Our eight-hour train trip to Minnesota on Thursday gave me lots of time to think. Doing the math on my fingers, I counted one, two, three, four years since our last trip to Minneapolis.
Our 2006 trip was all about meeting Anthony LeTourneau, the artist Blue Marlin Publications had chosen to illustrate Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound. Tony lives with his wife and three kids on a Minnesota hobby farm 12 hours away from Chicago. Early that summer, Tony had asked my husband Mike to take photos of Hanni and me and mail them so he could get to work. “I’ll send some sample drawings back from time to time,” he told Mike. “That way you can check to see if I’m on the right track.”
A couple of the sketches Mike got in the mail were just a teeny bit off. Hanni’s harness is made of leather, but in the drawings it looked like plastic. In the illustration of Hanni confronting a hole in the sidewalk, Tony had Hanni’s body horizontally in front of me. Hanni is always at my left-hand side, a little bit ahead of me. When she stops, she stays facing forward. I stop, too, gliding one foot along the surface ahead of us to feel what’s there. If I don’t find a curb or the top step of a flight of stairs, or a hole at my feet, I wave one arm back and forth in space. Maybe Hanni saw yellow construction tape stretched along our path. Or a low hanging branch. Or a sawhorse.
I knew Tony would get a better “picture” of how the two of us work if he saw us in person, so on a beautiful autumn day in 2006 Hanni and I boarded a Megabus full of college students and took off on a ten-hour trip to Minneapolis. My niece Caren, who lives in Plymouth, MN, delivered us to a coffee shop where Tony and his family were waiting to meet us. His sketch pad and pencils were all set up already, and he didn’t waste time before asking us to pose. He photographed us, too. When Hanni needed a break outside, Tony followed us, taking notes on how Hanni and I work together. People in the coffee shop thought we were from Hollywood, and, I must admit, we did feel like stars.
Just about everyone who sees Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound now gushes about the artwork. “The illustrations are beautiful!” they say, admiring each and every oil painting. “The drawings look just like you!” So last Thursday, four years after posing in that Minnesota coffee shop, Hanni and I were back in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes to show off our beautifully illustrated book.
My sister Cheryl accompanied Hanni and me on our Amtrak ride to St. Paul, and just like in 2006, my niece (Cheryl’s daughter) was our chauffeur. Caren and her husband Mark have two delightful daughters, and it was a joy to visit Lydia and Audrey’s classrooms at Zachary Lane Elementary School on Friday.
It was Audrey’s job to sit at my side and choose which kindergarten classmate would ask the next question. My favorite came after I’d explained that Hanni doesn’t scratch the door when she wants to go outside. “I need to be sure to take her out every four hours, though” I said, hesitating a second to decide what wording was appropriate here with kindergartners. “You know, to give her a chance to go #1 and #2. I sensed the kids nodding their heads. Some typical questions followed. “How old is Hanni?” “Does she like to play with other dogs?” That sort of thing.
Then came the question du jour, from a boy near the front of the class. “What is #1?” he wondered. I turned to Audrey for help. “What would you call it?” I asked. She looked at the boy in the second row, and using her quiet inside voice, gave a one-word answer. “Pee.”