The Sketchbook – the compelling sweep of a Blair woman’s life

BLAIR – From cover to cover, her memories unfurl in a captivating succession of poignant scenes, ranging from funny to sobering and even tragic, but all brimming with detail and emotion.

The Sketchbook author Leah (LJ) Brown | Contributed

The book, titled, ‘The Sketchbook,’ is the first written by Leah Brown of Blair. It was published last May by Covenant Publishing Company.

The stories throughout Brown’s book illuminate the sweep of her life – the joys of a childhood with six sisters, a brother and her parents on a bustling family farm, the miseries of an unhappy first marriage, the birth of two sons, and what she describes as two years of bliss with her second husband before his unexpected death.

“My second husband showed me that marriage could be a happy time. And being married to him truly was a happy time in my life,” she recalled fondly.

Besides her struggles as a young wife and mother, the book also includes her satisfaction of rolling up her sleeves as a self-reliant “pioneer woman” as well as the tragic death of one of her sons, a pain that never quieted.

While Brown’s writing is not the polished prose of a New York Times best selling author, the anecdotes that build the book are fresh, plentiful and captivating. One such example is her recollection of a childhood moment that crystallized her love for her older sister, Lila, while they were walking home from school – a two and a half mile trip – during what Brown describes as a “blue-cold snow” blizzard. As a second-grader at the time, she’d found it almost impossible to push her legs through the towering snow.

It was “piled in deep drifts on the schoolyard. We had trouble on the road that afternoon from the accumulation … I couldn’t keep up. The wind was fierce, and I was frozen… I was so cold I can still remember the pain,” she writes. “Somewhere down that road, Lila noticed me. I was too big to carry, but she had compassion for me.

“Get behind me, Leah Joan. Stay close.

“She pushed her feet through the snow to make a path. Then she opened her own coat and held it open the rest of the way to block that awful wind. The love and gratitude I felt for her lasted from that time into many years.”

Much of the book is about one of her sons, Matthew, who never fully recovered mentally or physically from a boating accident that occurred when he was a young adult. As she moved herself and Matthew far away after her divorce, she talked about the shadow of fear the two lived with:

We both knew that Lenny knew where we were, and it dragged at us.

Proof of that knowledge came in the mail when Matthew received a subscription to a sports magazine. That subscription had to come from somebody, and a phone call to the magazine’s toll-free telephone number revealed the sender. It was Lenny.

Matthew and I both knew it was his way of letting us know that he, Lenny, could get to us anytime he chose…

The magazine continued to come, and Matthew gradually looked forward to reading each one from cover to cover. He never threw any away but stored them in plastic containers.

I thought that Matthew had forgotten where the subscription had come from. After a couple of years, it became [medically] necessary that he spend some time in Greenville; and while he was there, I sent him a subscription of the magazine that he liked so much. When he got the first one, he called me in a panic.

“It’s okay, buddy. I sent it to you.”

“Mama, I thought he knew where I was.”

“No, no. Everything is all right. We’re okay. I will see you in a couple of days. Is there anything I can bring for you?”

He laughed, and I could hear the stress melting away.

Brown’s memoir is also woven with fond anecdotes of the pets and farm animals she’s known throughout her life – stories that could probably be best summarized in her simple assertion that “animals are good company.

Born in West Virginia, Brown, 76, was raised in Indiana, Nebraska and Pennsylvania. She came to Fairfield County in 1969 and, during her mid forties, graduated cum laude from the University of South Carolina with a degree in K-12 education.

“But I never taught school,” Brown said. “I worked as an interior designer and in landscape design and management.”

Her path to writing came unexpectedly and late in life. After what Brown described in her book as years of spousal abuse – both physical and emotional – that resulted in divorce after 43 years of marriage, she said the attorney who handled her divorce encouraged her to write.

“She saw some sketches of my writing during the divorce proceedings and suggested I should write,” Brown said. About four years later, she did just that.

“It took me eight or nine months to write ‘The Sketchbook’,” Brown said, “and almost two more years to see it in print.”

Brown is currently working on a second book that she started writing four months ago and that she says should be finished by March or April.

 ‘The Sketchbook is available at Amazon in Kindle for $9.99 and in paperback for $14.09. It is also available at Barnes & Noble bookstores.

Ashley Ghere contributed to this story.

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