Welcome to the current series of Posts from Your Archives in 2020 and if you would like to participate with two of your posts from 2019, you will find all the details in this post: New series of Posts from Your Archives 2020
This is the second post by Elizabeth Gauffreau and shares the trip she made to Vermont to share her book Telling Sonny with the P.E.O International Organisation, and to reconnect to the very special ties she has to the P.E.O through her grandmother.
“P.E.O. was founded on January 21, 1869, by seven students at Iowa Wesleyan College in Mount Pleasant, Iowa. This circle of kindred spirits – bonded by their enthusiasm for women’s opportunities – eventually expanded to include women off campus as well. Through membership, the P.E.O. Sisterhood has brought together more than a half a million women in the United States and Canada who are passionate about helping women advance through education, while supporting and motivating them”
A Trip to Vermont: Connecting to the P.E.O. Sisterhood
Leaving Vermont after getting there from here, June 23, 2019
Not long after my debut novel, Telling Sonny, was published last December, my cousin Anne asked me if I would do a presentation to her local chapter of the P.E.O Sisterhood, a philanthropic organization that provides college scholarships to women. Before each meeting, the group has a program featuring a talk by a successful woman–and by virtue of my publishing history, apparently I was a successful woman. I was incredibly flattered and very happy to oblige–as long as Cousin Anne understood that there was no way I was driving over Bethel Mountain to get to East Middlebury in the winter or in mud season. The date was set for June 22nd.
I headed out for Vermont the evening prior and made the mistake of relying on my GPS for directions. Once I got off Route 89, the GPS took me onto a narrow road with sections that had been washed out and more-or-less repaired with gravel. The narrow road became dirt, my ears started popping from the steep climb, and then the dirt road narrowed to one lane, threatening to become a cow path. At that point, I pulled off by a pasture and looked at a map, which naturally didn’t show the road I was on or the one that led to it.
And the Spirit of Vermont thundered down from the mountains, “You can’t get there from here!” When I finally managed to get off the mountain and arrive at Cousin Anne’s, she wanted to know why I hadn’t followed the directions she’d given me. Because I left the Post-It note stuck to my desk, says I.
My presentation went very well. I introduced it by explaining that I had been a member of the first class at Old Dominion University to graduate with the creative writing concentration in 1982, and I published my first novel in 2018 at the age of sixty-two. That set the group back a few paces!
Reading “My Father’s Side of the Family,” the poem that was the precursor to Telling Sonny. Judging from the expression on the audience’s face, I was probably reading the part about Aunt Louise taking to drink when her old dog Blackie died: “Blackie’s stupid spaniel face / Gazing up / From the bottom of her empty cup.”
Reading the opening chapter of Telling Sonny.
Q & A about writing and nontraditional higher education. (Give me a pulpit, and I will preach!)
The Connection to the P.EO. Sisterhood (Saving the best for last!)
The mutual connection Cousin Anne and I have to the P.E.O. Sisterhood is our grandmother, Velma Moore Brown, who was very active in the organization for over thirty years, rising to the position of Massachusetts president. Velma is second from the right in both pictures.
About Telling Sonny
Forty-six-year-old FABY GAUTHIER keeps an abandoned family photograph album in her bottom bureau drawer. Also abandoned is a composition book of vaudeville show reviews, which she wrote when she was nineteen and Slim White, America’s self-proclaimed Favorite Hoofer (given name, LOUIS KITTELL), decided to take her along when he played the Small Time before thinking better of it four months later and sending her back home to Vermont on the train.
Two weeks before the son she had with Louis is to be married, Faby learns that Louis has been killed in a single-car accident, an apparent suicide. Her first thought is that here is one more broken promise: Louis accepted SONNY’s invitation to the wedding readily, even enthusiastically, giving every assurance that he would be there, and now he wouldn’t be coming. An even greater indignity than the broken promise is that Louis’s family did not bother to notify Faby of his death until a week after the funeral took place. She doesn’t know how she can bring herself to tell Sonny he mattered so little in his father’s life he wasn’t even asked to his funeral…
One of the recent reviews for the book
This is a beautifully told story. Until the last few chapters of the book, the story belongs to the teenage Faby Gauthier who becomes pregnant in the 1920s and hastily marries the future baby’s father, a hoofer on the vaudeville circuit. For four months, she goes on the road with Louis Kittel aka Slim White. There are moments of kindness, but she is often left alone to rue her choices, and eventually returns home to Vermont to have her baby, Sonny.
Telling Sonny is a biography that reads like fiction with the perfect details to bring Faby’s world – settings, experiences, and emotions – to life. She’s a well-rounded and sympathetic character, and I found her narration engrossing. Secondary characters are equally strong, and though in many ways a sad tale, this is also a story about the strength of family. The book moves along at a moderate pace, and yet I was unable to put it down.
The title and blurb are a little misleading as they refer to the bookends of the story, not the longer tale between. The story begins and ends with Faby as a middle-aged woman fretting over telling Sonny about his father’s death. The meat of the story covers Faby’s short relationship with Louis. The structure makes sense in the end, giving a sense of closure to Faby (and the reader). A highly recommended book for anyone who enjoys biographies, literary fiction, women’s fiction, and well-told tales in general.
About Elizabeth Gauffreau
I have always been drawn to the inner lives of other people–what they care about, what they most desire, what causes them pain, what brings them joy. These inner lives become my characters. I write to tell their stories.
My fiction and poetry have been published in literary magazines, including Rio Grande Review, Serving House Journal, Soundings East, Hospital Drive, Blueline, Evening Street Review, and Adelaide Literary Magazine, as well as several themed anthologies. Telling Sonny is my first published book.
I hold a B.A. in English/Writing from Old Dominion University and an M.A. in English/Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire. Currently, I am the Assistant Dean of Curriculum and Assessment at Champlain College Online in Burlington, Vermont.
Connect to Elizabeth
My thanks to Liz for sharing what must have been an amazing trip and experience especially with the wonderful connection to her grandmother. I know she would love your feedback.. Thanks Sally.