Fort Smith High School
Linda Tanner

LATE FOR MY LIFE


A web of contradictions encompassed my young years in Ft. Smith, stemming primarily from a maternal insistence on outward appearances that neglected the inner person. After graduation, I attended Stephens College in MO, where I became editor of the literary journal and discovered creative writing abilities. Assigned to a private writing seminar with an instructor/writer in the English department, I won an Atlantic Monthly writing scholarship to the graduate school of Middlebury College in VT, where I stayed for their Writers’ Conference, then transferred to Middlebury as an undergraduate student. I met my husband Gary there, who graduated a year before me. Eager simply to finish school and get married, I left Middlebury, spending my senior year at the Univ. of Arkansas--a move I later regretted because I felt I’d not fulfilled my potential.

All we believe we are falls away in layers over time until even the body doesn’t cooperate as it once did. From the vantage point of age 68, I’m aware that my decisions played a crucial role in shaping who I am now. Despite a strong marriage and three incredible children, the sense of something missing remained, so that I consequently spent far too many years waiting for life to start up. In fact, what was missing was the authentic self buried beneath a burden of convention, others’ expectations, and my own perfectionism. The years I spent waiting became the means that eventually allowed me to connect with others and bring insight into their lives through my writing. I possess an extraordinary sense of gratitude that I was not entirely late for my life but only discovered its fullness as someone a bit older. My three children--Amy, Betsy, and Matt, along with grandchildren Chloe, Noah, and Owen--are among my life’s finest treasures.

Writing successes have come in small literary journals and awards—most recently the Christopher Newport University First Place Award in Poetry at their annual Writers’ Conference, for a poem titled, “Calling My People Home.” I am currently seeking publication for a book of the same name, which expresses the sense of “coming home,” as one often seeks to do in the later years of life, a circling back to where we began, closing loose ends, and reconciling all that has been.

My personal “bucket list” included conquering a fear of the water (Bill Jones, you know who you are!). With three other couples, my husband of 46 years and I went sailing on a 51-ft. boat in the British West Indies, where I slid into the water like a seal, snorkeling in 60-ft. depths with utterly no panic. Never mind the fact that I was the only person in the entire region wearing a flotation vest (my granddaughter Chloe’s, by the way: it was the only one that fit me). My new round of swimming lessons begins Aug. 14.

I live at the ocean and love it. We moved to Virginia Beach three years ago, when I retired from 20 years of work at York College of Pennsylvania and my husband Gary from 34 years of medical practice in Pennsylvania. After years spent in an area where I didn’t flourish well, my husband swore we’d go South, but VA Beach was the closest to grandchildren we could find so we discovered a private area at the beginning of the VA Outer Banks where we have both salt water and fresh—the Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge is literally in our back yard. He fishes; I walk the beach and dream.

I will do the latter in October, unable to make it to Ft. Smith for the Reunion. I will think of you all—and of who you’ve become—with great satisfaction.

Linda "Tanner" Ardison - 2008