I did something extremely difficult today. I cancelled my trip to Missouri to receive the Mark Twain Award.  Words are inadequate to express how disappointed I am to miss the conference of the Missouri Association of School Librarians. It would have been my second Mark Twain Award banquet, and I cherish my memories of the first one.

The reason I am not flying to Missouri is that I’ve had a relapse of the pneumonia that I had last month. This time I recognized the symptoms and went to the doctor right away. Recurring pneumonia is a serious medical condition for anyone but my history of bulbar polio makes it even more dangerous for me.

My doctor usually states my options, and then lets me make up my own mind. This time he flat out said, “Cancel the trip.” I know he is right. Flying is difficut for me under the best conditions. Leg braces + a cane + limited stamina do not add up to a person who can rush through airports or tolerate delays easily.

 My acceptance speech is written, my two workshops are planned, my pet-sitter is booked,  I have a plane ticket and a reservation where I park my car. I even lost three pounds so I’d look better in my good black pants – but, alas, I’m not going.

I know the wonderful people in Missouri who have put so much time and effort into preparing for this conference are disappointed, too, and I hate letting them down after I had promised months ago to come. 

Twice before in my many years of speaking, I’ve had to cancel. Once I was scheduled to be the luncheon speaker at a conference in Oklahoma when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Surgery was scheduled for the day of the conference. I stayed home, over my mother’s protests. I was with her when she died the next day.

The other time I was on my way to the Plum Creek Children’s Literature Festival in Seward, Nebraska. This is an exciting three-day affair where I was scheduled for numerous school visits, autograph sessions, and other events. Carl and I were already in Nebraska when we got word that our ten-year-old grandson (now 15) had a brain tumor and was being taken to Children’s Hospital in Seattle. We turned the RV around and headed home.

The people in Oklahoma, Nebraska and Missouri  all reacted with compassion and understanding. Nobody whined or said, “How can you do this to us at the last minute?” Instead, they sent me their love and good wishes. Without exception, I was told that I had made the right choice.

I won’t be accepting the bust of Mark Twain in person, but I still have the thrill of winning it. The clever, discerning, literate and wise children of Missouri chose Abduction! as their favorite book this year.  What an honor! How exciting! No matter whether I’m on a podium, wearing those black pants, or at home in my fuzzy green bathrobe, Mark Twain Award day is a special event.  Thank you, Missouri.