Valley Pike: Hidden treasures
Posted: October 3, 2012
“The human heart has hidden treasures,In secret kept, in silence sealed;—The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,Whose charms were broken if revealed.
— Charlotte Bronte, “Evening Solace”
I stumbled across this intriguing quatrain while reading a delightful new book, “The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap” by Wendy Welch.
Ms. Welch will be in Winchester next Wednesday, at The Book Gallery, where she will sign copies of her engrossing tale about starting a used book store, on a whim, in the Appalachian Coalfields.
But providing Ms. Welch some advance publicity is not my intent here. Rather, it’s to relate how Miss Bronte’s verse, used as a chapter lead in “Little Bookstore,” prompted some serious thinking on my part. Precisely, what “hidden treasures” does my heart possess?
Admittedly, I stride into this discussion on little cat’s feet. Who in their right mind wants to reveal such “pleasures”? After all, to do so breaks the “seal” of the charm inherent in secret thoughts. In other words, reveal the pleasure and lose the treasure. I’ll risk it.
So what innermost thoughts do I harbor? Nothing more than those of an overactive imagination. Ever since childhood, I’ve relished the “what-ifs.” I imagine myself residing in different locales, often new places just visited, and craft scenarios to reflect such residency.
OK, you say, writers do this all the time. We call them novelists. And rare is the person, I suppose, who hasn’t visited a famous place — Boston, New Orleans, Williamsburg, Tombstone, wherever — and imagined living there in days gone by. That’s only natural.
But I’ve taken it a step further. No place is too prosaic to get my juices stirring. I remember full well the first time it happened. We were driving my sister from our New Jersey home to college in Pittsburgh. I was all of 11 years old.
Anyway, we stopped for the night in Breezewood, Pa., and ventured down the road to Everett for dinner. It was Saturday evening, and the little town, as my dad said, was “jumping.” By the time we got back to our Howard Johnson’s motel, my mind was “jumping.” I had already “moved” me and three of my best friends from our North Jersey neighborhood, which I cherished, to Everett. I was lost in my own little dream world.
Little did I know then but my career choice was on course. That willingness to imagine — or, in later years, to empathize with subjects of feature stories — has served me in good stead.
For instance, during my days as a heritage writer in Danville, I wrote voluminously about that city’s Schoolfield neighborhood, once a mill village nestled in the shadows of the Dan River textile plant. I think I bonded with the Schoolfield folk, a number of whom made the trip here for my wedding years later, precisely because I imagined myself living there among them in those quaint and functional mill houses.
And though I earn my daily bread at The Star as an opinion writer, my penchant for such vicarious walkabouts has not ceased. It bubbles up whenever I write about the Ron Rice-Walter Barr years, that golden era of local football. And seldom do I pass a reunion weekend with my wife’s high-school buddies, as I did recently, that I don’t imagine what it must have been like coming of age in East Bank, W.Va., back in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Folks may see these dreamy wanderings as proof of deep-seated unhappiness with life as it actually exists. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ability to imagine beats within the soul of any writer, however humble. It’s the wellspring, the vein of creative impulse and, as such, is neither guilty pleasure nor “hidden treasure.”