I met this amazing man two years ago. That day was the greatest of my life. My feet barely touched the ground as I spent an entire day with the man who had penned "The Pigman," "My Darling, My Hamburger," "That Was Then, This Is Now," and "The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man in the Moon Marigolds," for which he won a Pulitzer Prize.
Zindel had traveled to Breckinridge County as part of a bridging program sponsored through the library to enhance the melding of several county schools into a central middle school setting. The last author in the series who appeared in the county that year, I was thrilled beyond belief when the librarian called to say that Paul Zindel would be the big finale. My hero? The man who understood? Coming to my state?
In the weeks before his visit, I reread all of Zindel's books. Reading them with an adult perspective opened my eyes somewhat. Oh, how I had aged since the first time those words danced before my eyes on the page. His books had made me want to be a writer. His thoughts had assured me that I was not alone. And then the day arrived. I met my hero.
He was tall and somewhat overweight. He liked kids and talked with them easily. At lunch he ate mounds of fried chicken with gusto. He told bad jokes and ignored the rest of us when he tired of our hometown chatter.
The day ended all too soon. It was time for Paul Zindel to travel back to his world in New York and leave this tiny corner of Kentucky behind. I wanted so much to tell him how I admired him and wished to be like him, but I could not. He gave me a costume jewelry bracelet as a memento of our meeting. I still have it in a place of honor in my jewelry box at home.
Over the past two years I've thought about that day a lot. How exciting it was for me. How bland we may have seemed to him. Believing in myself and my future as a writer became easier after meeting that one single person.
On Monday I opened the Sunday edition of The Courier-Journal and turned to the obituaries. I've done this since I first learned to read on that very newspaper over 35 years ago. And when my eyes fell upon his name, I felt my chest had been struck with a sledgehammer. He was dead. My hero, dead at age 66 from cancer.
Although he is now gone and will not read these words, I'll write them to him anyway. Goodbye, Paul. I loved and admired you so much. Rest well and know that you will never die as long as your words are read by children everywhere who need to know that someone understands.