30 May 2012

Vivid childhood memories of the street where she lived

Who was Beverly Eckert, and how did she become that person? These are some of the deeper questions I'll try to answer in No Truer Hearts. My task was made much easier because of all the help Beverly provided during the course of our collaboration. In addition to sending me scores of emails over the years, she gave extensive interviews, and opened up her bulging files of articles, documents and reports. She also provided visual tours of parts of her life, paging through fat photo albums and giving me copies of videotapes with media coverage of her post-9/11 work.

But my favorite source is one I received from her sister Karen after Beverly's death. It is a small book that Beverly had written around 1963 at age twelve titled "Summer on Wickham." In it, Beverly recounts tales of the previous couple of years, when she and a group of her buddies happily roamed the sidewalks, streets and fields around Wickham Drive in Amherst, New York.

This little literary gem is remarkable for a number of reasons. It is quite well written, considering the author's age. Beverly was at times very dramatic in recounting some of her adventures, like this one about a bicycle outing that went awry.
The heat of the day was oppressive, so it was hard going for bicycles. Finally [Beverly and her friends] came to a hill which had a stone wall going all the way down. "Hey Bev!" yelled Cheryl. "If you want to go down faster, keep your feet off the pedals!" "All right," agreed Bev. She pedaled furiously till she reached the part where the hill began. She started down this, her feet off the pedals. The stony wall had jagged edges of rock protruding from it on either side. Bev, as she was going down, looked over this wall. Her heart stopped beating. A car was coming down the driveway that was at the end of the stone wall!
The stories in "Summer on Wickham" provide nuggets of gold for the biographer, for they reveal aspects of young Bev's character: her leadership qualities, her zest for life, an eagerness to make friends, her amazing creativity, and a budding sense of romance. The book is a wonderful gift that she left behind, of cherished memories, frolicsome vignettes of youth, and a window onto her young but precocious personality. Every time I read it, I smile at the memory of Beverly, and remember as well similar episodes in my own youth, and the things Beverly and I had in common, Baby Boomers growing up in America's new and expanding suburbs. And on this day after her birthday, I hope these words bring others closer to her memory and to her bright and vibrant soul.

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