When the last chapter was written, the story “put to bed,” as it were, there was more I wanted to say. Happy Landings is Emilie’s story, but it is my work, the result of choices made for reasons that matter to me. I share the book’s “Afterword” here:
I never intended to write this book. I was simply curious about Emilie Loring, and as her story grew, I felt a responsibility to share it. The process had more the feeling of a quest than a research project.
First, I fell in love with Boston. Everything about it was different from what I had known before. I loved the old buildings, the Public Garden, and the Esplanade. I loved the Italian cafe on Charles Street and everything about the Boston Public Library. In my own town, I can tell you what used to be on a certain corner before it became what it is now, and I began to do that where Emilie lived.
Then I met the Lorings, who shared generously from their memories, photographs, and memorabilia. From the beginning, they encouraged me to tell Emilie’s full story, without limitation. Through their hospitality and friendship over the years, I gained a sense of their grandmother that transcended her books.
I absolutely love research. I am curious and well-skilled. I love finding a tiny bit of information that connects in memory with another little bit and then doing the detective work that turns them into understanding. Days on end in a microfilm room or examining photos with a magnifying glass–heaven.
The more I discovered, the more real Emilie Loring’s books became. The more I learned, the more her books guided me to new discoveries.
As a professor, I taught that “everything you learn allows you to see more.” This was true with Emilie Loring. As her history fell into place, her books gave up more information. Fair Tomorrow is closest to telling the story of her romance with Victor. With Banners is about her family of dramatists, and Hilltops Clear an ode to her brother. Here Comes the Sun! is all about Blue Hill, and Lighted Windows marked the change, as her Alaska trip had done, from one outlook on life to another.
Blue Hill, Maine started as Emilie’s and became mine, too. As in Boston, I can look at what is and see what used to be. I know the rhythm of the tides in Blue Hill Bay, the feel of the air, the scents, sounds, and tastes of summer. You may think Emilie’s descriptions are long, but trust me, she held back.
Biography can be a lonely undertaking, but in “Captain Bob” Slaven, I had a partner in sleuthing and learned things I could never have discovered otherwise about old times and new on the east side of Blue Hill Bay. Plus, Bob witnessed the Stone House ghost, and a story like that is worth hearing first-hand.
Telling whole lives, especially women’s lives, is tricky. We write about people because of their accomplishments but ask too little about who they were apart from those. Women’s lives are especially difficult, because their worth to biography is something other than home and motherhood, but the significance of home and motherhood to their lives may be equal or greater. We are all so much more than our public accomplishments.
This is especially true for a woman born in the middle of the nineteenth century, who left fewer traces than we do now. What would Emilie Loring have done with Instagram?
Fortunately, Emilie’s unique childhood left traces. She also wrote about herself directly, as a daughter, sister, homemaker, mother, and author, and others did, too. Hers is a more complete picture than we usually see of a woman in her times.
I abhor the idea of finding a “central theme” of a person’s life and tying everything to that. Real lives aren’t lived that way. We live moment to moment, without knowing what is ahead, and we change along the way. In hindsight, we can cherry-pick the parts that led to what resulted, but a life is more interesting if we do less of that.
This project took so long– too long, to my mind, and an unintended consequence was that I experienced more of what Emilie had experienced–the death of a revered father, a cherished sister, and far too many friends. When her cheery writing took those “unexpected” turns, as I used to think of them, now I understood.
Losses have made me acutely aware of how much I would have missed, had I not begun when I did. I was lucky to stop by Stone House when Bob Slaven’s parents still lived there. After the librarian who gave me directions, they were the ones who provided the thread in Blue Hill that I’ve pulled on ever since. They welcomed me into their home, shared their file of Stone House articles, and introduced me, right then and there, to Esther Wood, the local historian, who told me she had been Emilie Loring’s teenage maid.
Finding those threads is a charming part of discovery. It takes awareness and knowledge but also depends quite often on chance and the kindness of strangers. Dave Danielson could have turned me away when I stopped in at KYC, a stranger, and asked for help finding a rock. Instead, he introduced me to Bob Slaven, and we went looking for it.
Am I sick of Emilie Loring? You’d surely think so. But I’m not. Learning about her has made her more meaningful; it’s the reason I wrote this book. Her characters were models for me in my childhood, and when it was my turn to write, Emilie’s advice got me through.
I like writing but wrestling this biography down has been a much bigger task than I ever imagined. The pure slug work to get to the end has been… well, just that.
I am sure I have made errors. When two events are known, the temptation is to assume a straight line between them, but the unknown “between” may be very different. I have discovered this error many times, and there is no way around it.
This is my story of Emilie Loring. I have read her books more than fifty times each, and I have spent more than twenty years researching her life with access that can never again be given. I am confident that I am the world’s expert on Emilie Loring. Nevertheless, I know that mine is only one lens.
“The fact is, that no man is the same under different aspects, and never the same to those who know him best and those who know him least.” (John Neal, Portland Illustrated, 1874)
How I See Her Now
I admire Emilie Loring. She strove with sincerity, worked hard to improve, and kept her sense of humor doing it. She had her faults and her down days, but how else could we identify with her? Behind a good book is good character, and hers are very good books.
We need books that entertain, lift spirits, and restore optimism, not only in times of crisis but for a steady wind in our sails. I wish the literary world treasured them more.
Is Emilie Loring the best author ever? Of course not. Who could claim it? But something special is afoot when two generations of women read an author’s books over and over again, love them from childhood through old age, and pass them down to their daughters and granddaughters.
The passing of eras is a little sad. We read some authors from the past, but it’s such a small subset of those we could. Now that Emilie Loring e-books are available, new readers can discover her. I hope they do.
Emilie Loring had the qualities of a good friend: intelligent, inspiring, and insightful, with good taste, charming manners, and light-hearted humor. Her books are like cardigan sweaters–classic, comfortable, never too much or too little. Not trend-setters, but somehow, always just right.