Reading a biography, autobiography or personal memoir allows us to add someone else's life to our own. We can follow them through the pages and share their struggles and pleasures, victories and defeats. Through autobiography we can get to know someone well, even strike up an intimate relationship with a great person, a Helen Keller, Ulysses Grant or Charlie Chaplin.
Sometimes their cautionary tales will be so good that we learn to avoid similar mistakes. In her new memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville", Amy Dickinson recounts the stresses and analyzes the forces that took her through marriage, divorce and raising a daughter as a single mother -- all experiences common in our society.
During her marriage she lived in London, later moved to Washington, DC with daughter Emily. She also worked her way through several jobs (including, at one point, receptionist and then a commentator at National Public Radio) and periods of unemployment. But Amy emerges steady and victorious. Today she writes a nationally-syndicated advice column. She's now a regular on NPR's news quiz "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" (heard on WSKG Saturdays at 11:00 AM) and on "Talk of the Nation" (WSQX weekdays from 2:00 to 4:00 PM). But it's clear that she might not have landed with her feet on the ground if that ground hadn't been in the village of Freeville, NY, about fifteen minutes up the road from Ithaca.
Amy's family has lived and farmed in upstate New York since the 1790s. The family history has lately not been easy. "In my family," she writes, "the women tend to do the heavy lifting while the men -- well, the men are nice and fine and they love us for a time. Then at some point, it seems that they tire of their indeterminate role in our lives, so they wage a campaign of passive resistance, and then they leave." Her father suddenly left the family, and then in another act of abandonment sold off their herd of Holsteins. But the women pull together.
The women of my family taught me what family is about. They helped me pick up the pieces when my life fell apart, and we reassembled them together into something new. They celebrated my slow recovery, witnessed my daughter's growth and development, and championed my choices. The women in my life showed Emily and me in large and small ways that they would love us, no matter what. They abide.
-- from "The Mighty Queens of Freeville"
The wisdom and support Amy feels from the women in her family shows through in her daily column "Ask Amy" , which replaced the late and legendary Ann Landers, now appears in over 200 newspapers nationwide through the Chicago Tribune syndicate (in this area in the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, the Ithaca Journal and the Elmira Star-Gazette).]
Amy Dickinson joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to tell about coming home again, drawing on the strength of family and sharing that with the nation.