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Cornwall’s Pat Pope sees a story that has to be told, and she tells it

CORNWALL — Pat Pope thought she had retired nine years ago, at age 74, after a long career that included stints as a nurse, real estate agent, manager of the Frog Hollow Craft Center, inn operator, antique store owner and restorer of old homes.
But Pope, now 83, recently decided to come out of retirement to try her hand at yet another vocation: Author. The Cornwall woman this month released her first book, a children’s story titled, “Johanna’s Gift.” It is a heartwarming tale about selflessness and holiday spirit, culled from a real-life experience involving one of her five children.
“It was in the incubator for a long time,” Pope said of the story, which dates back to Christmas of 1966. “I mentally wrote it and rewrote it so many times. There are so many ways you can tell a story and that is the fun of it.”
She also believes the book had an important message.
“I though it was a story that needed to be told,” she said.
The 30-page book, delightfully illustrated by Jeanne Marston, features 11-year-old Johanna, who lives in a small New England town. It’s closing in on Christmas, and like most kids her age, Johanna is preoccupied with visions of presents and holiday treats. She plies her sweet tooth with candies purchased with money her folks had given her to buy milk. With her siblings, Johanna pores over a “Christmas Wish Book” filled with toys she’d like to see under the tree.
Johanna’s parents want her and the other kids to know that Christmas is not just about receiving. And that message resonates in Johanna when her mom reads her a story about a boy who feels bad that he has no money to buy his parents a holiday gift. The boy instead decides to share his gift of music, and practices hard to present his parents with a stirring clarinet solo at a church concert.
Johanna learns from the story and springs her own Christmas surprise on her parents…
Pope, of course, really experienced “Johanna’s gift,” with the events occurring when the family lived in Stockbridge, Mass. They would later move to Vermont. Pope always remembered the story with fondness, but it wasn’t until around six years ago that she thought to share it with the world. She was part of a group studying ancient Mayan culture in Mexico. One of the women in the group presented Pope with a gift — a “storyteller ring,” depicting a Native American woman with four children seated on her lap.
“She is passing on the oral tradition,” Pope said of the woman featured on the ring, which she wears to this day.
Pope figured that if she was going to wear a storyteller ring, she should pass on a story herself — and she knew “Johanna’s Gift” would fit the bill. So she began to work in earnest on the story around two years ago and was pleased to recruit Marston, a dear friend dating back to the Stockbridge days and a first-rate artist, to illustrate it.
“Sometimes you just know something is going to happen,” Pope said of how things gradually fell into place for the book.
She will officially unveil the book this Sunday, Oct. 30, from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., at the Vermont Book Shop. Pope has ordered “a couple thousand” copies of the self-published tome, which is available locally at the Vermont Book Shop and Sweet Cecily’s and through www.johannasgift.com.
All five of Pope’s children love the book. The main character, Johanna (now Johanna Vaczy) is  now 56 and lives in Middlebury; she has worked her entire professional career in a variety of jobs dealing with educating children.
“She told me it’s a beautiful story and a beautiful book,” Pope said of her daughter’s reaction to the project.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Pope acknowledged she is considering writing another book, though not necessarily one aimed at children this time around.
“I love to write, and who knows what’s on the back burner?” she said, with a smile and a twinkle in her eye.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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