craved the next project with Eva. That resulted in the establishment of Moonshine Press (Eva came up with the name), the publication of her next book, Button Box, and the acquisition of the rights to her prior books. The passion then led me to publishing other people’s books, which I continue to do today.
Eva was so inspirational, I picked up a desire to write myself. I started slow with A Guide to Historic Dillsboro, but quickly craved to do more. That resulted in The One, Aluria, Vigilante, and the book I’m currently working on. She was a vital resource to me when it came to structuring and editing each one. She was both a reader and a writer, and could provide me insight into each.
As the years passed, Eva faced numerous other challenges. She battled with diverticulitis, her husband passed away, she constantly suffered from the side effects of chemo treatments from years ago and she developed pulmonary hypertension. I got to see her less and less, due to my busy schedule. But every time I did get to see her, she would light up by talking about her latest writing project. I think it’s what kept her going for so long.
The last time I saw or spoke to her, she talked about how she wanted Moonshine Press and her books to grow without her. She talked about death often, because she knew it was inevitable, but I always tried to change the subject, because it always made me uncomfortable. But that last time, I agreed to do as she asked of me, kissed her on the cheek and left.
I wasn’t ready for her to go, and even writing that chokes me up. But she was ready. Eva was solid in her faith, and knew more waited for her on the other side. It doesn’t help with my selfish thoughts, though. I wanted her to see her new book through to the end, to be there when I finished my next book and to be there when I started my graduate program. But that’s life, and now I have to learn to do all these things without her.
As I drove home on Monday, with tears in my eyes, my iPhone began playing I Sleep Easier Now by Gypsy Rose Lee. Interesting song choice, I know. I bought her album, The Burlesque Entertainer, when Eva asked me to get one of her famous songs to play for her husband George’s 80th birthday party. I didn’t know which one she wanted, so I bought the whole thing. None of the songs were the one she wanted, but I kept the album on my phone, and when a song came on, it reminded me of Eva. I cried even harder when that song played out of the blue, because I knew Eva made it happen. She wanted me to know that everything was okay. So I drove up and down the mountain, looking at the beautiful day and listening to a strip teaser sing, knowing she would be there with me today, tomorrow, and the days to come…
This Thanksgiving, as people say they are grateful for their winning football team, the black Friday sales, or the cheap gas prices, I’ll say I’m grateful for my time with miss Eva, who gave me more than one gift during her life. Hold your loved ones close during the holidays, because you never know when it will be your last with them.