Valley High, I Call You—The Story of the Dedication to Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland, book three in the Minnesota Christmas series, is out tomorrow, November 10. There’s a tour and a giveaway you should check out. But what I want to tell you today is the story of Linda Lytle, the woman to whom the book is dedicated.
I met Linda in 1995 when I worked as overnight staff at a residential care center. The above photo is from 1997 when she and several other residents came to my bridal shower. I hadn’t worked there for quite some time, but Linda and many of her friends remained dear to my heart. Between the time I left Orchard Hill and this photo I’d done work with the younger generation of the care center residents’ peers, and on the whole, I learned firsthand why integration and advocacy are vital to the health and wellbeing of children and adults with special needs. What I learned more than anything, though, was that there would never be anyone on Earth as heartwarming and glorious as Linda Kay Lytle.
When Linda was born, it was common and in fact encouraged for parents to put their children with Downs syndrome into institutions and sever all ties with them. Linda’s mother, unable to have more children, refused. Grace was scolded by her doctor and warned everything that happened would be on her own head. Well, everything that happened was Linda grew up to be amazing.
You never met anyone as full of life and love and pure, unfiltered joy as Linda Kay. She knew so many crazy things, and had more opinions than the Supreme Court. She took deep pleasure in simple things like going for ice cream and made you happy to have those moments too. She was loyal to her friends and fierce to her enemies. She posed for photos like a boss.
Above all, though, she loved musicals, and she would break into song at any given moment. Usually you couldn’t understand what she was singing, and there was no key of any kind. Her favorite song, however, was “Bali Hai” from South Pacific.
I have to tell you, it was years before I knew the actual name of the song, and I think it was my husband who figured it out. Because she ran around Orchard Hill singing, very distinctly, “Valley High, I call you.” She would stick out her lips and say YOOOOUUUUU like something out of a cartoon, but we never dared laugh, because this was Linda’s heartfelt singing, and it was not to be mocked. She would put her hands over her heart, lean into your shoulder, and sing into your eyes as if she were on the Broadway stage. And I have to tell you, cartoon lips and all, I was always moved.
Linda went into residential living by request; she lived with Grace, but when she saw the other residents around town doing activities, she would burst into tears at not being allowed to join in. She went home often on weekends with her mother, and Grace was her fiercest advocate. There were many residents no one ever visited, but Linda’s mother made it clear if there was so much as a hair out of place on her daughter’s head, she’d be right there to ask you how that happened.
Grace’s most passionate wish was that Linda would pass away before she did, because she knew it would devastate her child to watch her pass away, and because there would be no one left to advocate for Linda. Linda’s mother did get her wish; I attended Linda’s funeral before we moved away from eastern Iowa, and Grace was able to pass on herself a few years later with an easy heart, at least on the matter of Linda.
I still think of Linda to this day, which is probably why she ended up in a book. Linda Kay Parks is one hundred percent Linda Kay Lytle. Many of the quips and quotes are hers, and the rest I could totally see her saying. And she would have absolutely loved being Kyle’s older sister.
I miss Linda, a great deal. I’m sad I didn’t go visit her more when I had the chance, and if she were here now I absolutely would do so. Whenever I think of her I’m filled with joy at the memory of our times together and sadness over the fact there will be no more new ones. But now she will live forever in a book.
I hope you love my fictional Linda as much as I love the Linda who inspired her. And Linda, wherever you are now, I hope you’re still singing “Valley High” at the top of your lungs and nowhere near on key.
Finding Mr. Right can be a snow lot of fun.
Paul Jansen was the only one of his friends who wanted a relationship. Naturally, he’s the last single man standing. No gay man within a fifty-mile radius wants more than casual sex. No one, that is, except too-young, too-twinky Kyle Parks, who sends him suggestive texts and leaves X-rated snow sculptures on his front porch.
Kyle is tired of being the town’s resident Peter Pan. He’s twenty-five, not ten, and despite his effeminate appearance, he’s nothing but the boss in bed. He’s loved Paul since forever, and this Christmas, since they’re both working on the Winter Wonderland festival, he might finally get his chance for a holiday romance.
But Paul comes with baggage. His ultra-conservative family wants him paired up with a woman, not a man with Logan’s rainbow connection. When their anti-LGBT crusade spills beyond managing Paul’s love life and threatens the holiday festival, Kyle and Paul must fight for everyone’s happily ever after, including their own.
Warning: Contains erotic snow art, toppy twinks, and super-sweet holiday moments. Best savored with a mug of hot chocolate with a dash of spice.