I was only 8 years old when my grandmother would take me down to that wonderland on Horatio Street. Not a toy store that one would expect an 8 year-old to be enamored by, but to the apartment of the screenwriter, Horton Foote. We’d take that bus all the way down the long New York Avenue of which I could not remember by name. I only knew when we’d turn the corner and the street sign would declare that we’d reached the block where writing royalty resided.
My grandmother was a modest yet regal woman who had acquired the job as the cleaning lady for the NY apartment for the Footes’ when they were visiting from Texas. This weekly ritual was one that my grandmother and I shared; the soul talk that existed between she and I; she’d bore witness to the affinity I’d developed for those marble note books and the way I’d stay within the lines, playing scrabble with my lexicon and being so hungry for words. Mr. Foote’s place was always alive with words. They floated off the air, bounced off the walls; they strengthened the floor boards.
My favorite room, the one I’d beg to dust was the study. There in the window were two Oscars, shimmering in the sun. I’d spend hours in the room dusting them; too excited to eat the motzah ball soup grandma had made, too afraid to use the bathroom because at 8, this was surreal for me and I didn’t want the Oscars to disappear. It was on my 16th visit that Mr. Foote walked through the door and observed this 8 year old moving this dust cloth across the golden plaque that read: BEST SCREENPLAY, HORTON FOOTE, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.
“You like that?” he asked scaring me so bad I nearly jumped out of my skin. I nodded my head slowly, afraid that he’d be angry that I was handling what my young mind deemed to be his prized possession.
“It’s okay.” he said. Then he smiled at me. I immediately felt easy.
“You got these for writing?” I asked, excited that words could actually make money. “Yes,” he answered. “I’ve been writing for a long time.” We sat on opposite chairs in the room and I told him I liked writing too.
“Do you, now?” he asked. I shook my head quickly for the affirmative. I looked quickly back at the twins, both named Oscar with a certain longing in my belly.
“I want to win one of those.” I said looking longly back at the golden men with their erect posture. I turned back to see his encouraging smile.
“You can do it. Just keep writing.” He spent the next hour in that room telling me how he’d fell in love with writing and it had taken him to Hollywood and back.
I had was blown away by him; by his adventures in writing. I had begun leaving little poems and pieces around his apartment. On days when grandma would have to go, I’d awake before her and be ready for the bus ride, just for the opportunity to leave another poem or letter.
It was 9 years later when my grandmother had taken ill and unable to take the bus ride anymore. I had gotten use to my connection with Mr. Foote. He’d retired to Texas for the most part, his visits to New York had begun to trickle. Going through my grandmother’s phone book, I found the number and address to my mentor. I wrote him a letter telling him that I’d be honored to take over for my grandmother, to clean his apartment. I scribed my contact information and my name and waited for what I was sure would be an enrichening experience.
Two weeks later, I received a phone call from Horton Foote himself. The kind voice from my childhood floated through the telephone lines.
“Hello, Renee,” he said kindly.
“Mr. Foote?” I asked knowing what I was already sure of.
“Yes.” he said “I received your letter.”
“Good.” I said “I just wanted offer my services to you since grandma is unable-“
“Renee, I think I am going to have to decline.” he said matter-of-factly. “You were never meant to be someone’s domestic. You’re a writer, remember?” I got really quiet and reflective on the little girl enraptured by those Oscars that gleamed in the window. “Keep writing Renee. You’re a writer. Now, go bring me your Oscar!”
I was 17 then, and just like when I was 8, his presence, even on the phone returned me to the glory and wonderment of Horatio street. Renee was back in Wonderland. Everything I wrote from that moment on was my advancement toward the Oscar with my name on it. He told me he wanted to hold my Oscar like I held his…
While watching the Oscars tonight, they did a memorial for those who have transitioned. The air left the room as Horton Foote’s name flashed across the screeen over splashes of TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, A TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL & TENDER MERCIES. It took a moment to breathe. My eyes filled with tears at the realization that I’d never be able to physically put my Oscar in his hands. I never got to say goodbye.
Mr. Foote,wherever you are, I am still writing…and I am going to keep that promise, you will get your Oscar with my name on it…
From the bottom of my heart and with everything that’s within me, thank you for calling me a writer…