Phyllis Keels is my good friend and a critique partner. In honor of her father, she wrote a children’s book called Emma and the Paper. I asked her to tell how the story came about and why she published this book in her father’s memory. Welcome, Phyllis!
One day, I let Emma fetch the paper when my Dad drove up so she wouldn’t knock him down. Like any good retriever, Emma lives to fetch. The next morning she went straight to my Dad’s side of the truck and brought the paper in. Then she began disemboweling it. She’s such a good dog, though, that she learned “drop it” very quickly.
From then on, Emma listened for my Dad’s truck on weekend mornings. Because he was such a consistent and thoughtful man, he always came at the same time. Emma knew when it was paper time.
My Dad dealt with different types of cancer for about twenty years. The last few years were the hardest but he kept being the faithful servant of God he had always been. Even when he could hardly walk, he went to church, sat at the table for Sunday dinner, and took care of his family.
The Lord gave me the idea to turn our newspaper fetch into a children’s story. It took several months to form in my mind and in 2007 Emma and the Paper came together. Afterward I looked for someone to illustrate the story but couldn’t find anyone I knew who could do it.
In 2009 when I realized I didn’t have much time left with my Dad, the Lord put on my heart to illustrate the story myself. I am not an artist. The best I can do is some stick figures. It was as if God said, “Then just draw stick figures.” I was to give this book to my Dad before he died.
I made sketches of what I thought the characters in the book would look like. I already had the model for Emma by looking at my own sweet dog. But I couldn’t get the little girl Abigail right. Looking for children’s book artists on the Internet gave me ideas, styles, and types of characters. I finally found one that inspired me. It was the pigtails that did it.
Soon after that I spent a weekend drawing the illustrations for the book. I used the old watercolors I had bought years ago and had never opened. Since I wanted this book to be a handmade gift, I wrote the text under each drawing and bound the pages together.
My Dad was on a lot of pain medication at that time so when I gave the book to him he didn’t seem as excited as I had thought he would be. But he smiled and told me it was wonderful and thanked me. The next day, when I came over to visit, he had the book beside him on the end table. He picked it up and smiled so brightly. He said the book was a great gift and that he loved it.
In the days just before he died, my Dad couldn’t speak much. We cared for him at home until he went to be with the Lord. Once, after I brought him some water and held his head up while he drank it, he looked at me for a moment and whispered, “Thank you.” I don’t know why, but I felt he meant not just for the water, but for everything.
He was such a grateful man. Yet, I’m more thankful to have been his daughter. To have even known my father was an honor. But to have been born to and raised by such a steadfast, faithful, wise servant of God is a priceless treasure.
My dear Mom carries on the tradition and brings the paper over now. When Emma goes out to fetch it, I still think of how my Dad laughed at Emma’s exuberance. That’s the picture I remember of him: face lit by a wide smile, waving out the window at me. It was our thing.
Thanks, Phyllis. Those of us who knew him miss Jesse and his incredible Biblical knowledge.
Phyllis has just finished her Christian fantasy, The Lady of Daldriada. It’s in the rewrite stage while she drafts the second book in the series, The Yeoman of Daldriada. And she’s being humble. The drawings in Emma and the Paper are whimsical and fun! Click on her name under my links section for her website and information on the availability of her childrens’ book.
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