It’s possible that Suzanne Tate will never slow down. Sure at 92 years of age, her reflexes have slowed, and age may be stealing her eyesight, but the one essential quality of Suzanne Tate is her extraordinary mind, that driving wonderful curiosity that has enabled her to write 38 children’s books and the oral histories of Buffalo City, Duck, and Manteo, are still intact.
She has a new book out now, “The Crabby Lady looks Back,” and the book is nothing at all like anything she has written in the past. It is a series of essays that becomes an autobiographical reflection on her life, and what emerges from the pages is a person of remarkable resilience, strength, and perception.
Some of it is very sad. She talks about the loss of her son, who died driving home from college. He was just 19 when he fell asleep as he was crossing the Wright Memorial Bridge.
What Suzanne writes is not some sugar-coated essay on loss and resilience. Her grief was profound and horrific, and she makes sure the reader understands confronting grief that deep is unique to each individual.
“I’ve read that a person needs at least a year for the grieving process after losing a loved one,” she writes. “I don’t think anyone can say how long it takes. It is a most individual matter. For me, it took much longer.”
She also writes of the loss of her husband, speaking poignantly of how important “One Last Kiss (2008)” was.
But if death is part of the book, with the emotional trauma it causes, that is only a part of what is a remarkable life. Perhaps most importantly, even from those moments of horror, strength emerges.
She notes that to cope with the loss of their son, her husband Everett began to paint—and he was a very talented, if untrained, artist. And for her to cope with her loss, Suzanne began to write her Nature Series of children’s books.
However, “Crabby Lady Looks Back” is far more joy than tragedy.
Anyone who has had a chance to get to know her quickly learns that Suzanne Tate is a very independent person. Sweet, nice, and independent to her very core. And that independence evidently began at a very early age, according to her retelling of the time she ran away from home at age six—not that she got very far, but for some forgotten reason, she was determined to leave.
That same independent spirit led her from Muskingum University, a small liberal arts school in her native Ohio, to the University of New Mexico so she could study anthropology.
One of the most delightful stories is how she came to enlist in the US Navy in 1952. As she notes in “Navy Days,” as a college graduate, she could go into the Naval Reserve as an officer, except she was terrified that if she told her parents about her plan, they would try to talk her out of it. Engaged in graduate work in New Mexico, she was able to do everything in secret, including flying to Memphis for her swearing-in.
And then the moment of truth came.
“I turned to brother-in-law Bill, my sister’s husband, who had helped me in the past whenever I needed someone to intercede with my parents. Soon after he told the the news about me, I received a telegram: ‘Steer your course homeward, Port open,’” she wrote.
It should be noted that when her father enlisted in the Army in WWI, he didn’t quite get around to telling his parents until he absolutely had to.
While in the Navy, stationed at Charleston, SC, she met her husband Everett. “Shrimp Boat Daze” is a delightful story about how love and respect grows and flourishes.
This is just a small sampling of what is found in “Crabby Lady Looks Back.” The book is not very long at all—just 24 essays. Yet what emerges from the pages is a story of a life filled with joy, humor, profound sadness, and love…truly a reflection of what life is really all about.