No Rules at the Louievilla

I feel so lucky when recalling memories of staying at the Louievilla, an old and worn-down farmhouse in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, in the heart of Door County. My college friend, Betty, started the whole thing when she had a job that gave her time off in the summer. So, that’s when she took her vacation, two weeks, renting the Louievilla.

Liking and wanting company, she began inviting friends to join her. She rented the house and then asked for a nominal nightly rental fee from each of us. How lucky was I to stay in a house in the center of a tourist’s paradise for a mere $10.00 a night.

A misfit among the up-scale summer homes and cottages that surround it, the house does have location, location, location going for it; the public beach is across the street and the heart of this busy tourist village and harbor is less than a block away. But that’s not why we loved it.

The owners of the Louievilla lived in Louisville, Kentucky and had a local real estate company manage it for them. They’d owned the house for a long time and came up only for a week, usually right before our two weeks around the fourth of July.

Betty did lots of decorating, red white and blue banners and signs. Our trademark was a large stuffed flamingo that sat on the front steps and announced that we had arrived.   Quite festive. Once a man came into the porch thinking he was entering a drinking/ eating establishment. We had a good laugh, then sent him down the street.

The Louievilla has six bedrooms, a large living, dining room and kitchen on the first floor. The one bedroom on the first floor belonged to Betty. The living room furniture was old, of garage sale caliber. Mismatched and worn. Bed sheets hung from rods as make-shift curtains throughout the house.

The kitchen cupboards were filled with cracked and faded dishes and cookware. I’m pretty sure this was mostly made up of a collection of items former renters had left behind. I recall one year finding a mug I’d left there years before. The rent was quite high, $1500.00 a week, and I got it that the owners felt no need to fix up or improve since there was a waiting list. I’d have to call the place a dump if you think of décor but to us it was a castle.

Each year upon arrival, after unpacking, we’d tour the house to see what was new. There was always one thing that was new.  It could be something as simple as the addition of a new toaster to replace the dilapidated one that always burned the toast. Imagine our joy the year we found a real shower in the downstairs bathroom. No more sitting in the tub leaning under a shower sprinter.

Then there’s the porch, a glassed-in room that spanned the entire front of the house which became the center of our social life. The porch was also filled with rickety and shabby furniture. Since Betty was renting and paying top dollar she got to designate her chair on the porch.  All she had to do was appear at the door and if anyone was sitting in what we lovingly called the queen’s chair, they relocated without a word.

We were known to spend many days sitting on the porch. Sometimes never leaving the house at all, except for a few brave souls who walked across the street to the beach or set up a card table out on the front lawn to do a jig-saw puzzle while taking in the sun.

It could be confusing sometimes when we planned a dinner out only to be discombobulated trying to time our departure. Just when it seemed everyone was ready, someone would say they needed a few minutes to finish their beer.  So, then someone else would start another and not be done for a while. Pretty soon, snacks came out and once the board games appeared, the trip to the Bayside for a burger was lost in the wind.

It was an easy time with no pressure to do anything. As soon as we got up we headed, in our pajamas, for the porch with a cup of coffee, lounging and thinking about what, if anything, to do that day. Morning ritual was for someone to walk down the street to get ice for the cooler and the newspaper.

I recall at least one time, I never started by car for the whole two weeks I was there. And yet I was busy. We car pooled when going out and designated an early and a late car that was sure to serve the needs of all. Shopping and restaurants were just down the street. In fact, I did more shopping and drinking during that two weeks than I did the rest of the year.

But all good things must come to an end. Betty retired and reasoned why spend so much money and drive so far when the peace and serenity she wanted was right there in her own back yard.  So, wistfully I recall the walks down to the sunset each night, the trips to the educational book store with several of the teachers in the group, the annual dinner at the Greenwood, and bean bags at the A-C Tap. The Bayside still has the best mushroom swiss burger in the world.

The Louievilla was a summer respite for this very special group of friends for over twenty-five years. Toward the end of our time there I recall Betty calling a meeting and sheepishly, almost apologetically, saying that the rent had gone up and she needed to raise what she charged us. I gasped then laughed when she announced from now on she’d be charging $12.00 a night. Still lucky!


When Harry Met Sally….Oops Meghan

It’s the royals;
old traditions that have far outlived their usefulness.
Everyone is abuzz; such a fuss.
A diversion which is what we need these days;
Americans always buy into the romance. And the hats.

The couple is so cute and so in love.
The wild Harry is ready to settle down;
the beautiful Meghan has entered the castle with a jolt.
She’s the A, B, C, D‘s of unacceptability.
American; bi-racial; commoner, divorced.
They have the same values and interests;
both have a history of philanthropy and public service,
well established before they met.

They say the Queen is pleased.
They say Diana would approve.
Think what great things they’ll do with their personal resources.
If the throne can change, perhaps there’s hope for the whole world.





A Million Little Memoirs

Originally Published in Wisconsin Writers Association Newsletter, Vol. 58; No. 2 Summer 2009

Everyone’s life includes many stories worth telling. Perhaps it’s this belief that has spawned the increased interest in memoirs. Or maybe it was 2006’s fact/fiction controversy surrounding the admission by James Frey, author of A Million Little Pieces, that’s he’d’ fabricated some of his story.

That’s what made me want to better understand writing memoir. In my search, I found Modern American Memoirs, edited by Annie Dillard and Cort Conley, a collection of memoir excerpts by American writers published from 1917 to 1992.

The editor’s introduction describes the typical writer of memoir as:

a single, composite American of any heritage or gender, who appears in a             family, grows up somewhere, and somehow watches, learns, falls in            love, works, and perhaps has children and grandchildren.”

I guess that covers anyone alive and breathing. They also seem to be saying no story is too small or unimportant to be written.

Memoir can be a writer’s frank recollection of a painful interaction or of a slight that cut to the core. It can be the laugh out loud recounting of a trick played on an unsuspecting parent. Or, how about a descriptive profile of that memorable funny/sad relative who can be counted on to act outrageously during holiday get togethers? Memoir is any writer’s opportunity to tell their story no matter how small. I’d always thought, someday, I’d write about my own very ordinary life.

The dictionary defines memoir as “a memory” and as “a narrative composed from personal experience.” Memoirs offer a fixed point of view, an analysis of ideas or dramatic scenes; the narration can be intellectual or intimate across a wide range of characters and events.

The memoirist can confess, eulogize, reflect, inform or persuade. The tone can be confiding, scholarly, funny or any combination of these.  Some writer’s feel they need to be seasoned to write a worthy piece but the editors say “writing memoir early produces results before the writer smooths off the edges of his characters.”

They tell how Edwin Muir, poet and translator of Kafka, wrote two-thirds of his Autobiography before World War I, thinking he’d be killed in the war. When he returned, he quickly wrote the final third before being sent off to the Second World War. Again, he survived and his memoir is thought to be one of the most vivid and thoughtful because he wrote about his early life while he could still remember it.

Sometimes the object of much attention is what’s omitted. Henry Adams left out his twenty-year marriage from The Education of Henry Adams. Martin Van Buren left his wife out. Alfred Kazin omitted his sister and Loren Eisley excluded his wife because she prized her privacy. The memoirist must always be prepared to endure the wrath of someone either forgotten or included since the reaction can be pretty much the same.

In the nineteenth century, nonfiction had more literary respect than fiction. So many writers, Poe, Melville, Twain peddled some of their stories as memoir; this was to distinguish them from a mere romance and therefore attract more serious readers. In the 20th century it was the opposite and some of its finest works of fiction have strong autobiographical elements. Think Ernest Hemingway.

While some memoirs cover whole generations of American life, they can also cover one short span of time. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s memoir, Wait ‘Till Next Year, chronicles her and her father’s love of baseball during one memorable World Series competition. Russell Baker’s Growing Up focuses upon his relationship with this newly widowed mother trying to survive in Depression times. These touching and heartfelt memoirs include an interesting view of early 20th century American life.

The writer usually has the onus of labeling the work though it can be seen by others differently. An example is Bernard Cooper’s Maps to Anywhere. He tended to call it fiction but various editors have called it poetry, fiction, fable or essay. Best Essays of 1988 reprinted one chapter. The book won the 1991 PEN/Faulkner Ernest Hemingway Award for fiction.

The controversy generated by James Frey was such a big deal the publisher took back the book and Oprah demanded an apology.  Poor James Frey really took the rap for loosely defining a literary form that, over the years, had been defined rather loosely. Frey said he just wanted his readers to feel his pain and thought he had to embellish to get the point across. Instead he’s paid a very high price and perhaps delivered a valuable lesson to all writers.

Frey’s book probably would have been a best seller no matter what it was labeled. But the wrath of the reader was invoked. I had put a hold on the book and when the story broke then cancelled it. Reading friends defended him and said they’d read it anyway. I guess I just thought it wasn’t cool to lie. I would hate to think that all the wonderful memoirs I’ve read were just made up fiction designed to sell more books.

Looking at the long and interesting history of the memoir only raises awareness of the freedom writer’s have in telling their story and leaving a legacy for future generations. As long as it’s the truth! We all have a million little memoirs swimming around in our head. We simply need to recognize them.



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