My Brush With Greatness

David McCullough
(Simon & Schuster photo)

I committed the ultimate faux pas.

A famous author walked toward me in the grocery aisle in Martha’s Vineyard last weekend, and instead of pretending I didn’t recognize him, I gushed and rambled on about his latest book.

This is so very uncool, particularly at the Vineyard where celebrities flock to get away from this sort of thing. They expect to be left alone, to go about their business with a certain degree of anonymity that can’t be found on the mainland.

I’ve seen them here – Micheal J. Fox and his wife Tracy Pollan in the ER at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (I didn’t recognize him at first, but his voice is unmistakable); Ted Danson and his wife Mary Steenburgen walking the beach at dawn; Chelsea Clinton; Tony Shalhoub eating with friends in Aquinnah, and Meg Ryan strolling the shops in Menemsha.

And most of the time, I behave. I pretend that I don’t know who they are and give them space. They know that I know, and I know that I know, but we pretend that we don’t. They’re celebrities, but they’re people too. And though they’re in the public eye, they deserve privacy when they’re on vacation and want to go out in public.

They shouldn’t have to worry about being harassed when running into the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon for a few food items. They should be able to dash in and get into the 12 items and under line without being hassled.

Good luck with that. Some people have no clue, approaching them for autographs, snapping photos and sharing anecdotes that they have no interest in hearing. I’m guilty as charged in the last category, rambling on to Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough when all he really wanted was a box of raisins.

I probably would have left “America’s Historian” alone had it not been for another fan who stopped him as he dashed into the canned food aisle. The man told him that he was a huge fan and shook McCullough’s hand.

As he approached me, I recognized him from his book jackets. He lives in West Tisbury, just a few doors away from a house where my in-laws lived, yet I’d never seen him in person before. I thought it was very coincidental that I had just picked up one of his books at the library as part of my job as a errand runner for a North Guilford, CT., monastery.

Two days after I picked up this book in a pubic library, I bumped into the author. I thought he needed to know, but all he wanted was raisins.

“I just picked up your latest book The Pioneers for one of the nuns at the monastery where I work,” I gushed.

He looked confused, even a little concerned. (“And why do I care?” he was probably thinking). Why was a stranger sharing this information with him, and how long would he have to suffer this fool?

He nodded. “Do you know where the raisins are?” he asked.

I shook my head and he was off in a flash. He’s 85 (he turns 86 on July 7th), but he can still move very fast. He was out the door with his raisins before I tracked down the Curmudgeon in the frozen food section and told him about my celebrity spotting.

I’m not sure why I broke my own rules about celebrities for McCullough, but I think it’s because I have tremendous respect and admiration for his work. He’s one of our country’s most famous and prolific writers and historians, and the best in his field.

He’s a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize (for Truman and John Adams) and the National Book Award and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian award.

I guess you could say I was swept away by his presence, so I acted in a way that’s quite out of character for me. I was face-to-face with greatness, which doesn’t happen every day, so I acted out of instinct instead of showing restraint.

I’m glad that I got it out of my system, and I promise to leave him alone if I ever see him again. But just in case, I’m going to find out where they keep the raisins so I can help him out next time.

8 thoughts on “My Brush With Greatness

  1. I think I would have done the same thing. I’ve read two of his books, and I want to read his book about the Panama Canal. Think I’ll go to the book store today and buy it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry about the reaction you encountered. Though I can understand the desire for privacy and he might have been surprised (though I can’t imagine this hasn’t happened before), it would have been nice if he responded graciously, “thanks.”


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