Thursday, July 07, 2005

Growing up in Willows -- Writer's columns evoke old memories


"I left Willows after high school, in search of adventure," wrote Shari Edwards. "Now, 40 years later, I find myself where I began. I've come full circle. But where is my hometown? I left a town full of friends, a town of innocence. ... There was time to gossip and drink lemonade, doors were left unlocked and neighbors helped neighbors. That was my hometown -- Willows, in 1956."

But in 1996, when Edwards returned, "I found a town closed to outsiders. ... The few old friends that remained had gone on with careers and families, as I had, and we seemed strangers when we met. Years of football games, parades, Tattler reviews and 13 years of school together -- a faded memory."

Edwards was no stranger to feelings of isolation. "As a Native American, displacement is a way of life. ... I began to seek a path, a path into a community I no longer knew and one that had long forgotten me."

She credits "Down Memory Lane," a Butte College writing class taught by Mary Ann Hansen, with helping her see the path. Then, through the good graces of John Taylor, former manager of the Tri-County Newspapers, "who took a chance with this inexperienced writer." Edwards wrote a column of reminiscences, researching the past and visiting again those almost-forgotten places of her childhood. Those writings are now gathered into book form.

"As I Remember: Collection of Newspaper Columns Volume 1 -- 8/19/98 -- 10/17/01" ($22.95 in paperback from iUniverse) is available on-line -- or from 76 Joy Street in Willows.

This rather unusual name for a gift shop is chronicled in the chapter titled "Bridget Patricia McLaughlin." "Patsy" was born and raised in Ireland -- the family lived at 76 Joy Street -- but came to Willows in 1949 ("the same day the Tower Theater opened"). "I remember our sixth-grade teacher preparing us," Edwards wrote. "She told us we would be getting a new student."

Patsy, Shari and another student, Helen, soon became the best of friends. "We spent one entire summer practicing for cheerleading tryouts. Can you imagine that fall, when an Irish immigrant, a Native American and a beautiful black girl became high school cheerleaders? Patsy's father had been right: America was the land of opportunity."

One year Patsy was chosen Lamb Derby Queen. Later she married John Enos and, wrote Edwards, "Patsy and I gave birth to our first child on the same day at Glenn General Hospital. In 1984 Patsy finally brought 76 Joy Street to America," opening the shop in the old Welzold Building on Butte Street.

Edwards remembered that "in the days I grew up in Willows there was a 'Coat Culture' ... The first 'fad' coat I remember was a Teddy Bear coat." Then came "car coats" and "sweater coats."

One must not forget the tea parties. "I was about 5 when Grandmother decided it was time for me to have my first tea party. Grandmother led me to the big walk-in closet and let me dress up with clothes pulled from her old leather trunk. ... When I was dressed Grandmother applied rouge to my cheeks and I took my place at the table. ... In their places were my brown curly-haired bear with only one eye, Topsy-Turvy, and my baby doll in her best party dress." Edwards connects that tea party with the one given her many years later by her daughter and granddaughter. "After tea I opened gifts. ... When I opened a Nancy Ann Doll I couldn't stop the tears. My treasured doll collection ... was destroyed in an earthquake and I had never stopped dreaming of owning another." This was a bittersweet memory, for there was another kind of earthquake just ahead: The dream-come-true tea party was held September 8, 2001.

Edwards' writing is mixed with joy and loss. Her heart was broken when, after a three-year run, "As I Remember" was terminated for budget reasons. Yet there would be more to come: another newspaper, and another set of columns, and the loss of her father and her husband.

For now, it's enough to cite a line from one of her Father's Day celebration stories: "Memories keep us from unraveling -- but it doesn't hurt to have a little peach ice cream along the way."

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

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