Harriet Doerr was a sweet old gal.
I say that advisedly because she was sweet, and she was old. I first encountered her at a time in my life when I began to cultivate friendships and relationships with old people.
Why old people? I’m tempted to ask if you know why I like to flirt with old women? It’s because they appreciate it so much more. While very true, that’s a flip response. Fact is that old people have a lot to offer, in very much the same way that very young people have a lot to offer, if you can just shut up for a moment and engage them.
Among the old people I pursued were Ms. Doerr, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner, Carlton A. Sheffield, who was John Steinbeck’s roommate at Stanford, and a number of others who were famous only to me.
I found a phone number for Ms. Doerr when I first acquired a copy of her first book, Stones for Ibarra published by Viking in 1984. It won the Nation Book Award. And, oh, by the way, it was published when she was 74 years old, a fact I find ever-more inspiring as I march ever onward toward my 70s.
So I called her up and asked if she would sign my copy of her book. She readily agreed, although she professed a modesty as to why that would be important. She reported that she had a few first printings of her first book, too, as well as copies of her subsequent books, The Tiger in the Grass and Consider This, Senora. Should she sign her own copies of her own books, she asked? Absolutely, I replied. At some point those books would belong to someone else, and that someone else would surely like the bragging rights in saying they had Harriet Doerr’s own copy of her book.
Perhaps Ms. Doerr inherited or learned her style and grace. She was the grand-daughter of Henry Edwards Huntington of the Huntington Library fame. But being related to famous or well-known people doesn’t guarantee that you will possess talent or know how to use it. I’m sorry to report that we never met, other than over the phone, but I can say that every call was a delight, a wonderful moment with someone both kind and modest, as well as intelligent. You could do worse.