February 21, 2007

Girls of Tender Age

My travel companion on the trip to Goshen, IN was a wonderful memoir, Girls of Tender Age, by Mary-Ann Tirone Smith, whic was released this December in paperback.

What a sneaky and wonderful work. I say sneaky because it is really three works in one - reporting on a heinous crime that jarred her childhood, a nostalgic look back at the city I call home (but did not grow up in), and a family history involving a seriously autistic brother. As I read the first few chapters, I was struck by how fragmented the writing was - snippets of memories, observations, stories - not unlike a child's understanding of the world, as passed along by the adults in her life. But slowly, as the chapters unfurled, I was drawn in. At the end, as she writes of her brother's decline, her father's descent into Alzheimers, her mother's funeral, I quietly wiped away the tears.

The book rose to my notice when the author appeared on Colin's show - the author grew up in Hartford not too far from where we live today. As such, there were many familiar touchstones - her father worked at Abbott-Ball (our next door neighbor retired from there, and I imagine he knew her father), her stomping grounds were the streets between here and Trinity College, and I imagine the murderer who figures prominantly in the book walked down Newington Road that I travel every day between home and my office.

I loved reading of a different Hartford - when the Elm Theater was vibrant, when G. Fox was open, when the Hog (Park) River was not buried. I plan to drive through her neighborhood sometime soon to look it over. I am sure in her world, my neighborhood was where the up and comers ended up.

Even though the memoir was of many things - her brother, her murdered friend, the city of Hartford itself, I was left with strong connections to her parents. Her absent and distant mother, who worked the housewife shift at CG and immersed herself in the burgeoning Hartford society life (mostly golf). And her blue collar father, who seemed to be a friend to all, and so dedicated to his autistic son in the days before autism was commonly diagnosed or understood, to the end.

So glad to have come across this book. It helps me to understand the Hartford that was, and to appreciate the Hartford that is, a little more. It engaged on multiple levels. And it pulled away a few layers of hardness from my eyes and my heart - to come to love my world a little more.

I'm not sure if Zippy will read it, but I suspect if not, that MYA will eat it up.....

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