New book by local author now available
In keeping with her tradition of carrying books by local authors, Susan Bush, proprietor of the Island Bound Book Store, hosted a talk and signing last Saturday of Larry Smith’s latest: “Hidden Hearts, the Peterborough Letters.” A coterie of the Island’s literary cognoscenti attended.
The inception of “Hidden Hearts,” Smith explained, began in the early 1970s, when a moldering cache of century-old diaries and letters was discovered in a dilapidated barn in northern Michigan, near Smith’s ancestral home. The barn had been recently inherited by a Smith friend, Betty Beeby. When she began idly preserving what she could, she came on a letter explaining that the writer had “unintentionally become a party to a secret which it is quite evident was not intended for me to know.”
Intrigued, Beeby began matching the names and the dates on the dozens of letters with diary entries. Gradually, as through a thinning mist, the touching and unlikely tale of Minnie Griffin and the son she bore out of wedlock in 1876 emerges. Minnie had been told her son died soon after he was put up for adoption. This was not true, told to spare her later anxiety about the child. Twenty-seven years later, the son, Loren Post, lovingly raised by foster parents, sought Minnie out. By then she has had an orderly, independent life as a dressmaker in Peterborough, Ontario. The shock of learning her son is alive shatters her peace and plunges her into an emotional outpouring of letters. During the year 1904, Loren and his mother exchange dozens of letters before and after he visits her for a week in Peterborough. Her letters are long and emotional, almost, for her part, love letters to the child she thought she had forsaken. His are kind and somewhat distracted as his diary entries follow his pursuit of the life of a single, 27-year-old American male in rural Michigan during the years prior to World War I.
The book that Smith and Beeby constructed from this material took a long time aborning. Both took it up, on and off, when they could find moments in their busy lives.
Beeby, who died in 2015, had a long and fruitful life as a lithographer artist. Besides having unearthed the material, she restored what could be, and eventually had it transcribed. Later, when the book was written, she would illustrate the chapter headings for “Hidden Hearts.”
The story, as Smith would reconstruct it from the scraps preserved by Beeby, also took time, decades in fact, while he made his way up the journalistic ladder. Following graduation from the University of Michigan, in 1962, Smith took with him besides a Bachelor’s degree and an ease with the written word, an exceedingly game wife, Dorothea, forced to abandoned work on her PhD. The years that followed for the Smiths included three children and, for Larry, a first novel, “The Original,” set in his native Michigan and peopled with his imagined forebears. Starting as reporter at $65/week on a small Wyoming daily, he would reach, step by step, back east to the editorial desk of The New York Times. And from there 15 years as Managing Editor of Parade Magazine and a term as President of the Overseas Press Club, while he completed four acclaimed books based on recorded interviews with veterans of WWII and Vietnam.
Meanwhile, Dorothea, once they had settled in Irvington, N.Y., doubled as mother and feature writer for the Gannett syndicate.
Before retirement and the couple’s final move to Block Island, where they had maintained a summer house since 1974, there were years of family wilderness camping and canoeing, and for Larry taking a few weeks to climb Mt. McKinley, in Alaska, and a few hours to run the New York City marathon. A busy life.
Amidst all that, “Hidden Hearts, the Peterborough Letters” had to fight for time to become a book.
Now that it has, you will find signed copies at Island Bound.