Good morning! It isn’t even 7 o’clock yet, I haven’t been outdoors to water the garden, but I just finished reading The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Story of Surprising Second Chances. Thank you so much for getting and sending me three signed copies of the book that arrived in yesterday’s mail (I’ll keep the one inscribed “For Dog Ears Books”), and if you’re still in touch with the author, please tell her how thoroughly I enjoyed her story. You told me she is a very down-to-earth person, and that quality shines through her writing.
So Amy Dickinson replaced Ann Landers, eh? Now I’m curious to read her column and see what kind of advice she dispenses within the confines of “Ask Amy.” She is very forthright in the book about how often advice to her as a single mother, on finding an appropriate man, fell short of the mark.
...I have spent years looking, not looking, expecting, not expecting, being proactive, making phone calls, admitting to crushes, denying attraction, and leaving it all up to the Universe. None of this works.
Then her next sentence says: “But it all works.” And throughout the book, during all those years (17) that she was raising her daughter without a mate of her own, it’s clear that Amy was never alone. She had the “mighty queens,” as her daughter named them—her mother, sisters, aunts and cousins, with only one uncle and a couple of male cousins in the lot, and she had the comfort and security and familiarity of her small town, in addition to big city life, first in Washington, D.C., and then in Chicago. Her family was a constant, and her small town was a constant.
Deborah, you are so right! Freeville, New York, is a lot like Northport, Michigan! The winter population of Northport isn’t much more than Freeville’s 400-some. (I’m too lazy to look back for the exact number she gives.) You and I didn’t grow up in that kind of place, but you’ve heard enough from me in recent years about Northport. Freeville’s one church is next door to its school; Northport’s school is across the street from two of the four church buildings (five congregations) in town.
The creek? You know we have a creek, too! Outside our village, cherry orchards rather than dairy herds are the rule. And no “private” family event is too small for neighbors to share:
In small towns, everybody knows where the bodies are buried—literally. Our town cemetery contains headstones bearing the names of local families, and I know the intimate details and familial backstories of many of them. Of course the downside to knowing your neighbors’ stories is that they know yours too.
Late in the book this theme recurs:
I’m surrounded by people who are not impressed with me. They don’t care that my syndicated column has twenty-two million readers, that I’ve been on the Today show—that I’ve locked horns with Bill O’Reilly, or that my name was once used as a clue on Jeopardy! They remember what a doofus I was in high school.
It’s true, there is no place to hide in a small town, where people see you both all dressed up—for weddings and funerals, graduation and concerts—and in your old dirty work clothes much of the rest of the time, Northport has its share of single mothers and of kids who grow up but can't tear themselves away or can't stay away permanently. It's a good thing that young people want to be here, isn't it? Not long ago a new resident of Northport told me how much she loved the town and how great it could be if this and that were done. Now I’m thinking that people in a small town are a lot like the town itself: we have plenty of room for improvement, but the point of love, it seems, is not to lose sight of the good all around you. Though she couldn’t wait to “get away” and actually got as far as “London, England” (the way her mother always said it), Amy Dickinson came home again, and she describes her little hometown lovingly. The way she wrote about Halloween, for instance...
Her father—what a trip! Don’t want to give that away, though, since I have those couple of signed copies to sell today at Dog Ears Books. And I haven't touched in this letter on the mother-daughter relationship, which is really the core of the book. I’m happy the story ended where it did and in the way it did. Did you have tears in your eyes at the end? I’ll bet you did, sister! We are related, after all! Thank you again so much!
Today is Cars in the Park and, at 11 a.m., the Blessing of the Pets. It's a beautiful day in Northport. Wish you were here!