By: Crissie Miller Kirby
“…I have a need to bear witness to what I saw there. I want to tell you how it was. I want precision. I want a murderous, stunning truthfulness. I want to find my own singular voice for the first time. I want you to understand why I hate the school with all my power and passion. Then I want you to forgive me for loving the school. Some of the boys of the Institute and the men who are her sons will hate me for the rest of their lives. But that will be all right. You see, I wear the ring.”
— The Lords of Discipline
“I grew up slowly beside the tides and marshes of Colleton”
— The Prince of Tides
Looking back, I honestly don’t remember what made me fall in love with the wit, wisdom, and words of Pat Conroy. In some ways, it seems as if have always loved them, although we all know that cannot be true. The first recollection I have is watching The Prince of Tides, then reading the novel. In truth, it makes no difference; over the years, I have developed a deep admiration and respect for this Son of the South. I cannot boast about an impressive, first edition collection of Conroy books. I do own the majority of his books, but mostly in soft back editions. I did venture to eBay a few years back in search of a copy of The Boo, which had been out of print for many years. At the time, I may have spent $30 or $40, but it was worth it to complete “my collection” of Conroy novels.
This past Thursday night, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Pat Conroy interview and signing event at the Township Auditorium.
As I, my cousin Beth, and my dear friend Lynne, sat in our seats along the back row of the orchestra level, you could feel the excitement in the air. Maybe it really was just the excitement exuding from me and Beth. We are both lovers of the written word and she, truthfully, probably loves Pat Conroy even more than I. Of course, I had my trusty camera in hand so that I could record some of the moments for posterity, even if it is just my own memory that needs that feeding. As Mr. Conroy and Walter Edgar walked on stage and sat casually in the chairs, I almost felt like I was being given access to a very private conversation between the two men. He made us laugh and could have easily made us cry if it weren’t for the large company we were in and the fact that the funny anecdotes kept coming. Hearing him speak was a lot like reading one of his works; it would have been easy to lose yourself there in the auditorium for hours if only he would keep talking, if the novel never had an end.
Alas, end it did and we rose to join the ranks in line for the chance to meet and obtain signatures from the great Pat Conroy. Fortunately, our back row seating gave us nearly front door access to the quick-forming line and we did not have to wait long. As the three of us moved towards the table, I moved to take my place to take some pictures. Something was said about Batesburg-Leesville and I heard Pat Conroy laugh and say that he was sorry that we were from Batesburg-Leesville. As it turns out, one of his brothers is married to a “local” girl. As always, we are reminded that “it’s a small world after all.” As my turn came to stand in front of Mr. Conroy, I handed over the 3 books I had for him to sign; one of which was my EBay bought copy of The Boo. As he signed it, he tapped the front and said “this is a valuable edition”; to which I replied, “Yes sir, I feel fortunate to have been able to purchase it.”
While waiting in line, we had been given sticky notes on which to write our names or message, etc. Ever the writer, I had written the following on the Post-It note: “To Crissie, an aspiring Southern author.” As I rounded the table to shake his hand and to capture the moment for posterity, he laughed and said “tell Crissie about this little mistake”. I laughed and smiled when he pointed out that he had started writing “inspiring” instead of “aspiring.” I am certainly no inspiration, but thank you Mr. Conroy for being one of my inspirations and for reminding me that “there is a relationship between art and life.”
(And for those who might be curious, I checked eBay. An identical-to-mine, but unsigned, copy of The Boo is being offered up for a mere $550!)