In honor of my recent visit to my hometown, and the five year anniversary of my book and arrival to Estonia, I am allowing the Kindle app version of my book I Am There: Armenia to be downloaded for FREE from July 16 - 18, 2017. Click HERE for your free download.
BEFORE YOU DO THAT....
Read below for a TEASER from the final chapter of my book, and recent journey to my hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. I call it my enhanced, collector's PICTURE BOOK edition.
Excerpt from I am There: Armenia by Olivia Puccini
Chapter Twenty-Three: Ashland Avenue
As a teenager, I hated running. Every year I would dread the day when my school's gym teacher would time us as we ran the mile. I was anxious, standing at the starting line, just waiting for the coach to blow her whistle as she stared down at her stopwatch.
I was in junior high, and we were forced to sport unflattering gym uniforms. Slender girls would prance by in their bright red shorts and blue t-shirts like they were born to run. I would try to drag myself and the excess 25 pounds I carried in my belly and thighs around the track. Run, then walk. Run again and witness the tiny, popular girl speed by, then continue walking with a spirit of defeat. I dreaded being one of the last people to cross the finish line. There was no warm reception or cheers, just a group of young girls chatting with each other and stopping long enough to toss a questioning glance my way, "What took you so long?"
My freshman year of high school only escalated the pressure. The halls seemed filled with handsome football players and cheerleaders in mini-skirts. In my fourteen-year-old mind, it didn't seem fair. I was motivated to change. At first, I could only run two or three blocks. Then I'd stop, walk and start over. Every day, I would run a bit further. My unquenchable desire to achieve eventually took over and within a few months, I was running four miles every day.
I grew up in Saint Joseph, Missouri--a mid-size, mid-western city. This was the hometown of the outlaw Jesse James and the Pony Express, America's first mail system. My home was a three-story Victorian house sitting where Felix Street crested on its way downtown. My family had moved to this quiet, old neighborhood when I was only four years old to escape the crime-riddled section of Kansas City where I was born.
My four-mile run was the same every day. I would run down Felix Street to Noyes Boulevard. Noyes was a mile-long hill that emptied onto beautiful Ashland Avenue.
Ashland was lined with old, gingerbread-like homes. Its mature trees would cast shadows over bicycles, cars and passersby. Unrelenting roots of maple and oak unseated concrete slabs of sidewalk and curb, creating a mystical, inimitable charm.
I would run past Ashland's graveyard. Its border was traced by a black, wrought iron fence, and a tall brick archway stood at the entryway. In this graveyard were the founders of the city and prominent families that once resided on Ashland Avenue.
My feet graced Ashland's paths in the hot, humid Missouri summers. I pounded the pavement and kicked away leaves in the crisp fall. My lungs burned as I inhaled the cold winter air and carefully avoided patches of ice. I would jump over puddles pooling on the uneven sidewalk during the Spring. I experienced Ashland Avenue during every stage of the year. Ashland Avenue experienced its residents in every stage of life.
I have a connection to this road. Ashland was there for me during those painful years of growing. She supported my steps of healing as I overcame physical difficulties that resulted from anorexia that defined my first years of high school. She was there for me as I learned to lean on my family, friends, and my faith. I enjoyed her unchanging soul that never wavered in her faithfulness. As I continue to run down the path of my life, I can look back and imagine the footprints I left there, and know that it is proud of the canvas on which my story has been painted.