POINT PLEASANT — Sometimes the things we can’t see are the most real to us.
When Carolyn Gerlach of Point Pleasant was growing up in Roane County she had one little brother she could see (the late Paul Fitzwater) and another little brother only Paul could see — his name was Robert Lee. Years after Robert Lee appeared in Carolyn’s life, he reappeared in the form of a children’s book she’s just completed in memory of her brother Paul.
The book, titled “Robert Lee” is about Paul’s imaginary, childhood friend who cannot be seen except though a child’s eyes. Carolyn integrated not only Robert Lee but herself, Paul and their parents into the book and into a time from her childhood in Spencer.
Much like Carolyn back then, the big sister in the book has outgrown having an unseen friend but recalls what she’s experienced though her little brother’s playmate, Robert Lee. In the book, the friend the big sister couldn’t see ended up not only a part of her little brother’s childhood memories but her own.
Though Carolyn fictionalized some of the book, there are real experiences interwoven in the story, like the time Paul made Carolyn move over in the backseat of the family car to make room for Robert Lee.
“That’s when I caught on he was really serious,” Carolyn laughed, explaining Robert Lee lived with her family from the time Paul was three until he was about six, which was when their little sister arrived — a real little sister.
Carolyn not only wrote but illustrated the children’s book - a book she’d been working on for a few years. When it came to illustrating Robert Lee, someone she had never actually seen, she said the image (in fact all images for the book) came to her while vacationing at the beach. She also decided to draw Robert Lee with broken lines which she said represents muddling the line between reality and fiction.
“He was there and he wasn’t there,” Carolyn said of Robert Lee and his place in both her and Paul’s childhood.
Like most people, Carolyn has lost people in her life before she took the chance to sit with them, listen to stories of the way things used to be and write those memories down for the next generation. She equated this missed opportunity with “a lost book you could’ve read but didn’t take the time to.”
Now, with her children’s book, Carolyn has preserved a moment in time from her childhood for not only herself but her family and Paul’s two daughters who were extremely young when he died of Leukemia in 1991. Paul’s daughter Megan said hearing stories about her father is the way she and sister Rachael have gotten to know him.
This is the first book Carolyn has ever written and when Publish America decided to print it, she says she was both overwhelmed and excited. The book has recently showed up on Amazon.com and is available for purchase at www.PublishAmerica.com and locally at The Mason Jar. The Mason County Library also has a book signing and reception in the works for “Robert Lee.”
Carolyn said she’s not sure where the book will go from here but she’s hopeful for its future which is borne out of a past now documented and illustrated for not only her family but other families with their own Robert Lees.
When she received her first batch of books last week, Carolyn said she wanted to tell Paul about it because, as she put it, “This is his book.”
And, who’s to say Paul hasn’t already heard about the book? After all, in that place between memory and imagination, anything, including Robert Lee, is plausible for those who cherish what they cannot see.