By Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli
The new memoir, I Remember Alice: A Story of Her Family, An Unusual Courtship, and Counseling of the Spirit self-published by Palma Richardson of Traverse City, is an odd book. I was confused many times as I read it: who was who, who was related to whom, where I was in time. The book has all the problems of most self-published books, and yet I was charmed by not only the authors voice, but the voices of family members who chimed in from time to time as if everyone sat around the family dinner table, maybe after a wake, trotting out their memoriesgood and bad.
Thats what forms the voice and tone behind this book about Alice Tredway, the authors mother, a self-sufficient woman born in 1909, in a log cabin outside Limestone in the Upper Peninsula. Born into a large family where kids got edged out of the cabin early to make room for younger children.
From that spare beginning, everything about Alice Tredway becomes unusual. Like her mother before her, who followed one of her sons from place to place out West until she died, Alice is an individual who seems to have set her mind on goals and achieved them, rarely being stopped by public opinion or circumstance. She is, in many ways, a pioneer, and an Upper Peninsula pioneer at that. A cousin remembers: Grandma would feed us venison that she had canned and shed take us picking blueberries or wild strawberries at the edge of the field. I remember her always busy and smiling, with her blue eyes and curly white hair.
A RESIGNED AIR
The author remembers her grandmother as a diminutive lady with white curly hair and a slight limp. She had a resigned air about her as ifThis is how it is, so Ill just accept ither most distinguishing physical feature I remember when I was a child of 4 or 5 was a prominent adams apple (from a lack of iodine earlier in her life), which bobbed up and down all the while she talked.
The cover shot of Alice as a young woman gives a much different picture of who she was. Pretty. Determined. Eyes looking off toward a future she was determined to control. Her poems (a few included in the book) shows a pragmatic mind that saw the world without sugar coating.
In a poem about her father, a drinker and possibly cruel man, Alice writes: Our Dear Papa, DEAD DRUNK, with whiskey he stunk, but, Who shall put him into a mold?
I wasnt convinced I liked Alice as I read along. She left the cabin at an early age and put herself through Northern Michigan Normal College so she could teach. Soon she was teaching at Stambaugh School, near Iron River, but teaching didnt enthrall her. She set her sights on a new career: that of a wife, and the chosen one was Owen Tredway, a widower 44 years her senior. All through college, Owen Tredway sent her money to make college life easier, though sometimes, it seemed, he complained that she spent too much. In retaliation, she returned the latest check to him. Alice wasnt without spunk.
In their courtship, Alice was the aggressor with her entreaties progressing through their letters to the point where Owen Tredway tried to fend off her advances. In a letter of May 24, 1930, he writes ...I cant expect to be here more than 8 years, cause at 75, I am an old man. To take a wife your age who would be apt to bear me a child and me an old man who probably would never see the child only for a year or two. I dont see how it could be. I dont want one now, Alice, do you know that I am 44 years older than you, which is 40 years too much. I would think of the difference in our ages every time we were in public, and to introduce you as my wife would be extremely embarrassing. We would be pointed out as that man who married that young girl (what an old fool) . . .
Alice wasnt stopped. They married and had the children Owen stressed about.
SECRETS TO HAPPINESS
And thats where my skepticism about Alice ended. Theirs was a love that lasted until Owen died, a happy man who lived out his elder years in contentment. In a journal entry dated Aug. 2, 1933, when she was pregnant, Alice writes, Some secrets to our happiness. My dear one never fails to tell me when something is good. Tonight - rare roast beet etc. - blackberry pie. This is good eating, Alice. Beans, potatoes, and meat tastes good. Who wouldnt find joy-even tho it caused pain to bend to oven so oftenin making a big dinner.
It seems as if Alice, though a tough-minded woman who knew what she wanted and went after it, also lived up to her end of any bargain she made.
After Owens death, Alice took care of herself and her children and eventually found herself drawn to spiritualism and a firm belief in reincarnation. Over the years she developed methods of delving into past lives that brought peace to troubled people and made her known throughout the Upper Peninsula and beyond as a gifted seer.
I came away from the book with a deep respect for Alice Tredway, finding her a pioneer in many ways: spiritualism, helping the mentally disturbed, living life according to her own tenets, and even blazing a trail for other women to lead lives they fashioned for themselves.
And a deep respect for the author. The mistakes made in self-published books are here. I is used incorrectly over and over. The old I versus me battle. A good editor would have caught it. Still, even this makes the writers voice authentic. Her honesty in telling the truth about her family and especially Alice, while not applying coats of varnish to please other family members, is compelling.
Palma Richardson will sign I Remember Alice at Horizon Books in Traverse City on Nov. 6, 12-2 pm.
Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli will be teaching: A Novel ExperienceFiction Writing Workshop, at NMC on Fri., Nov. 5, 9-4 pm., in the Olson Center. To register call NMC Extended Education at 231-995-1700