Ken Schept's A Gift of Feathers
When Ken Schept, author of A Gift of Feathers, sent me his manuscript last year, I stepped back in time, hearing his mother’s voice when I visited. “Susan,” she would say happily, “so delicious to see you!”
While I have reviewed many books over the years, this is the first one from a family friend, whose parents and my parents were best friends, at whose home I spent many hours and whose children, were my childhood buddies.
A Gift of Feathers is a fitting tribute to Grandma Dot, or Dottie as I called her, her life and her death, her love for her family and their love for her.
In Judaism, you say when someone dies, “May his or her memory be for a blessing.” The author concurs, saying “the power of memory [is] a source of comfort after loss.” His mother passed away after a long, fruitful life, loved by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This story shows the support of a multi-generational family, the affection between the generations and the support given in time of death.
The vehicle of love and memory in this story is the feather collection that Grandma Dot gathers, saying it reminds her of the love of those who have passed away, their sending a message to her. Ken told me, “The Grandma Dot character in A Gift of Feathers is based on my own mother who lived until age 99….Trim and agile, she’d bend down to pick up feathers that she often found during her daily walks. The feathers were a source of comfort, signals that her departed brothers were looking out for her. She collected the feathers in a vase.” Her son, Ken, now collects them as well. I didn’t know that Dottie had collected them and considered it a beautiful and charming custom, although nothing I would do.
That’s what I thought.
One morning in January, while an aid was with my husband, I went outside to my backyard, taking a break from caring for my very ill husband. I was sweeping the patio when I saw a feather. I bent to pick it up and saw several more. I gathered ten in all, quite surprised, never having seen so many together. Suddenly I thought of Ken’s story and dialed my phone. “Your mom is sending me a message,” I shouted and told him of the feathers I found. I didn’t know what the message was until later that evening when my husband passed away. I now have a container of feathers on my table, adding when I find one or two more.
A Gift of Feather is a blend of fiction and reality. “The story finally took shape two years after my mother’s death, narrated with the wise voice of my older granddaughter,Talula, who was ten when my mother died.” This story expresses a truth, as good writing does. Loss is difficult for those who are left. The emptiness and sadness are confusing to adults and children alike. In the story, grandchild Rhea asks her mother on the way to the funeral, “But where is Grandma Dot now?”
Her mother taps Rhea’s head and heart gently, indicating that is where she remains, in our memories and affection. We ask the same question that Rhea does, after the death of a loved one. Where is that person in the emptiness that we now feel? And where are we, the one left behind?
As this story tells us, the memories that we hold fill some of the emptiness, reminding us of the love shared when that person has left our sight. A Gift of Feathers is a most beautiful story for children to read or be read to. The story introduces death in a loving and supportive fashion, enhanced through very charming illustrations by Romina Galotta.
It is a special story personally, recalling Grandma Dot, a second mother to me, and her dear friend, my own mother, who passed away this winter. It is a chance to remember both each time I find a feather. It is a chance to thank Grandma Dot for sending me love on a day that I greatly needed it. Thank you, Ken, for writing what I believe will become a classic and beloved story.
Roasted Vegetables are the recipe for this review in honor of the author’s grandchildren, the real Talula and Rhea, who “are vegetarians, because of their love for animals, I believe. They raise chickens, gather the fresh eggs and eat the healthy vegetables and grown in their backyard,” Ken tells me. While unfortunately not homegrown, these vegetables are beautiful, delicious and healthy. Bon appétit!