High Praise for “Dear Medora”!

Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman

If you’ve seen me within the last few days, you’ve probably noted that something has happened to my head.  It is way larger than it should be and I’m probably smiling like an idiot.  In fact, I probably look a lot like a female version of Alfred E. Neuman.  And, I’m absolutely non-apologetic about it… but I do feel the urge to explain.

Last week at our Community Historian class, the speaker was Barb Kubick. A well-respected historian.  Her topic had to do with the meaning of history and historical research.  She has spoken to the group in years past but, for whatever reason, I’ve never been among those present.  I loved what she had to say and approached her afterwards to tell her so.

Imagine my surprise when she called out to me by name!  And did my mouth drop open when she praised me for my book Dear Medora?  “I loved it,” she said.  “But I especially liked the way you changed nothing – even the words in diaries and letters that put your family in an unflattering light.  You included everything.  We can see the warts and all!”

I must have looked as amazed as I felt.  “Not everyone does that, you know,” she went on.  “But we can’t understand our history if well-intentioned people clean it up along the way.”  I don’t think she actually said that Dear Medora was exemplary, but I could feel myself puffing right up anyway.

Not that it ever occurred to me to change Medora’s words or those of my Grandmother or any of the other people whose lives I tapped into.  Why would I?  They all were there!  And they wrote more eloquently than anything I could paraphrase.

What Barb Kubik didn’t realize, of course, was that with those few words, she lifted a burden that I’ve carried with me for almost eleven years.  Shortly after Dear Medora was published, the prestigious Oregon Historical Quarterly (published since 1900 by the Oregon Historical Society) ran a rather damning review of the book.  The review was written by a well-know historian and professor at an Oregon institution of higher learning.  He said, basically, that I didn’t know what I was talking about and that Medora had died differently from how it was presented in the book.

He based his “knowledge” on a discussion with my Uncle Willard Espy, Medora’s brother who was four when she died.  Willard’s memory about incidents in his early childhood were undoubtedly as good as those of most people.  However, there were some things he mixed up or misremembered.  One involved the circumstances of his older brother’s broken leg.  Another involved the speculations about Medora’s somewhat mysterious death.

Oregon Historical Quarterly, Summer 2008

Had the professor bothered to read the book, he could easily have seen from the letters and news clippings that what Willard told him was wrong – a fuzzy childhood memory from a painful family time that was seldom spoken of.  Or he could have called me and I might have told him that throughout the twenty-year process of researching the book, I shared and discussed every bit of information with my mother and Willard.  About Medora’s death, Willard was very surprised but, curiously, my mother was not, even though she was eleven months younger than he.

Thanks, Barb Kubik!  I know I am smiling like an idiot.  But I feel like a million bucks!

Leave a Reply