A few weeks ago, I had a visit from Susan.
Susan grew up in the house my husband and I bought in April. She was visiting Illinois (she now lives in California) and asked if she could drop in to visit her childhood home. We set up a day and time that worked for both of us, and we spent the designated afternoon wandering from room to room as she told some of the stories Five-Ten (a shorthand name for the home derived from the house number) witnessed over the years.
The stories carried waves of nostalgia and smiles. I was enjoying my role as a bystander to memories when we climbed the stairs and stopped on the landing. Susan pointed to the room we’ve designated as the guest room and said, “That’s the Peck Room.”
I wasn’t sure I heard correctly — had she said Peg? Perk? Peck? So I repeated, “The Peck Room?”
Susan nodded. “It’s named after the author Richard Peck. He slept in that room.”
Goosebumps rippled over my neck, arms, and legs. “Richard Peck? As in, the Richard Peck? ‘A Long Way from Chicago’ Richard Peck?”
Yes. “A Long Way from Chicago” Richard Peck.
As in, the same Richard Peck whose work heavily influenced the storytelling style of my own in-progress “The Mountain of Dempsey Molehill.”
Susan, who seemed pleased I recognized his work, explained that her mother was a member of the city’s Friends of the Library group and was pivotal in bringing Richard Peck to town for a presentation. As part of his visit, Susan’s parents hosted his stay at their home.
I, of course, had every intention of continuing the tradition of naming the room the Peck Room. I mentioned to Susan that I wanted to a get a small nameplate to hang on the door designating the room by name.
A few days later, this arrived in the mail:
The family already had a plaque commemorating Peck’s stay. When Susan’s mother got word that Peck’s visit was so significant to my reading and writing history, she sent the plaque back to Five-Ten. It now hangs on the wall alongside the Peck Room doorway.
Another literary twist
This discovery of Richard Peck’s stay in my new home isn’t the only accidental literary link I’ve found between myself and Five-Ten. I wrote a column in August about a book that lived at Five-Ten, changed owners’ hands, and then returned home.
The abridged version: The former owner of Five-Ten grew up in Maine and purchased a copy of “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo. She made notes in the margin comparing the town in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and Streator (where she spent another 50+ years of her life at Five-Ten). Eventually she donated the book to a used book sale, where I found and bought it. There’s an address sticker on the bottom right corner of the cover, which is how I discovered who previously owned the book.
Fast forward a handful of years, and I was packing up our rental home across town when I rediscovered “Empire Falls” — and its address sticker. Even though I would be moving into Five-Ten for the first time, the book was returning home.
It’s now displayed in a place of honor on the bookshelf.
Five-Ten is a literary home. For five decades it sheltered a book-loving family that built shelves for nearly every room, conducted book clubs, and hosted authors. The vibes in these walls are strong for writing.
I hope I can contribute the next phase of literary history to Five-Ten.