A small gray-haired figure seated in the middle of the fiction section shook my hand and smiled. A well-publicized book signing at a local shop drew a small crowd for this gentle man who looked more like someone’s aging uncle than “The Velvet Fog.” I spoke briefly with Mel Torme as I handed him a copy of “Wynner,” his first attempt at a fictional novel. It was 1978, and my grandmother was about to turn 75.
Encounters with writers at book signings often last only a few anxious moments, compressed attempts to forge a personal connection for the sake of inspiring a meaningful autograph. The magnitude of the author’s fame weighs heavily on the moment, especially when that legendary singer wrote the music for “A Christmas Song.”
My grandmother knew him as little Mel Torme, the child prodigy who lived down the street from her and my grandfather in the 1920s and 30s. She spoke fondly of walking past their house at the end of the street, the one with the bay window where a budding young musician’s gleaming drum set was prominently displayed.
“Oh yeah, I remember that,” he said in his soothing voice. He looked a bit sad as he nodded his head, as if the memory was so distant as to be from another lifetime.
Now that I’m older I can imagine that a glance down memory lane might someday be a trip not worth taking. Life goes by so quickly it stings, like Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
I told Mel this brief story as I handed him a copy of his book. Authors always seem to gingerly open the front cover of their newly published works, a bit in awe perhaps at the product of their labor, lovingly selecting a blank page on which to make their mark.
“Her name is Lucille. It’s for her 75th birthday,” I told him.
He nodded, smiled again and wrote a scrawling message to Grandma, the lady who lived near him as a child, as unseen as sidewalk cracks and fire hydrants, just part of the tableau that was his neighborhood. How could he have known that she strolled to a nearby grocery store for a turkey and some mistletoe, or that down on the corner Yuletide carols were being sung by a choir.
Someday Grandma would hum the comforting tune that rolled from Mel Torme’s mind during the middle of World War II, but that was years away. It was cold and beginning to snow. She had shopping to do and Grandpa was expecting her at home.