April in Oregon Country

Though I have the hardest working publisher in New York, there is no end of effort I can put in as a first time author.

So I’ve been busy this month sending out emails about my upcoming events in Oregon.

The Paulina Springs Bookstore in Sisters and in Redmond will host me on May 6 and 7, respectively. I know the bookstores have contacted the newspapers and libraries, so I’ve researched lists that I think will be helpful: public school teachers, college professors and parent groups.

The closest parent group to the Redmond-Sisters-Bend area is Burns, hours to the east on a long, lonely stretch of highway.

I can’t find an email address for the parent group contact, Lisa Tiller, but there is a phone number. A man answers the phone and tells me she is not home. She is at a meeting, she’ll be home later and he’ll give her the message.

How many times did I hear my dad say those same words, holding the kitchen phone, the long cord strung along the counter top? This is the phone that never stopped ringing, and on the other end was always a worried parent, usually a mom, who wanted to talk to mine. Mom spent endless hours with her ear pressed to the receiver offering what advice she had to give in this new frontier that was autism, or just listening if that was what the other mom needed.

Lisa’s husband takes my number. I mention that I got her name off the Autism Society of Oregon website. And there is this pause.

He asks if I have a child with autism. I say no, I have a sister. How old, he wants to know. Forty-four yesterday, I say. He tells me that their son is 17, still at home and just had his IEP meeting yesterday. Tonight’s meeting is also about that boy.

I think all you can do, he says, is learn by sharing your story with other people.

The following week I find myself on quiet highway 97 to Moro, south of Biggs and east of The Dalles.

You only have to be on this road for a minute to feel like the Columbia River Gorge is a world away. This is a country of rolling hills covered in young wheat greening up against the spring sky. All you can see for mile upon mile is curves of green.

At the Sherman County Public library I meet a group of locals, and every one of them had a different story.

There is the mom battling credit card companies who gave cards to her son, a young man with Aspergers and no sense of money.

I meet a grandmother who takes care of her grandon, who has autism, because his mom is too overwhelmed with school, work and her other kids.

A young couple, with no autism in the family, is reading my book. And the woman tells me every night she reads some more and then tells her little girls as she tucks them in bed— guess what Margaret did today?

And sisters, two of a family of seven, now in their 50s and with a brother who was never diagnosed, but they are certain is on the spectrum.

We share our stories, punch, and homemade Easter cookies.

The wind out here is fierce — it shakes the windows and rattles the doorknobs.

At the end of the evening, Jeanne McArthur, my host, walks me to my car. We talk about the need for white space — in art, in our relationships, in this rural landscape.

As I drive north, I see hundreds of windmills I hadn’t noticed before. They rise, sharp and white like giants against the darkening sky.

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