Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sharon Ewing: A Flower of the Heart

Sharon and her daughter Nancy, 2014


Flowers of the Heart Nine November 26, 2017

For Sharon Dobbs Ewing

We sat together on the back row
of Svensen’s Shakespeare class.
He used to make fun of the girls
on the front row, say only the
pretty ones could sit there. Sharon
was a sorority girl, whose role was
to keep their grade average up.
I was a minister’s daughter and
rebelled against grades by my
senior year, but I loved that class.
We both made As. I visited her
family in Altus, for Thanksgiving,
and we lunched with our mothers 
at graduation. After that we lost
touch for nearly thirty years. In
1986 she wrote to me, saw my
name in the alumni mag. Was I
Judy Stevenson? Yes. I was editor
of Carolina Wren Press, and she
was looking for a publisher of
her poetry manuscript. She sent
it. I rejected it. She held on, and
that fall came to Chapel Hill with
her daughter Nancy to look at 
UNC as a possible college. That
fall I was overwhelmed. I had a
new NEH grant. My son had a
drinking problem, and I had to
move because the foundation
of my rental house was sinking.
I went to her motel room to meet
her. She hung on. By 1991, when 
I expected my first Russian visitor, 
I stayed with her and John in 
Alexandria. Mikhail was a no-show.
They helped me cope. When I
got home I learned he hadn’t been
able to get his visa. He came in
May 1992 for several weeks. 
Sharon had told me about the 
exchanges with Russian writers 
which the Virginia Center for
the Arts was doing, and i won
a place for July. I left for Russia
from their house and stayed in Russia
two months. I visited European and
then American friends and returned 
to Saxapahaw only at the end of
1992. By 1993, three Russian writers
arrived on Halloween for a month.
Sharon and John helped us see
the sights of Washington and visit
the Library of Congress to meet its
Russian expert. I was the interpreter
when John started a discussion
about God. I did my best with my
baby Russian, but I doubt the three 
Russian bears were very enlightened. 
In 1995 the Ewings came to Russia,
and we spent two weeks with Mikhail 
and his family. Sharon brought lovely
clothes for Katya and baby clothes
for the new granddaughter Dasha. In
1998, when I helped host Nikolai
Smirnov painter and Alyosha,
Mikhail’s son, they took Alyosha
to visit their daughter Nancy’s classes
and also brought him to Durham, 
where he could meet historians from 
UNC and Duke. When they boarded 
their Aeroflot flight home, Nikolai
carried a huge chainsaw which John
had helped him buy with his paintings
money. In 2001 she and I, Mikhail 
and Alyosha produced Earth and Soul:
An Anthology of North Carolina Poetry.
She was editor. I raised money and 
found poets. Alyosha typeset it, and
Mikhail designed and published it
in Russian and English. A few years
later I began attending the big mystery
convention: Malice Domestic. I stayed
with them. I’d talk her into going 
for one day when I was on a panel.
How to describe this faithful friend, 
always eager to help: A fairy godmother.
It was Mikhail who saw clearly her
compassionate nature. I trusted it and
leaned on it. Over time we shared our 
ups and downs. Sometimes they came 
here, slept on an air mattress on the
floor. She always brought food, and I
shared jellies, preserves, and applesauce 
cake. She’s still arranging readings 
for me in the D.C. area, and I still lean
on her, my faithful friend.

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