Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Encounters | An occasional feature

From inside a book, a mother's voice calls out to her faraway daughter

CLEARWATER — The old books are stacked on a stout wooden shelf, between the pretzels and the meat freezer at the Amish Country Store.

Gloria Blackburn stopped last month to buy ham salad, but she was drawn to the shelf. She walked over and picked up a novel, turned to the first page and gasped.

"It gave me cold chills."

And it wasn't because a character is murdered.

• • •

Flash back 70 years.

In the late summer of 1941, Verna Jane Browning was 14 years old and living in Cleveland. She was always reading — mysteries, romance novels, westerns.

"You name it and I read it," Browning said.

One day, she discovered the mystery novel The Devil to Pay, by Ellery Queen.

Browning read the book and, as was her custom, penciled her name and the date on the right-hand corner of the first page.

Then she went on to another book.

• • •

Seven decades later, at the Amish Country Store, Verna Browning's daughter stopped as she stared at the page. A friend asked her if something was wrong.

"You'll never believe this," Blackburn told her as she pointed out the signature.

"Verna 9/20/41.''

It looked like her mother's handwriting. Could it be?

The book was still in good condition. A paper jacket advertising "top-notch mystery and detective stories" still enwrapped its red cover. The edges of some pages were slightly stained, but they weren't torn or bent.

She bought the book for $2.

At her Clearwater mobile home, Blackburn, 62, snapped a photo of the signature and text messaged it to her mother .

• • •

About 1,000 miles away, inside her two-story home in the hills of West Virginia, Verna Browning, 85, stared at the text message in awe.

"I didn't think that a book could last that long," she said.

Yes, she remembered reading it and signing her name when she was 14.

So much of her own life story had been written since then. She married at the age of 19 and worked odd jobs, from waiting on tables to sewing. She had three sons and three daughters, cared for her dying husband, had great-great-grandchildren.

"It's hard to believe," she said.

How did the book get from Cleveland to Clearwater?

At the Amish Country Store, owner Stuart Opp said he occasionally buys antique books at yard sales in Largo, Clearwater and Seminole, to resell them.

"I don't know," Opp said about the book's arrival at his store. "Who knows, huh?"

• • •

Blackburn placed the book in a large storage bag and stored it in a fireproof safe. She plans to send it to her mother.

She has been thinking lately that the book's reappearance was a sign.

Blackburn moved to Florida some 20 years ago to escape West Virginia's cold climate. About three years ago, her fiance died days before they were to be married. She now lives alone, with no family members close by.

For years, her mother has asked her to head back north.

Blackburn could have picked up any book on that shelf, but she happened to choose the one with her mother's name in it.

"I guess," she said, "it's time for me to come home."

Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8713.

Suggest an Encounter

Encounters is dedicated to small but meaningful stories. Sometimes they play out far from the tumult of the daily news; sometimes they may be part of it. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact editor Bill Duryea at [email protected]

From inside a book, a mother's voice calls out to her faraway daughter 08/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, August 11, 2012 1:58am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump awards Medal of Honor to Vietnam-era Army medic (w/video)


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Monday turned a Medal of Honor ceremony for a Vietnam-era Army medic who risked his life to help wounded comrades into a mini homework tutorial for the boy and girl who came to watch their grandfather be enshrined "into the history of our nation."

    WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 23:  Retired U.S. Army Capt. Gary Rose (L) receives a standing ovation after being awarded the Medal of Honor by U.S. President Donald Trump during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House October 23, 2017 in Washington, DC. Rose, 69, is being recognized for risking his life while serving as a medic with the 5th Special Force Group and the Military Assistance Command Studies and Observations Group during ‘Operation Tailwind’ in September 1970. Ignoring his own injuries, Rose helped treat 50 soldiers over four days when his unit joined local fighters to attack North Vietnamese forces in Laos - officially off limits for combat at the time.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) 775062921
  2. Long day of diplomacy: Tillerson visits Afghanistan, Iraq


    BAGHDAD — Far from the Washington murmurs about his future, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to two of America's enduring war zones Monday, prodding leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq to reach out to longtime rivals.

    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, center, speaks Monday at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, accompanied by Gen. John Nicholson, left, and Special Charge d’Affaires Amb. Hugo Llorens.
  3. Head-on crash kills Wesley Chapel teacher and Zephyrhills man


    TAMPA — Two men, including a high school math teacher, were killed Monday in a head-on crash on Morris Bridge Road, deputies said.

  4. Pinellas sees slight increase in black and first-year teachers


    A year after the Pinellas County school district was chastised in a state report for clustering inexperienced teachers in the state's most struggling schools, the district has reported a first look at its teacher corps.

    The Pinellas County school district has taken a first look at first-year teachers in struggling schools and minority hiring, both of which ticked slightly upward.
  5. Editorial: Trump owes apology to fallen soldier's Miami family


    There is no more sacred, solemn role for a president than to comfort grieving family members of soldiers who have given their lives in service of their country. Those calls cannot be easy, and some presidents are better at it than others. Yet President Donald Trump and his administration continue to engage in a …