That's my parents, circa 1962. I think they were vacationing in Plymouth, MA, judging from the other pictures in the series (of Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower). But that's not important to this post. Here's what is:
- Their names are Helen and Joe
- They dated in the 1950s
- They loved listening to Tommy Dorsey and dancing at the Totem Pole Ballroom (this latter link is a great post about the legendary dance hall at Norumbega Park, by the way)
So, you can imagine my surprise when I started reading Lynne Griffin's novel, Sea Escape, which tells the story of a young couple named Helen and Joseph, who meet and marry in the 1950s, and listen to Tommy Dorsey while dancing at the Totem Pole!
But it wasn't completely random that I picked up this book. You see, a couple of months ago I attended a friend's book reading at Newtonville Books, where Lynne also made an appearnce and shared the real-world events that inspired her story. When her mother died some years ago, she found a large box full of letters that her father had written. Not sure of what they might entail (and not wanting to unwittingly stumble upon any dark family secrets), she and her sister agreed to read through them only until they came to something that they knew their parents wouldn't have wanted them to see. And if that happened, they would put the letters away for good.
But to her delight, the box was full of nothing but beautifully written love letters from her father to her mother. The sentiment of those letters, plus knowledge that her parents had always dreamed of retiring to a home by the sea (which, sadly, they never did), helped shape the story that became Sea Escape. And while it's a fictional piece and the characters and events are not meant to depict Lynne's own family history, she did use some of her father's letters in the book, and of course fulfilled her parents' dream to have their very own sea escape.
I was captivated by this story and set out to read the book, not knowing that I would encounter the similarities to my own parents. But thankfully the parallels ended there, as the fictional Helen & Joseph go on to endure more tragic events and consequences, while their estranged, adult children struggle to deal with a few family secrets and an uncertain future. Sea Escape is primarily a story about mother-daughter relations, and the need for love and acceptance no matter your age. It follows present-day Helen and her grown daughter Laura, but also relays Helen's courtship with and early marriage to Joseph through a series of flashbacks. At times the multiple characters and back-and-forth time periods made it difficult to follow, but it sure was fun to witness the [perceived] innocence of a 1950s love affair through those letters.