My inaugural public book signing, from the top of a garbage can, was most definitely not what anyone expected. Family, friends, students, faculty, administrators, and security personnel marveled at the hilarious scene about fifty feet from two large fire trucks.  It was my long-dreamed-of homecoming to Austin Peay State University (APSU), the cherished place where I began my collegiate studies right after high school.

A fortuitous series of events unfolded in early 2013 that led to the September 24 book signing. My publisher had just accepted my book. We received our first-ever invitation to an APSU alumni event near our home in Austin. When we arrived at the event, university president Timothy L. Hall invited us to sit next to him for the informal reception and dinner that was to follow. Over dinner I described my memoir to President Hall and asked if he thought it would be appropriate for a book signing at APSU. It’s a memoir, Cold Turkey at Nine: The Memoir of a Problem Child. Within days after he returned to campus, he set the wheels in motion for the signing to happen. It was that simple.

APSU's impressive Morgan University Center where my book signing was held.

APSU’s impressive Morgan University Center where my book signing was held.

Ellen and I arrived on campus at the appointed time at the Morgan University Center with a supply of books in a piece of wheeled luggage. Our first sighting of the building was unusual in that hundreds of people stood around it. One of my relatives later said she first thought the large crowd was there for my book signing! It didn’t look that way to me.

Oh, I forgot to tell you that I had a new case of unwelcome laryngitis. So Ellen asked three students as we walked up if there was a fire drill. No, there was an actual fire in the building. The students directed us toward the entrance and as we proceeded that way President Hall appeared in front of us and said a number of family and friends were waiting. He led us to them near the main entrance. He explained as we walked that an electrical fire was likely the problem inside.

Walking up to those who had earlier gathered inside, but were now evacuated, was a special moment for me. My sardonic first cousin, Bettye Russell Tidwell, expressed delight that I had laryngitis and would not talk too much. Earl Cragon Baggett, whose name Earl I received at birth while he recuperated from a shrapnel wound in an army field hospital in Naples during World War II, sat beaming at me next to Bettye. I beamed back at him, an extra father figure as I was growing up. I learned later that several students walked up to him to thank him for his service and to eagerly talk about his war experiences.

Earl Cragon Baggett, a Purple Heart veteran of World War II, already had read the book but attended the signing anyway.

Earl Cragon Baggett, a Purple Heart veteran of World War II, already had read the book but attended the signing anyway.

Some present had other engagements coming up as we waited outside for about an hour, so they asked to buy books before they left. Happy to oblige, I hoisted my piece of luggage with the books onto a decorative but functional garbage can and began to sell and sign books! The scene was simply hilarious as a few people began to take pictures of my highly atypical inaugural homecoming book signing.

Carolyn and Billy Walker enjoying buying a book from the top of a garbage can.

Carol and Billy Walker enjoying buying a book from the top of a garbage can.

Dwight Dickson is another fun-loving person who wanted a book signed on top of a garbage can.

Dwight Dickson is another fun-loving person who wanted a book signed on top of a garbage can.

The author with Ruth Russell Nunn, his niece. What's up with that rubber chicken?

The author with Ruth Russell Nunn, his niece. What’s up with that rubber chicken?

Billy Shelton, a Vietnam veteran, buys another book from the top of a garbage can.

Billy Shelton, a Vietnam veteran, buys another book from the top of a garbage can.

After the building reopened, Rylan Kean of APSU led us inside to where my author table was waiting. Beside it was a festive table with punch and cookies, which served as a fine way to attract students and university personnel close enough that I could engage them about my memoir. This reminded me of how much I enjoyed college students when I was a faculty member, bringing back to mind numerous times when I developed laryngitis but went on talking somehow. People seem to pay closer attention to what I’m saying when I speak at something close to a loud whisper.

Discussing with a student how APSU effects on his life were recorded in the memoir.

The author talks with a student about how APSU affected his life as a student there.

Engaging with a student who will pursue a career in medicine.

Engaging with a student who will pursue a career in medicine.

As a student examines book materials, Tammy Hall Bryant, APSU's director of student activities, purchases a book.

As a student examines book materials, Tammy Bryant, APSU’s director of student affairs, purchases a book.

My inaugural book signing back home was a very special moment in my life. That it was so unusual in its execution has now given me yet another story to tell, beyond this blog post, and you can be sure I will mention it at upcoming signings and author chitchats.

My homecoming return to Austin Peay State University, which has nearly quadrupled its size since I was a student there, was a most fitting place to personally introduce my memoir to the world. I’m grateful. I’m honored. And I’m indebted to the fine academic tradition of APSU because it taught me early on that I had to study in college, something I did not know when I entered way back then. I learned things there that influenced my life to this day, a few of which I had the good sense to include in my memoir.

And I’m grateful to my family and friends who attended. Words are not available to me to express how deeply touching it was to see them there. I trust they will never forget buying books from me and giving me the high honor of signing them from the top of a garbage can.

Postscript: Here I also express deep gratitude to many of my high school classmates who gathered at an informal dinner the night before the signing. They brought copies of my memoir that they had read over the summer. Others who could not attend the APSU signing purchased books. They poured good wishes all over me as I eagerly signed those books for special friends that go back over half a century. I love them all.

Photo Credits: Ellen S. Russell took all the photos shown here. She is a painter and newly-minted book publicist. 🙂

Related posts:

Daddy’s Six Cents

Uncle W. G. and Me

Reaching Mother’s Limit

The Infamous Chicken Hunt

The Ketchup Bottle

Birth of a Memoir

Upcoming signings:

Nashville, Tennessee, Saturday, September 28, 2013, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., at Vanderbilt University’s Barnes & Noble campus bookstore.

Austin, Texas, Tuesday, October 1, 2013, 7:00 p.m., at BookPeople, Local Author Night with two other authors.

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