The Quest of a Lifetime
As a child, I recall sneaking a flashlight into bed so that I could finish reading under the covers a book from the school library before it had to be returned the following day. Then as a teen, what a wondrous treat it was to have my English teacher read aloud, Johnny Tremain by Ester Forbes. Everyone in the class, including myself, was mesmerized upon discovering how a fictional boy from the Revolutionary War was maimed for life following a tragic accident. Still to this day, I can recall the gasps by fellow classmates as the bandages were taken off Johnny’s wounded hand and much to our horror it was revealed that his fingers had grown together.
As I studied my own hand, imagining what it must be like to have webbed fingers, I understood fully the significance of weaving a good tale--a tale that could take the reader on a holiday for the mind.
Several years passed and although the majority of my time was spent as wife and working mother of seven the passion for reading never ended. Many a night, I recall staying awake long after everyone had gone to bed turning the page of a book I just couldn’t put down. Then in December of 1985 a visit from the past altered my life, I wanted to become a story teller, by telling the story of someone from the past.
On December 19, 1985 my family and I went to the “Festival of Lights” in the heart of downtown historic Fairfax, Virginia. Amazing as this may sound, in today’s busy World, the City of Fairfax closed off Main Street, for this annual event. The charter members of this fair City took part in the festivities, with the Mayor arriving at the festival in grand style, driven in by horse and carriage while the Fairfax High School Band played holiday carols.
Leading the way were majorettes, waving their flags proudly. Local merchants brought ample supplies of their own specialties to share with the community. The festivities were centered near Old Town Hall, located in the heart of the City. Volunteers from the Women’s Club of Fairfax proudly passed out flyers of their hometown. Two women were standing near the two great white pillars, one on each side of the entrance just above the steps of the Town Hall. This listing included the Carols that were to be sung around the Yule Log in Poser Garden along with scheduled times for the evening’s affair.
Being outdoors in the crisp air, all of us decided to sample some of the delights that the merchants had to offer. As we approached the steps of the Town Hall this most peculiar feeling came over me, almost as if I’d been here before.
Walking up the steps to this grand two-story historic building, my body froze unable to move after climbing only a few steps to view the vision before me. A vision so vivid that today, over 22 years later, I recall every detail. Before me, a woman from another era ran towards me, holding her long heavy navy blue velvet shirt, exposing her petticoats and slips which rustled as she approached. The hemline of the skirt was soiled from the mud and the muck of the street. As she passed, glancing frantically behind her, I noticed her small leather riding boots and stockings covered in mud as well. Then as quickly as she appeared, she had vanished.
Just for that fleeting instant I saw her, I know I did. Panic gripped my heart as it began racing almost as fast as the woman I had just seen running. I looked around as my head began to pound, almost as if I was seeing things in slow motion, or some sort of mystical haze. I could hear my blood pumping in my ears. What in the world was happening to me? I looked up to see my children already at the top of the steps, their eager happy faces urging me to hurry up, so that they could get inside of the Old Town Hall for their munchies.
I kept a close eye not to stumble as I climbed the steps again to catch up with my children, when again this apparition of a woman appeared to me. This time, however, I could almost make out the background; there was some sort of building which she was running past. Looking behind her as though she was making sure no one was following her, when in an instant she had vanished from my mind once more. The vision left me feeling weak at the knees and dizzy.
Next to the large, white granite pillars just in front of me were two women passing out flyers. As I approached, a rather friendly woman to my left smiled at me cordially handing me a flyer. As she did, a vision of a woman’s portrait hanging inside this building on a long wall on the left side came clearly into my mind. Looking at the cheerful volunteer carefully, to see if she noticed my unusual behavior, I could see that she hadn’t as she just kept cheerfully chatting away. Good, I thought, excusing myself and calling for my eldest son, my adventurous one. He came not obligingly, whispering under his breath, but came nonetheless.
“Son, will you do a favor for me”?
“What”? He sighed and rolled his eyes just a bit, so typical of a teenage boy. Ignoring his impudence, I continued, “Go into the building, walk past the stairway leading upstairs, continue going until you enter the mausoleum then see if there’s a portrait of a woman hanging on the left-hand side of the wall”.
He looked at me, wrinkling his nose, “Why, have you been here before?”
“No son, just humor me, ok.” I forced a smile, as he walked towards the entrance of the old building, glancing back towards me with a rather puzzled expression on his face but continued on as I had asked him to do.
The woman beside me had overheard our conversation and said to me, “Oh, you’ve visited Old Town Hall before? Not many people today call it the mausoleum; they refer to it as the grand hall.”
I realized I did call it the mausoleum. What’s a mausoleum anyway? I’d never heard this word before in my life, and how did I know there were stairs leading upstairs? Yikes, what was going on?
I was so dumbfounded by all these strange happenings I just stood there, entranced, waiting for my son to return. Finally he appeared from the Hall, the expression on his face was clarification enough for me that I was right. I wasn’t imagining things and I began to feel relief.
My poor son, however, was noticeably shaken; his sweet handsome face was as white as the color of the jeans that he was wearing, looking as if he’d seen a ghost. Maybe he had, I thought, the one in my mind.
“How did you know she was there?” he asked, his voice a hoarse whisper, as he approached me.
Aware that the lady was staring rather intently at us both, I smiled and said, “Come along, I’ll explain later.”
By now I was eager to see my mysterious phantom for myself. I politely excused myself from our hostess and began walking towards the entranceway of the Old Town Hall together with my children, once again. I can remember feeling a mixture of eagerness and of being mystified as we walked towards the doorway. Was the lady in the portrait the same woman I had seen in my mind, who was running just now? Was the layout of the room exactly as I had described it to my son? So many strange occurrences were going on around me, things I couldn’t explain, but for now, all that mattered was to see the portrait.
As we swept pass the stairway, I smiled realizing every detail was exactly as I had seen moments ago in my mind. I was like a child entering a great Museum, looking about in awe. The mausoleum was grand, but my eyes were only focused on one thing - the portrait.
She was lovely. I looked immediately to see if her name was mounted on the frame, as was the man’s portrait next to hers was. Nothing was there except for two small nails and a space that the wood appeared lighter. Clearly there once had been a nameplate proudly announcing my phantom. Mesmerized by her eyes that haunted me, I looked at her hair pulled neatly behind her head, not like it had been as she ran through the mud and the muck. A lace scarf draped over her shoulders, secured tightly around her long narrow neck with a brooch. Yes, this was the lady I had seen running alongside the wooden framed structures. Who was she and why was I having these visions of her?
This may seem hard to believe to some, but somehow I felt connected to her, definitely more then a mere fascination with this woman who had lived more then 100 years earlier.
Over the next fourteen years I had thought often of the apparition that I lovingly dubbed my phantom. At one point, I had even shared my experience of Fairfax with a dear friend from England, Paula. Hearing of my phantom, Paula insisted I write down every detail of the sighting, if for nothing else but to refresh my memory if I ever should begin writing. Hearing her comment, I smiled knowing this was one memory that would never fade.
Then in 1998 my family and I returned to Fairfax and Manassas Battlefield for a short vacation and research for a novel I was writing on the Civil War. Returning to Fairfax after all those years and much to my dismay, I discovered that my beloved phantom’s portrait had been moved from the Old Town Hall. Just as I began to think I had reached a dead end on my investigation, a woman happened to stop in who was a charter member of the woman’s club that knew of the woman in the portrait. As I began to question whatever happened to the woman’s portrait that once adorned this Hall, she proudly announced that the portrait was now hanging in another Museum in Fairfax. To my great fortune she began to share intimate details of life as it was during the war.
As I quietly listened to every word this elderly woman spoke, thirsty for as much information that I could find out, other workers gathered about too. In truth, I don’t recall how long we stood listening to her, but as I left the Hall I began to understand what the true meaning was behind the visions of ’85.
So began my quest…in my mid forties without any professional training everyday I worked at building a story that would capture the imagination of others. From that day forward, I’ve never lost sight of the quest of a lifetime.
From a spark from my youth that overtime has grown into a bright flame in my forties the novel that I was researching was eventually became an epic series that spans over a century; 1860’s – 1960’s.
As readers follow this rich cast of characters from the “Doves Collect” series struggling for what they believe in during our nation's most turbulent times, my sincere hope is that my labor of love, will capture the reader's imagination, while taking their mind on a holiday -- a holiday where they will be swept away from the hustle and bustle of their day-to-day routine, identifying with the characters' trials and tribulations and come to think of them as their friends; some they will cheer on and sympathize with, and some they will love to hate. Either way, they will be missed when coming to the end.
With the third book from the series, Doves Migration released in March 2008, perhaps you can understand why I say, anything is possible if you believe.
As Linda’s flame continues to shine while perfecting her craft as a storyteller, she enjoys hosting a weekly chat on “Marketing Your Wares” every Saturday evening at 9:00 pm EST at www.lindadaly.net
for other storytellers, along with being the founder, CEO, and President of Light Sword Publishing. Visit www.lspdigital.com
to view some of Ms Daly’s favorite storytellers.