I walk home from my latest book club meetup. I’m wearing jeans and a jacket for the first time in months. This late September, it finally feels like fall. I pass through the wooden tunnel beside the latest construction zone. The wooden foundation seems to shake with each footstep, but I feel safe and somehow separate from the world in this enclosure.
I look down at my phone and see a missed text from a former colleague. She asks if I’ve read her latest email. I check my google inbox, and see the email with the subject line: Roscoe’s death at 95. I quickly scan its contents and then call my friend, tears streaming down my face. I exit the tunnel and stop at the crosswalk, waiting for the walk sign.
In 2013 a few weeks after I completed my MFA in creative writing and publishing arts, a former colleague of mine approached me at work asking if I could help with a self-publishing book project. I was hesitant at first, having never published anything but my own work and feeling a bit burnt out from graduate school. But I agreed to meet this self-publishing connoisseur.
Roscoe Born, a former Washington DC editor and journalist, had recently self-published his first mystery novel In the Prime of Death as an ebook at the age of 91. My colleague was worried about Roscoe’s timing and knew that he wanted to see this book in print form. Having just self-published my MFA thesis in book form, she hoped I would help.
It was a bigger project than all three of us ever imagined. We often met Roscoe at his retirement community in Sykesville, Maryland to discuss the design and details of this print edition. We communicated heavily over email. From the time I knew him till his passing in 2015, Roscoe was very technologically savvy and used email on the daily.
In Its Prime
Over the next two years, we printed three editions of In the Prime of Death. I learned a lot about managing a freelance project and consulting with authors and printers. I was able to upkeep my design skills from graduate school and pick up a few more. So in early 2015 when both Roscoe and my colleague approached me about helping to design a print edition of Roscoe’s collection of works, I never considered saying no.
And even though Roscoe and I bonded over Prime, I enjoyed helping him put together this “collection” more. It exemplified his versatile writing skills and showcased his life’s work. I felt like I knew him better just from reading this collection. He never acquired an ISBN number for the book; it was meant for a handful of family and friends. My colleague went to the extra trouble of digging up old photos to use throughout the book, such as the one of him with his Wall Street Journal guest Jimmy Hoffa at the White House Correspondents Association dinner in 1960.
I saw Roscoe go through a series of health ailments in the few years I knew him, and even though both my colleague and I knew he could pass at any time, he always pulled through. So when my friend told me of his passing a month ago, I was immediately disheartened to know I would never see that warm, inviting face again, that I would never again go to Sykesville and see his small, thin stature standing by the door ready to greet me.
I would never again receive a warm email from him about some new epiphany related to Prime or his collection. We would not swap editorial stories or talk about our favorite roasted coffee beans. I wouldn’t bring him ginger cookies as a treat post-lunch or listen with him to Mary Hopkin sing “Those Were the Days.” We would no longer share our love of college basketball. And I would never again see him hunched over his early 20th century dictionary with magnifying glass in hand, looking up the correct spelling for a word used in his book.
Roscoe became more than a freelance client and a former colleague of my friend. He became a mentor and a friend. He was a great listener and a great conversationalist. He always wanted the best for me and my colleague. He had a great attention to detail and a certain way with words. This made him a top-notch editor and an exceptional writer.
The last time I saw Roscoe was back in July. We were celebrating life and the printing of his collection of works. My friend placed a bit of carrots on his plate as we sipped coffee from handmade cups. Roscoe just finished telling us the story of how he grew to like carrots. It was the only vegetable I ever saw him eat.
As a college student in Kansas, he wanted to make use of his health center fees so he made an appointment, and when he met with the doctor, it somehow came up that he didn’t like vegetables. And because vegetables were supposedly good for you, as Roscoe told us, the doctor recommended he go to a restaurant and pick out a vegetable and eat as much as he could. Then repeat this exercise a few more nights until he finished the serving of vegetables.
Roscoe did this. He went to a restaurant, and the vegetable of the day was carrots. And so little by little, on each night he visited the restaurant, he ate the carrots. Eventually, he grew to like the taste of them. And that’s how he started eating carrots.
I attended his memorial service a week after his passing, and my friend and I told his story of how he came to like carrots. It seemed to encompass so much of Roscoe’s character – the fact that he wanted to get the most out of his health fees, and if he hadn’t done so, he may have never found carrots.
And if I hadn’t agreed to the self-publishing book project, I may have never met Roscoe and helped him publish print versions of his two latest books (one of which is now on Amazon). When I learned of his passing, I was grateful he went quickly and didn’t have to experience much pain. But I was also sad that the world lost such an insightful, dedicated man, who at 95 could still have a great impact on a young writer/editor’s life.
This past week I stopped by The Montgomery Farm Women’s Cooperative Market to pick up some vegetables for dinner. I perused the stand of onions, potatoes, squash, broccoli, and zucchini. And then I saw the large-stemmed carrots, a weathered orange. I picked one up and added it to my pile.
For you Roscoe.
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