I just finished reading In with the Out Crowd by Norma Howe. In it, among other things like inviting a stranger to Christmas dessert, the protagonist Robin gets to go with her grandparents to Venice. It had been Grandpa Muncie’s promise to Grandma Noddy to take her to Venice for their 50th anniversary. But as the day approached, Muncie slipped further and further in the fog of Alzheimer’s. Robin escorts them there and flirts with a waiter (as you do in Venice).
Norma has characters visit Venice in other books. In the second book of the Blue Avenger series, the characters must go to Venice to solve a mystery. When Norma described how the boatmen wrap the rope on the vaporetto as they close the gate, I knew I had to meet her. This was some years ago when I first read the book. My instincts were right–Norma (and her husband Bob) had spent many a day in Venice and knew about those ropes and Campo San Bartolomeo and water reflections. I got to know them and fell in love with them both. Quirky hardly begins to describe them. They collect ashtrays (but don’t smoke), and have over 20,000 of them (including some vintage Venice ones that I covet). In their upstairs bathroom they have hanging from their window shade a bunch of pet tags, and on the tub is a Tiny Tim sticker.
Last summer I went to the Hotel Bartolomeo in Venice and told Ennio, their long time friend at the front desk, that Norma had died.
When I read Norma’s books, it’s like I get to visit with her. I know that when characters visit a donut shop, it comes from Norma’s collection of donut shop names or her habit with Bob of having a half a donut each day. In In with the Out Crowd, Robin ponders that idea of coincidence: if she hadn’t visited the restroom before leaving the hospital, she wouldn’t have run into Emery Day in the elevator and realized that he was more than a short, red-haired dork. I think about how the mention of vaporetto ropes in a young adult novel led me to Norma. Coincidence or serendipity? The universe lining things up? God at work? Not according to Norma, a sceptic, yet she loved to play with the idea anyway.
Norma left us a year ago this month. I think each year I’ll read her books in April and have a nice, long visit.