From Arlington to the National Book Festival

Just returned last night from a weekend trip to D.C., where we honored Robert (Bob) Behrenshausen, my husband’s stepfather and a true WWII hero. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy at just 16 years of age, survived two shipwrecks and participated in nearly all major battles in the South Pacific, including the Battle of Midway. Although he fought with his trademark bravery, Bob lost his battle with cancer in July, and on Friday, Sarah, his beloved wife, interred his ashes in the Columbarium in Arlington. We were privileged to be part of this ceremony, which included a service in the Ft. Myers Chapel and a 21-gun salute on the revered Arlington lawns. Fittingly, we crossed paths with another WWII hero, Vernon Baker, an African-African veteran who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism and who was also interred in Arlington that day.

It was a short and brutally hot weekend but full of activity. As my husband enjoyed a private tour of the National Air and Space Museum on Saturday, I camped out under the “Fiction and Mystery” tent at the National Book Festival on the Mall where famous authors such as Isabel Allende, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova held court. They spoke at length about their work and spent an equal share of time offering advice to writers. The latter two were asked how they found time to write. The answers amazed us all. Both Diana and Elizabeth were mothers to three (that’s three each!) children under the age of 10 when they began their masterpieces. Elizabeth also worked full-time as a university professor and free-lance writer and spent ten meticulous years researching The Historian, which I look forward to reading.Her painstaking attention to detail and love for Victorian authors is reminiscent of A.S. Byatt, whose novel Possession was a favorite of mine.

I missed historian and biographer Stacy Schiff, who spoke after we left. She is the author of Vera, a biography of the wife of Vladimir Nabokov, one of my all-time favorite writers. I loved Lolita, of course, but my model for short stories has always been my dog-eared (quite literally because it bears the teeth marks of my puppy at the time) copy of Spring in Fialta.  How a man whose first language is Russian could pen such a lyrical and evocative short story in English has always amazed me. In Vera, which I eagerly devoured some years ago, Schiff paints an interesting portrait of the woman who stood beside Nabokov and may have helped him a little more than we knew in his Harvard lectures. Anyway, that’s another story, but the reason I bring up Schiff is to say that I learned at the Book Festival that she has also written a biography of another complex man, Antoine St. Exupery. Ever since reading The Little Prince, I’ve been fascinated with the French aviator-philosopher known simply as Tonio to his family. You might remember that St. Exupery’s plane mysteriously disappeared during WWI and was recently discovered in the Mediterranean. I look forward to folding over the pages of this rich biography for clues and perhaps an answer to the mystery…..

What mysteries will you seek to solve this weekend? Whatever they may be, happy hunting!


2 thoughts on “From Arlington to the National Book Festival

  1. I was thrilled & honored to know someone who can take the time to put their thoughts & emotions on paper. I wrote poetry for awhile but lost the longing or need to express myself. I am proud of you Ashley. Keep me in touch with your work for I am retiring effective 11-01-10. My last day of work is 10-29-10.

    Congratulations again

    1. Hi Cheryl! Thank you for the sweet comment. Robert told me last night that your last day is coming up soon and so congratulations to you! You will have a great retirement because I know you will keep very busy. Now you can finish those poems and I hope you do! We will definitely keep in touch. I’ve got strict orders to make our family’s mac-n-cheese for your celebration so there will be extra love in it from me!

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