Colleen, I miss you.

Colleen making her NPR debut.

Colleen making her NPR debut.

Into the lobby of Greenfield Assisted Living stepped a vision of sassy Christmas cheer. She was bedazzled in glitz, animal prints and smiles with a blinking holiday-light necklace draped around her neck and antlers sprouting from her head. Now burned into my memory like some nuclear-powered yule log, this was my first glimpse of the force of nature that was Colleen Black.

Colleen entered my life as a potential interview subject for the book I was writing at the time, The Girls of Atomic City. She was surprised I wanted to talk to her about her role in the Manhattan Project. After all, she assured me, she had no idea what she was working on at the time. While she couldn't imagine why I would want to hear about her adventures as an 18-year-old single gal living and working in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, during World War II, I couldn't imagine this vibrant 80-something-year-old not having plenty to say once I'd sat with her for a bit. Boy, was I right.

Long after interviews were logged and the manuscript edited, Colleen and I stayed in touch. We wrote and called, and I often visited whenever I was in town for an event. If I didn't get a hold of her beforehand, I always knew I could find her holding court at Panera's after morning mass, where their old-timer's coffee klatch often turned into impromptu book signings for Colleen. Friends and strangers often approached and asked her to sign their copies of The Girls of Atomic City. Colleen would write to tell me about these and other "celebrity" experiences, as she called them. She was Skyping with book clubs across the country, speaking to school kids down the road, and charming everyone in her path with her ration tales, wartime songs and Irish country wit, all wrapped up in that Tennessee twang.

I have a collection of collages Colleen has sent me over the years, most of them given to me long after the work on my book was done. Photos casually snapped in her apartment showed up in my inbox and mailbox, draped with historic news clippings and photos of the other atomic city "girls."  She was always there with a daily joke or up-by-your-bootstraps encouragement, with remembrances and prayers for my own mother, who is next to me as I type this, sleeping, waking and sleeping again, nearing the end of her own time with me. Colleen's daughter Suzanne called me earlier today to tell me that Colleen had died this morning. We had been in touch, Suzanne and I, two daughters waiting and watching as the mothers they loved began to move on from this world.

She is a collage all her own now, my Colleen. My mind today is a visual mish-mash of leopard-spotted, fuzzy-slippered, sing-songy snippets of chats—both on the record and off— and babblings over cheap wines with goofy or naughty names that gave her a giggle. (Fat Bastard was a house favorite.) Colleen died as she lived, surrounded by family and song and love, held close in the hearts of many of us who knew the joys of her friendship. I will lift a glass of  Marilyn Merlot in her honor. I can almost hear her laughing.

The Marshal of the Borgo now on sale

daggyland:

It’s a long story, but when we were first married Denise and I lived overseas in Italy, where she worked covering soccer for sports organizations like ESPN. We first lived in Rome, then moved to a small town an hour north. The countryside was exactly what the travel magazines depict: olive groves…

YES. So thrilled to announce my fabulous husband’s latest publication, “The Marshall of the Borgo.” 

Paperback Tour for "The Girls of Atomic City"

Yes, it’s about that time to hit the road. Here are the cities I’ll be visiting in the coming months. Check back for additional dates. Hope to see some of you out on the road!

Monday, February 24, 2014

New York, NY

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

*Event Closed

 

Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:15 AM

Long Beach, CA

Long Beach Festival of Authors

Long Beach Convention Center, 110 Pine Ave.

 

Monday, March 3, 2014, 11:15 AM

Denver, CO

American Physical Society - Annual Meeting

Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th Street

*Registration Required

 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 7:00 PM

South Hadley, MA

Odyssey Books, 9 College Street

 

Thursday, March 13, 2014, 7:30 PM

Fredericksburg, VA

University of Mary Washington

Dodd Auditorium, George Washington Hall

1301 College Avenue

*Ticketed Event

 

Saturday, March 15, 2014, 5 PM

Asheville, NC

Malaprop’s Bookstore Cafe

55 Haywood Street

 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014, Noon

Oak Ridge, TN

ALTRUSA Literacy Luncheon

Oak Ridge High School

1450 Oak Ridge Turnpike

*Ticketed Event

 

Friday and Saturday, March 21 - 22, 2014, 2:00 PM

Charlottesville, VA

Virginia Festival of the Book

 

Monday, March 24, 2014, 7:00 PM

Austin, TX

Book People

603 N Lamar Boulevard

 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 7:00 PM

Houston, TX

Brazos Bookstore

2421 Bissonnet Street

 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 3:00 PM

Oxford, MS

Oxford Conference for the Book

Journalism Panel moderated by Curtis Wilkie

Overby Center at the University of Mississippi

555 Grove Loop, Suite 247

 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 7:00 PM

Ann Arbor, MI

Nicola’s Books

2513 Jackson Ave. (in Westgate Shopping Center)

 

Wednesday, April 2, 7:00 PM

Cincinnati, OH

Joseph-Beth Booksellers

2692 Madison Road

 

Monday, April 7, 2014, 7:00 PM

Naperville, IL

Anderson’s Book Shop

123 W. Jefferson Avenue

 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 6:00 PM

Wichita, KS

Watermark Books

4701 E. Douglas Avenue

 

Thursday and Friday, April 10 - 11, 2014

Boone and Hudson, NC 

Caldwell Community College

Details forthcoming