cover of Underpinning


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Memories of slower times in Friday Harbor

Underpinning © Caroline Reed

© 2006 Beth Helstien

A lot of people, especially children, think that working in the library means we sit around reading all day. Oh, how I wish!  While it is far from true that library staff members read for pleasure at work, one of the joys of working in the library is helping someone who is looking for a great book to find just the thing for their current mood. One technique we use is to aks a person to tell us something they enjoyed in the past, and then we to try to recommend other books like it. A few weeks ago two of the volunteers who help at the check out desk and in the Friends of the Library Treasure Cove store were discussing good books, and I overheard one refer to Underpinning as being somewhat like another title. I liked the other book she mentioned, so I sought out Underpinning and took it home.

Underpinning hearkens back to a slower time in Friday Harbor. I felt myself slow down and quiet down with this book. It is a memoir written about a childhood spent in Friday Harbor from 1910 to 1917. Caroline Reed, sister of Virginia Sandwith, tells of her parents coming to Bellingham, Eastsound and Friday Harbor, her childhood on San Juan Island, and the subsequent move of the family to Bellingham. She ends with her high school graduation there.

Seeing Friday Harbor from the eyes of this tomboyish girl allowed me to go to an early Fourth of July celebration, attend an old fashioned picnic at Pear Point, and watch automobiles replace horses on the roads. 

This is a memoir composed of many brief vignettes.  Fortunately Caroline Reed had the sense to group her stories by themes as well as well chronology, so the book lacks the choppy feel many childhood memoirs evince. She tells her funny stories and her family stories; yet the book is not just a lark. The entire narrative, infused with her sense of humor, is grounded in her values of humility, community, and hard work. World War I tears the Reed family away from Friday Harbor and separates the family; later the Spanish influenza sweeps through the community leaving many dead. While the Reeds escape terrible tragedy, their saga is not free from hardship. The lessons Reed learns from her childhood in the community and the hardships they face serve as the underpinning for her future life.

I believe I speak for most of the library staff and volunteers when I say I wish I had more time for reading. Fortunately, however, I learned of this great read from one of the many fabulous library volunteers. You, too, can share recommendations or discover someone else’s favorites at the public library’s Reader Recommendation on the New Fiction cart. 

Underpinning, like all books reviewed here, may be found at the San Juan Island Library.

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