One for the Books: Neal connects with wife over literacy


Kelly Neal first met his wife Lisa Sparkman at the age of six. He was at her grandfather’s house out in the country of Victoria, Texas, his hometown. His father and her grandfather were friends of over thirty years. When Neal went to the home out in Victoria, the first thing he did was plop down on top of a horse.

“The horse was really big, I was really scared. They got the horse going around the circle, and didn’t bother telling me how to stop it, and so I was just going around-and-around-around the circle. My dad and Hal [Sparkman’s grandfather] were leaning on the fence talking as I was going around-and around, wishing someone would stop it and I would get off. This went on for a while, and then I noticed this little girl on the end of their driveway, she was screaming really loud and crying because somebody was on her horse. She was really upset. That would be my wife,” Neal said.

Because she moved a lot, it would be a while until Neal saw her again.

“I didn’t meet her again until I was sixteen, so there was a nine-year gap between the girl crying on the driveway and when we met again. She doesn’t remember any of that. She denies it happened,” Neal said.

Neal and Sparkman stand at their wedding, smiling. They were married in Neal’s mother’s backyard in 1982.

In his sophomore year, Neal met her for the second time. She was a new student, coming in as a freshman. This was significant, because Neal hadn’t met any new kids from school since the first grade.

They were in a literary art club together. It was primarily a club for art, but Neal and Sparkman were part of the five-member writing sector. The pair were officers of the club, taking charge of “all these spazztic artists.”

Summer of his junior year, Neal was persuaded by his sister to ask her out. He “got the nerve” to call her, but to his dismay, she was going to be at Camp Greenhill, a Girls Scout camp, for the entire summer. Into October of the school year, he “got up enough nerve to do it again.” This time, she was on a date with somebody else that night. The third time he called her was in January. The plans were set, but Neal’s dad died the day they were supposed to go out.

“It’s like the dumbest, stupidest excuse you could give someone. Like, ‘Oh yeah, my parent died, I can’t go out with you,’ because you’re trying to get out of something,” Neal said.

Because her grandfather Hal was close friends with Neal’s dad, Hal and his wife came to Neal’s house to mourn.

“I figured, since they [Sparkman’s grandparents] were at our house, then she probably knew that I wasn’t going to pick her up, but my mother made me call to tell her I couldn’t pick her up. My wife says it was the most awkward conversation she’s ever had! ‘Cause what do you say to, ‘I can’t go, my dad died!’”

They rescheduled, and although it took three tries and several months to get that first date, they have been together ever since.

“Why did I keep doing it [asking her out]? I don’t know, because she was literate,” Neal said. “I had been with these same kids first through twelfth grade. I wasn’t really interested in any of them– the girls… They didn’t read, and my thought was — this sounds horrible too– ‘You’re really cute, but we have to talk,’ and we couldn’t do that, or I couldn’t do that… I talk about books. Kind of like what I do now! I talk about books and ideas”

Sparkman’s first conversations with Neal had to do with books, because they met in literary art club.

“Besides having similar family backgrounds, we have literacy together. We were literate.”

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Neal and Sparkman’s living room is lined with bookshelves.

Over thirty years later, this commonality remains. They share a home filled with books.

“They’re our books, even though they’re not necessarily ones I’d really read,” Neal said. “We did [read the same books] at first, we would trade books back-and-forth. I guess it was kind of as we were blending our two minds. Now we read different books. We hardly ever read each other’s books, which is kind of weird.”

Although they don’t read the same books, they still share them in their own way.

“We blended our books. They’re all on the same shelves. That’s, I think, a test of an academic couple-it’s when they decide to move their books together instead of in separate shelves. They’re actually coming together,” Neal said. “We still talk about ideas and books. That’s what we’ve always talked about.”