July 4th, 2009 - Mary Potter Kenyon
“I heard on the news today that couponing is the newest extreme sport. You really need to write your book now,” my husband David greeted me with a cup of coffee that morning. “Remember, the hardest part is getting started.”
It had been David’s idea that I write about the hobby I’d lived and breathed for most of our marriage. Not only was I the local coupon queen, but I’d done research on the cultural phenomenon of extreme couponing. My husband was right; it was time to stop talking about it and write the book.
I sat at the kitchen table with a legal pad and file folder of research and began writing, soon lost in the flow of the craft I’d struggled to sustain as I raised eight children and homeschooled. David refilled my coffee cup several times. A plate of fried eggs and toast appeared in front of me. I barely noticed when our children filed down the stairway.
Our youngest, six-year-old Abby, usually demanded my attention, but not on this particular morning. Off work for the holiday, David somehow kept her entertained, probably walking to the park a block away to play on the swings. Did our children eat lunch? I vaguely recalled a sandwich handed to me at some point.
“Aren’t we going to your mom’s?” David finally interrupted me. “The kids are waiting.”
I glanced up at the clock; It was 4:00 in the afternoon, and I was still in my pajamas! I’d been writing for nine hours straight and had the beginnings of a book in front of me. Though we made it to my mother’s house in time to join my sister Angela’s family for an evening picnic, I was secretly glad when daughter Katie complained of a stomach-ache and I could return home with her and write some more.
After that intense day of “getting started,” I continued working on the manuscript, eventually acquiring a literary agent to represent it. We would share just one more July holiday with my mother. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer the following August, dying three months later.
With my husband’s encouragement, I spent many hours of solitude in my mother’s empty house that winter; writing and grieving. Flipping through Mom’s notebooks and a Memory book she’d left behind, it was clear one of her life’s greatest desires was that her children utilize their God-given talents.
With Mom as my muse and David my biggest supporter, I decided to take my writing seriously. I signed up for a writer’s conference, designed a couponing workshop, and began writing a weekly column for the newspaper. When my husband marveled that he loved seeing me spread my wings, I reminded him I couldn’t do any of it without him.
Suddenly, I had to. In March 2012 David died three days after coming home from the hospital after stent surgery. Seven months after his death, two weeks after I’d broken ties with my agent, I signed a contract for the book David had encouraged me to begin that July morning in 2009. A year later, I stood in front of a Barnes & Noble bookstore window, staring at a display of Coupon Crazy: The Science, the Savings, and the Stories Behind America’s Extreme Obsession. I was bereft, numb with sadness. By then, my eight-year-old grandson was losing his battle with cancer too.
I’ve signed five more book contracts in the ensuing years, gotten certified as a grief counselor, and work as a program coordinator at a spirituality center. I never feel more alive than when I’m conducting workshops and presentations on topics such as writing, grief, and creativity. With each success, I am reminded of the man who, ten years ago, saw in me what I’d failed to see in myself; possibilities I couldn’t even have imagined, that have since come true.
Mary Potter Kenyon graduated from the University of Northern Iowa and is a certified grief counselor. Program Coordinator at the Shalom Spirituality Center in Dubuque, Iowa, Mary is widely published in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies, including eight Chicken Soup books. She is the author of seven books, including the award-winning Refined By Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace, and a creativity book being released by Familius in 2020. Mary is a popular public speaker and workshop presenter. Read more about Mary at www.marypotterkenyon.com.