Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort
By: Ethel Lee-Miller
Publisher: iUniverse, Inc.
Publication Date: November 2007
ISBN: 978-0-595-69128-9 (hc)
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: October 2008
Long, carefree summer days spent playing with your best friend, cutting out paper dolls, wishing you had long, luxurious hair like that of The Breck Shampoo girls, and hanging out at the beach with your family. If these are some of your favorite memories from childhood, then you are sure to enjoy revisiting those days with Ethel Lee-Miller in her book Thinking of Miller Place.
This touching memoir opens with a recounting of how the author’s grandmother would brush six-year-old Ethel’s hair each day and tie a red ribbon around the child’s ponytail. Her grandmother soon passed away, but the red ribbon would remain in the girl’s hair as a daily reminder of the love the two shared. Throughout this book, the bonds between family members are put to the test, but always, the love they share shines through.
Within the first chapter, we learn that Miller Place is the summer home on the North Shore of Long Island for the Erickson family. Together with her twin sister Eileen, older sister Ingrid and her parents, Ethel would climb into the family’s station wagon each June during the 1950s and make the short trip (although it seemed a world away to young Ethel) to their summer haven. ‘Think of Miller Place,’ would eventually become the mantra the Erickson’s spoke when wanting to think of happy places or times.
Thinking of Miller Place is broken up into short vignettes, each one full of memories; some sad, some happy; many reminders of what life was like before technology took over our lives. There are stories of playing on the beach, sneaking off to watch the teenagers kiss, building forts, thinking up ways to avoid going to church, getting stuck in a tree and having to be rescued, the fear of living through a hurricane, and choosing with care the type of ice cream to buy from the ice cream truck, and while it was always toasted almond for the author, it was still a big decision.
Lee-Miller’s vivid descriptions of her childhood make this book a very pleasurable read. I could easily picture the children from her neighborhood playing, having disagreements, worrying about what their parents would do, and wondering when they’d get their first kiss. I also found myself remembering similar events, nodding in agreement, and smiling at the thought of how alike children are, regardless of where they live. For example, the author describes her Polaroid summer, where Mr. Clareton, the wealthy neighbor, takes an exorbitant amount of pictures of the children with his new camera. The description of the event, with the children eagerly watching the picture develop, pulling the backing off the picture, and the smell of the chemicals as the fixer agent was applied, brought back memories I had of the same sort of picture-taking excitement. Lee-Miller talks about playing in a big field with her twin sister and friends, where grownups couldn’t find them, and how they discovered a poor family living in an abandon shack at one edge of the field. The whole episode was described through the innocent eyes of a nine-year-old child. The story about Eddie, the mildly retarded boy, was particularly touching as Lee-Miller courageously admitted that as children, they made fun of Eddie, not understanding why he was different. As she grew older, the author realized her mistake and in the book, apologizes to Eddie.
Thinking of Miller Place brings us back to a time when children had the freedom to explore and examine the world. The author does not follow a linear time-line and while that might at first be confusing, once you realize that chapters are not in chronological order, it becomes less disjointed. The characters are fleshed-out, and exhibit a full range of life’s emotional ups and downs, but no matter what obstacles appear on the horizon, the reader comes away with warm memories. The strong bond Ethel shared, and continues to share, with her twin sister Eileen, is evident on every page. Lee-Miller has a clear, winning writing style that helps the reader connect to the Erickson family. Ethel Lee-Miller’s Thinking of Miller Place is a great adventure of a young girl living in the 1950's. It restores your faith in the possibility of strong families and honest values.
Quill says: Thinking of Miller Place is a story to bring you back to the simpler life of the 1950’s.