A Goodbye

My grandfather, Philip Anthony Sadler, passed away on December 25. He served for nearly thirty years as a professor of children's literature at the University of Central Missouri, where he founded and for all those years ran their Children's Literature Festival, which remains one of the largest such events in the United States. He had been sick in various ways -- a stroke, lymphoma, heart trouble -- for years, but none of the illnesses ever dampened his mind or his spirit, and we were fortunate to be able to see him right before Christmas, when he died in peace. He is survived by my mother, his daughter, Becky Klein, and her husband Alan; his daughter-in-law, Leslie Hart, and her husband Jon; my sister, Melissa Jackson, and her husband Joe; my cousins Diana Sadler and Bruce Sadler; many dear friends, especially Floyd and Susan Pentlin, Naomi Williamson, and many authors; three brothers, Graham, Milton, and Paul Sadler, and their wives; and my boyfriend James, and me. He was eighty years old.

Those are the facts; and we are left with the feelings that accompany them, the simultaneous lack and multiplicity of connection that signify death. The lack is in the absence, the knowledge that he is no longer there, at the other end of a phone line or e-mail, loving oysters, Jessica Fletcher, and good books; wearing his grandpa sweaters; complaining about modern-dress productions at the Kansas City Lyric Opera -- for me specifically, that he will not be at ALA Midwinter in Boston in three weeks, moving determinedly through the exhibition halls on his cane. And then the multiplicity is in the connections that we try (or I try) to fill that absence with: that a piece of pecan pie at Marie Callender's can stop me for a moment, make me think how much he loved it; that a side remark in a conversation can touch off the story he told often and all his grandchildren can recite by heart, climaxing with "Mizz Sadler, your boys are talkin' nasty!" in a full Southern accent. Those memories, our knowledge of how well he died, saying goodbye, all of that, cannot compensate for the the hole in our worlds right now; and I imagine there might always be a Papa-shaped space in my life, as I can still feel out the edges of a Grandma-shaped space some days. But we go on around those edges, living the lives we've made by being the people they made of us.

This is especially true for me, because I owe my entire present life as a children's book editor in New York to my grandfather. He gave me his review copies of children's books for years and years, so I never stopped reading them, even when I had long supposedly outgrown them. He introduced me to the world of book people through the Festival -- that there were authors who made these books, that they were consciously grown and shaped. He unconsciously taught me to associate the literary life with culture and travel and cosmopolitanism, so that when I was ten or twelve years old, my great goal in life was to be a children's literature professor just like him. He knew how appreciative I was of these gifts, I'm glad to say, and knew also the one way I could think of to repay him: My book, when it appears next year, will be dedicated to him and my grandmother. For now, I'm still so grateful for my life, the family he helped create and bring together, his presence with us for so many years, the books, always; and the best I can do is to do well by them.

Goodbye, Papa, and love, and thank you.