A Very Special Edition Post Where I Tell You About the Time Mom & I Met Jan Karon Herself. In "Mitford."
My mom and I have been Mitford/Jan Karon fans since roughly 1996. I can't remember exactly when we started reading At Home in Mitford, but I do remember that I was in sixth or seventh grade, and we would read it out loud together in the evening, right before bed. I was not the most stellar teen; rather, I was more the angsty pre-teen/teen and my mom and I would exchange words on occasion. I was also a pretty sickly teen. My poor mom dragged me to doctor after doctor trying to get a cure, but nothing really seemed to help, which I'm sure was frustrating as all get-out. Hindsight is 20/20, you know, and as an adult I can look back and think that I might just not have eaten enough. I was growing and active and probably just needed more healthy snacks. But in the midst of it, there was no way for us to know that. All this to say that my mom is awesome and possibly deserving of a Purple Heart or something, and no matter how snarky I got or how sickly I was, we would still carve out time 5 or 6 evenings each week to read Jan Karon's books together. We did this from roughly 1996/1997 until about 2001/2002, and we read through the first five or six Mitford books. I had such fond memories of this practice that I continued to read Mitford books on my own in late high school and college. If you've read any Mitford books, you know that the main character is Father Tim, a mid-sixtiesish semi-retired Episcopalian priest. I'd classify the Mitford books loosely as "Christian women's lit." (You know I don't really like pigeonholing books into categories, but really: the buyers' stats kind of speak for themselves on this series.) So for the books to have that big an impact on me that I continued to read and cherish them even as a young adult... that's really saying something for them!
Way back in June, I first heard word that there was going to be a tenth Mitford book published in September. This was a huge deal, as the ninth Mitford book had been released in 2005 and with Jan Karon in her 70s, I had kind of resigned myself to having no more new Mitford books. I was super excited. The text to my mom to let her know the good news was in all caps and contained no less than eight exclamation points. And I do not use exclamation points gratuitously. I immediately put myself on the library's holds list for it. (I figured I could read the library's copy immediately and then wait for paperback to purchase a copy. I have the first nine books in paperback, and I'm a little OCD about liking my series to match in format.) I also immediately decided to do something I almost never do: re-read books. I set myself the goal of re-reading all nine existing Mitford books prior to the release of Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good in order to be fully caught up. I did it! (You can view all of the review/synopses here on this blog.)
In July, my mom told me that she had arranged a surprise, and I should earmark Sunday, September 14th. I did. I love surprises, so I didn't question it at all. There was a bummer, though: I was scheduled to work that weekend, so I could only block off Sunday and not Saturday also. Guess what, ya'll? God Himself decided to get involved and my work schedule got turned on it's head at the beginning on September and I was no longer working that weekend! At that point, my mom called to tell me about the surprise, so that I would know how to pack for a weekend away in "Mitford" (aka Blowing Rock, NC), where I would meet Jan Karon! We left Saturday and stayed at the gorgeous Chetola Resort. We found out that Jan Karon was staying there too, but we didn't see her until the official event on Sunday.
(A furry fellow to greet us and welcome us to our room in the resort.)
Mom and I spent Saturday afternoon at the Moses Cone Manor, which is a gorgeous old manor home along the Blue Ridge Parkway. They had some walking trails and a local crafts store. We had a great time walking around the property and looking at the crafts. I was super tempted by the crafts, but I resisted. The hubby would be proud.
(The Moses Cone Manor; the crafts store was on the first floor of the house.)
(The view from the front porch of the house. Isn't that something? I'd love to live there!)
That evening back at the hotel, we enjoyed some OMC. Yup; I actually baked an infamous Esther Bolick Orange Marmalade Cake! It took a few hours, but it turned out so very, very, very good. I'm definitely adding it to my repertoire of "cakes to impress." Super moist and not too sweet. Even the hubby liked it, and he doesn't usually like fruit! I only packed a few slices for my mom and me, and the hubby took some over to his parents and we still had lots of cake left over.
Sunday was the day of the big event! My mom and I had so much fun chatting with other people who were in Blowing Rock for Jan Karon. We met a couple in the hot tub who had traveled in from Washington state to meet Jan Karon! They told us that they'd been there for a few days already, and had been having some exclusive events with Jan Karon, since they were members of her fan club. Then at breakfast we met a couple who had come from Oklahoma for the event. They had the sweetest story! See, the hubby had told his wife that he was taking her on a surprise trip, but didn't tell her where. He just told her to pack for mid-60s weather. He took her to the airport; still didn't tell her. They landed in Atlanta; still didn't tell her. They got on another plane and flew to Asheville; still didn't tell her. They rented a car and started driving; still didn't tell her. When they got to Chetola, he handed his camera over to the hotel desk staff and had them film her surprise when he finally told her that they were staying there and that they were going to see Jan Karon! HOW SWEET IS THAT???
Sunday morning we walked about town a little, but really all we were doing was killing time till the event at 2. So hard to wait! When we went back to the hotel at 12:30 we saw that there was already a line to get into the tent where the event was, so we grabbed some pb crackers and ginger ales from a vending machine and got inside so we could get good seats. Totally worth the hour+ wait to get the good seats! We enjoyed our "picnic" lunch and kept chatting with other fans around us. When we went to purchase our autographed books, we overheard two other fans talking, and learned that there were fans here from Norway and France! My three-hour drive really didn't seem like much at all anymore!
(The tent where the event took place. Yup; the weather was dreary, but that barely registered with me over my excitement at meeting Jan Karon!)
The Big Event: Promptly at 2, the event began.
(Mom & me selfie, waiting for the event to start.)
A fan club member introduced herself as "Emma." (Not her real name.) She told how she's a go-getter, and was a church secretary for 20 years. She also introduced her husband, the mayor of Blowing Rock, who presented Jan Karon with a key to the city.
Then it was time for Jan Karon to come on stage and be "interviewed" by the president of the fan club. Such applause! There were 500+ people at this event, and everyone clapped until their hands were sore! Jan Karon was everything I expected and more. Such poise. So well-spoken. She was like the embodiment of the Mitford spirit. She answered questions for about an hour, and then took a few questions from the audience. (We were given index cards upon entering the tent on which we could submit questions for consideration. I wrote "Are any of the Mitford characters, such as Cynthia Coppersmith, based upon yourself?" It wasn't chosen to be answered.) She answered questions such as, "Would you date Father Tim?" and "Would you please tell your favorite Uncle Billy joke?" She also talked a little about her writing process. When Father Tim was diagnosed with diabetes, she went to her doctor and said, "I have a character who's always tired and thirsty, and his ankles are swelling." She said her doctor replied, "Well, I can give you lupus or diabetes." So Father Tim has diabetes. (Oh, and her favorite Uncle Billy joke is the one about the census taker, which is my favorite too!)
After the event, Jan Karon graciously met with every attendee. We got to meet her, shake her hand, thank her for the lovely Mitford books, and get a picture.
(Me, Jan Karon, and my AWESOME mom.)
I hope you enjoyed this extra-long, extra-special Marie's Read post!