Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery … or so they say.
It was getting down to the zero hour and I still hadn’t found a ukulele. I Googled eBay. Nope; they wanted hundreds of dollars for highly prized wooden versions. Next, I called the local music store, but they, too, wanted way too much money for fancy renditions of something that I was never going to really use. Darn. I only needed the ukulele for an hour … and time was growing short.
Oh well; I was going to have to put my angst on a shelf for a couple of hours. The front desk was buzzing me; my lunch appointment was here.
I got into my car and headed off to a favorite French restaurant with one of my best-selling authors in tow. Jeff had just started a new business and his wife had asked me if I would take him to lunch and give him some pointers on handling his employees. He was such a nice and generous guy, that she was afraid he was going to bequeath all of his hard-earned profits to his staff if he didn’t get some coaching soon. She felt confident that, as a lifelong entrepreneur, I could help show him the ropes of running a business.
As I started to munch on my cornichon-and-Brie sandwich, I thought to myself, To heck with his employees; I’m having a real emergency here. I need a ukulele! I was obsessed with my dilemma, so I impatiently interrupted Jeff just as he was telling me about how, after three weeks of her coming in late, he had decided to give Amy a bonus today because she had been on time. Not able to stifle myself any longer, I blurted out that I was in desperate straits. I needed to find a ukulele. Jeff’s head popped back. He got a big smile on his face, and he said somewhat proudly, “I have a ukulele.”
Did I just hear correctly? “You have a ukulele?” I exclaimed.
“Yes, I just got back from a vacation in Hawaii, where I bought a ukulele as a souvenir.”
“Oh my goodness, can I borrow it? I only need it for an hour tomorrow morning,” I asked.
“Well, if you don’t mind a blue, plastic ukulele, it’s all yours,” he replied.
Blue plastic. Yuck! I didn’t even know they made such things, but you know what they say: beggars can’t be choosers. “Sure. How fast can I get it?” I replied through a scrunched-up face and a forced smile. OK, so it was not exactly what I needed, but it was a ukulele … kinda-sorta.
The next morning, I proudly strolled into my office conference room, where we were all to gather. I was so excited; I knew I was going to win the prize. Now, all my staff had to do was just guess who I was. Wearing a short, gray wig and a black and gold St. John suit, carrying both my newly acquired blue ukulele and a realtor’s “For Sale” sign, I was sure I was going to emerge victorious.
It was October 31. You see, each year at Halloween, it is our tradition at Brown Books to dress up as one of our authors or their books. We have fun guessing who is who and then award a prize for the best costume. This year, I was so proud to be dressed up as my mentor: 98-year-old Ebby Halliday, head of a six-billion-dollar real estate empire. For those of you who don’t know, Ebby’s shtick was singing and playing her ukulele. No, she wasn’t technically a professional entertainer … but that was the point. Her self-deprecating sense of humor endeared her to everyone who met her.
Before becoming a book publisher, I was a family historian, having started a company to help people preserve their heritage. By publishing her memoir, Ebby Halliday: The First Lady of Real Estate, I felt honored to have the best of both worlds. I could preserve her life for her family and friends and, at the same time, share Ebby's incredible story with the rest of the world. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for my author wasn’t enough for me to claim best in show. I lost to my accountant who was costumed as Beware of the Red Flag Man.
That was over six years ago, but I am seriously considering going as Ebby again this year. She has been on my mind a lot this past week after I learned that she passed away several days ago peacefully in her sleep at the age of 104. You can’t drive down a street in Dallas without seeing her name prominently displayed on a sign or marquee. Yes, she would have been remembered as an icon even if she hadn’t chosen to publish her exceptional book, but I am so honored to have played even a small part in helping to preserve her memory. What a lady and what a story.
The memorial service for Ebby Halliday Acers will take place Thursday, Sept. 17, at 3 p.m. at Park Cities Baptist Church; the service will also be live-streamed via CBSDFW.com for those unable to attend. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Ebby’s Place at the YW, The Ebby House at Juliette Fowler Communities, Happy Hill Farm and Academy, or the charity of your choice.
For more from Brown Books’ tribute to one of our most cherished authors, see the compelling images that capture her moving story in Remembering Ebby: Her Life in Pictures.