Whether it’s for an article or an ad, I can always depend the owners or employees of local businesses to fill me in on what’s happening in town or ask me a question. Recently I stopped by Mario’s Pizza in the Blueberry Crossing Shopping Center on the White Horse Pike to sell an ad to Todd Agren, the owner of the restaurant. While I was there, Elizabeth Kramer, who is usually behind the counter, asked me a question.
“Did you write a book, by the way?” she asked.
I said that I wrote a book called Images of America: Hammonton in 2002. I asked her why she was asking, and she replied that she had found the book at Stockton University—where she is a senior majoring in psychology with a minor in behavioral neuroscience—and used my book along with two other books to create a PowerPoint presentation about Hammonton for her “Imagining Home” class.
It’s rare that I meet someone who’s used something I wrote for an academic class. I told her I wanted to know more and said I’d like to come back and interview her. I read the presentation—it was excellent—and came back on the evening of February 2 to conduct the interview and take the picture of her and Agren that accompanies this column.
I asked Kramer to tell me about the “Imagining Home” class and her project.
“It was our final project. So, very important for my final grade. Our guidelines were to create a project that talks about your hometown history, fun facts and whatever we could find,” she said.
She said she went to the Stockton library to research for a few hours.
“First, I went online, but couldn’t find much online. Then I figured, ‘let’s do this the right way and look at an actual book,’” she recalled.
“I liked looking at the photos and seeing where things were, people who lived here before and then comparing it with today. It was cool to see the before and after of certain parts of town,” Kramer said.
In addition to my book, Kramer used the book Hammonton, which is a compilation of historic postcards with writing by Kristin Colasurdo and former Gazette columnist the late Grayce Pitera and The Story of Hammonton by the late William McMahon.
She said she received a 100 on her report and did very well in the class.
“I ended up with an A in the class. The research that I did was rewarding in the sense of a grade,” Kramer said.
Whether or not the name of the author on the front of the book Images of America: Hammonton was the same as the newspaperman who frequently stopped in Mario’s Pizza remained a mystery until she asked me recently.
“I wasn’t sure it was the same person—there are a lot of people with the same name in Hammonton. After I asked you, I was like ‘Oh my God, I know this guy and you wrote a book that’s helping me with a class.’ I knew you in one sense, but now I know you as the author of a published book,” she said.
“Writers put their work out there and we don’t know where it goes or who it touches. It’s extremely rewarding when we find out it has an impact on a reader.” I said that at the end of my interview with Elizabeth Kramer, in front of another writer, Mike Rizzotte, who works at Mario’s Pizza and is also a published author. (He’s also written for The Gazette).
“That’s why I do it,” Rizzotte said, smiling.
When I was an English major at Boston University in 1994, I had to write a paper for Professor Christopher Ricks’ class on literary allusion—writers who refer to other writers in their works. I wrote a one-act play that featured me and one of my roommates at the time, Jay Maccarella, also of Hammonton and a Bruce Hornsby song called “The Road Not Taken,” which alludes to a Robert Frost poem of the same name. Like Kramer, I received an A for my hard work.
I mailed a copy of the paper, with the grade and notes by Ricks on it, to Hornsby. Since the phone number of my college apartment was under one of my roommates’ names, I received something from Hornsby I still have: a handwritten note with “Bruce Hornsby” printed at the top in a handwritten envelope. Here is what that note from 1994 said:
“Gabriel, I loved your piece. Got a big charge out of it, so much so that I tried to call you, but could find no listing for you. So, probably a good month and a half later, I though I would write you instead to let you know that I did receive it, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. So thanks for writing it and sending it, and hopefully we’ll meet one of these days. All the best, Bruce R. Hornsby”
After the first time I spoke with Elizabeth Kramer—senior at Stockton University and employee of Mario’s Pizza—about how the book I wrote helped her in her class, I went home told my wife Gina: “Now I know how Bruce Hornsby felt.”
Rizzotte’s right. That’s why we do it.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.