HARWINTON — Jack Sheedy looks quite dapper, sort of a Litchfield County country gentleman out on a summer day. He’s sitting in a gazebo near the Harwinton Library on an unusually noisy morning, weed whackers droning on and on and a rumbling truck dumping cement at a work site.
“I once listened to a WNPR interview between Faith Middleton and Arthur Miller conducted outside his secluded farmhouse in Roxbury,” said Sheedy. “Miller was saying how peaceful and quiet it always is, and suddenly a jet screamed by overhead, and Miller quipped, “I think it’s a bomber.”
But there were at least no streaking jets on this day and Sheedy remained unflappable and in good spirits despite the noise. He’s buoyed emotionally by the release of his second book, “Magical Acts in Two Suitcases,” a collection of 40 essays that the writer/columnist/journalist has conducted over nearly three decades, roaming the county and beyond in search of interesting people to talk to. He has written over 400 articles, columns and essays.
The author throws in a bit of his own opinions and slants on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness along the way and the result, is as he says, “a sometime humorous, often nostalgic” collection that covers a wide range of topics, from racism and family life to fishing and baseball. The magical part? Sheedy said that the magical acts that we perform for one another during everyday living are just that, sheer magic.
The late Jean Sands, a noted and much respected author, columnist and poet who passed away in 2016, was one of those people for whom Sheedy, her husband, performed magic and it was returned many fold. “Jean wanted me to write this book and compile what I thought were my best essays and she even chose the title, which was one of her favorite essays in the book.”
Sands’ poetry has been published in literary journals, anthologized, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In addition to her roles as a journalist, reviewer, and correspondent whose interviews, essays, and feature articles appeared in regional and national publications as well as online. Sands served as a poet in schools and taught poetry and creative writing to adults throughout northwest Connecticut.
The loss of Sands was especially challenging for Sheedy. “I miss her. She taught me how to put heart into my writing,” he reflected. “She would read my writing and say it was good but that something was missing and that was bringing emotion into the story. She told me to always go deeper. She showed me a lot. We would work together at times, at first I would serve as her photographer, and we even did a few interviews and columns together. I served as her proofreader and offered editorial comments. She was a wonderful writer.” In a poignant dedication for his new book, Sheedy wrote, “To the memory of Jean Sands: You were the love of my life, my friend, my editor, my wife.” He also dedicated the book to his late brother, Gerald Sheedy.
Sheedy has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and the New England Newspaper and Press Association, and in 2000, his play, “Guardrail Nikes,” was a winner in the Connecticut One-Act Play Festival competition. His articles have appeared in numerous regional and state publications and have been syndicated on Catholic News Service. He is also an award-winning correspondent for the “Catholic Transcript,” the magazine of the Archdiocese of Hartford, for which he still writes regularly. He is also a publicist for the Torrington’s Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory.
Both Sheedy and Sands began their local writing careers conducting interviews of notable individuals around Litchfield County for several newspapers, including the Litchfield County Times, where their work was a highlight for the newspaper’s readers. Sheedy, who interned at the Hartford Courant and was tutored one summer by respected reporter Joseph O’Brien before returning to finish his college education, worked at several jobs as an adult, most notably in the printing business and for 17 years with the Wheeler Group in New Hartford before retiring in 2016. Writing, for years was a side line, but one that he found great joy in and devoted much energy to. “I recall the former editor of the Litchfield County Times, the late Antoinette `Toni’ Bosco, published my first essay for which I was paid for and I think it was for $35. But it was a start and quite a thrill for me.”
Sheedy also credits a teacher, Sister Mary Jane at St. Mary’s Parochial School ion new Hartford, for igniting a flame in him that led to a love of potting words together in a special way that would he carries with him to this day. “Every one of the essays in this book,” he wrote in the introduction to his latest work, “stems from her one little exercise in the seventh grade in 1958.”
Among the 74-year-old Harwinton resident’s favorite interviews were those involving the late, celebrated and influential journalist Harrison Salisbury, former United States Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph Calafano, and Sharon Dante of Nutmeg Ballet fame. “I have known Sharon for quite a long time and respect her so much for what she has done for her hometown. Harrison Salisbury was a brilliant man and fun. When we sat down he slapped his hands together and said `Let’s go.’ My interview with Joseph Calafano didn’t start off well because I showed up 10 minutes late and he came to the door in a bathrobe and slippers and told me in no uncertain terms that I was 10 minutes early and to wait while he got prepared. From that day on I always showed up for interviews at the appointed time.”
Sheedy believes his Irish-American heritage has given him the “gift of gab,” a notable asset for an interviewer. His goal with his writing is to capture the reader within the first few paragraphs, tell a good story, and then finish the essay or column off with a few crucial lines that will give the reader a quick summation of the piece, harken back to the beginning, and leave a lasting impression.
“The cover design of “Magical Acts in Two Suitcases” is by Wendell Minor, a world class book designer from Washington Depot, whom Jean interviewed almost 30 years ago. Jean is in lots of the details. And she’s in lots of the essays. And the book is dedicated to her memory and that of my late brother. The final two essays are eulogies to them,” said Sheedy.
Sheedy’s first book was well received. “The Sting of the Heat Bug” explores his crisis of faith when his sister, Peggy, died at age 40 from complications due to diabetes. “Through creative application of images and metaphor, employing the cicada (heat bug) and the phoebe, this memoir takes the reader on a personal journey of humor, poignancy and struggle that ultimately ends with a sense of hope,” according to one review.
What’s next? “I’m thinking of doing a book on the flood of 1955, interviewing people who remember it first hand and also welcoming their own personal essays on the event. I think that would prove interesting and welcomed by the state’s residents. My dad once took off on a cross-country trip just before Christmas to deliver a car to the West Coast in the late 1950s and I always thought of doing the same thing, just taking off by myself and reflecting upon the trip. Maybe I can finally relate to why my dad did that, other than make a few bucks for delivering the car.” Some unfinished emotional business, you might say.
For Jack Sheedy, there’s always another story waiting to be discovered, and he is a believer in the adage that “everyone has a story to tell.” He’ll continue to keep asking questions, listening, and offering his own unique erudite insights into what makes us all tick.
Sheedy’s books are available on Amazon and at the House of Books. To pre-order a signed copy of “Magical Acts in Two Suitcases,” call House of Books at 860-927-4104, visit www.houseofbooksct.com, or email email@example.com.