Thinking of Miller Place: A Memoir of Summer Comfort


 

Thinking of Miller Place –

Welcome to my world- or part of it! A beautiful update on this contemporary memoir.

Thinking of Miller Place has a new look! A new cover outside and updates inside, including a Reading Guide for book and discussion groups, and an update on “the Finns.”

Thinking of Miller PlaceImagine waking up and staring into eyes exactly like yours, seeing a mouth that smiles with the corner just a little crooked, connected to a body identical to yours from double-jointed thumbs to bony shoulders?  This is only part of what being an identical twin was for Ethel Lee-Miller.

In Thinking of Miller Place Ethel Lee-Miller has crafted a memoir of childhood summers of the 1950s viewed through the lens of an identical twin.

The sense of enchantment around her Grandpa’s house endows it with almost human qualities. Fulfill your nostalgic longing for New York summers or beach days anywhere, diving in the water and evenings lit by fireflies.

You don’t have to be from Long Island to escape to this enchanting oasis. Come “rest in a hammock between a childhood that was and the reality of today where you can take off your shoes and run barefoot up the hill.”

In this 2nd printing of her contemporary memoir, Ethel Lee-Miller takes you on a visual journey that comforts, entertains, and soothes. A native of Long Island, New York, Ethel resides in Tucson Arizona with her husband. She lives just nine miles from her twin.

 

Reading Group Guide

  1.  Thinking of Miller Place is filled with childhood scenes of summer. Which scenes were the most memorable for you?
  2.  “On Our Way” (Chapter 2) tells of the predictable journey to Miller Place. “There was a sense of security in our world by the repetition of the Miller Place journey.” Why do you think the author includes that car scene? How does it set the stage for the rest of the memoir?
  3.  Miller Place is depicted as an idyllic place and yet there are “pokes and holes.” Discuss the tone of the book, the “pokes and holes.” Do you think the author achieved the effect of an idyllic place mixed with that reality?
  4.  The chapters of Thinking of Miller Place are brief in page count yet serve to take the reader to a special place of the author’s childhood. How did this affect your reading of the book?
  5. Discuss the metaphor of the red ribbon and what it signifies for the protagonist. (Intro., Chapters 1 and 5) Do you have a ‘red ribbon experience’—a time that defined your life?
  6. Ethel’s mother, as viewed through the young Ethel’s eyes, is a mix of snob and courageous person. Does the scene with Summer Cat show her mother’s softer side? (Chapter 14) How do you think the era influenced her mother’s viewpoint?
  7. The author’s father is a mix of hero and all too human man. Is this portrayal clear? How does the parental relationship compare to your family?
  8.  What character traits does the protagonist inherit from her parents? How do you think those traits shaped her life?
  9.  Chapter 3 entitled “My Finn” introduces us to Eileen, Ethel’s twin. What insights did this section give you into a twin relationship? How does Ethel’s possessiveness affect her relations with both her twin and her older sister?
  10. Discuss the role the three sisters played in one another’s lives. How did twinship shape their relationship? What is your experience with twins, multiples, and a sibling influence on the family system? Is your experience the same or different from the book?
  11. Consider Ethel’s family: smiling, hardworking dad, reserved mother, twin sister,  older sister. In what ways is this family dynamic typical of the 1950s?
  12. The Red Ribbon Grandma is an active character in only two scenes and yet her influence is strongly felt. How does the author achieve this? Who in your family has had this ‘power’?
  13. How was Ethel affected by peripheral characters—Cousin Hank, Mr. Jaasman, Mr. Woodson, Mrs. Desmaisons, the “big kids,” Frankie and Honey, Eddie? What purpose do they serve in the book? Can one character symbolize a concept?
  14. In later years, Lee-Miller remembers Eddie and sees ‘Eddies’ in her classrooms. (end of Chapter 18). Has something like this ever happened to you? How have you over/under compensated for childhood self-centeredness?
  15. At first glance, Thinking of Miller Place appears to be a collection of assorted scenes, almost like a scrapbook. Yet the chapters reveal detail, dialogue, and emotions as if they were part of novel. What scenes do you recall from your childhood summers?
  16. Miller Place helped the author view life through rose-colored glasses. Is this helpful or harmful during her childhood, in adulthood? How would you say her parents viewed life? How do you view life?
  17. Memoir is said to be a retelling of a story with the author’s memories and musing over the motivation, and subsequent changing point of view as an adult. What does the author muse about? (Introduction) What musings did your reading of Thinking of Miller Place prompt about your childhood?
  18. Memoir differs from autobiography in that it is a slice a life, rather than an entire life, and held together by a theme/themes, rather than chronology.  What themes thread their way through this book?
  19. Numerous memoirs have been published that expose deeply painful childhoods. Ethel Lee-Miller alludes to a few dark shadows of life in her family, (family jealousy, racism, and alcoholism). Does this add or detract from the idyllic tone of the book?
  20. What parts of the author’s childhood would be rare in a household today? Which of her memories seem most like the late 1950-60s?

 Excerpt from Chapter Three: My Finn

 Eileen and I had laughing fits about every two days. I called it “giggle glue,” and it had us gasping; Eileen even fell on the floor once she was so weak. It was superb! I also called it “Laughing with my Finn.”

Dad called us “The Finns” because we had Finnish relatives somewhere in Helsinki and because “twin” came out as “finn” for us when we started talking. Most often we were a unit, simply called “The Twins.”

We are identical twins. Of course, we looked alike, which we thought was kind of neat. When we stood side by side in front of the bathroom mirror, I saw two skinny girls with the same bony shoulders and Buster Brown haircut. Our eyes are brown and our skin pale in winter and dark brown from the sun in late August. Physically, we were unremarkable, perhaps even plain. What was remarkable was that we did look so exactly alike, except Eileen’s face was “just a little bit fuller.” How many times would she hear that in her life?

Imagine waking up every day from the day you are born, and opening your eyes to see two brown eyes like yours looking back at you. The eyes are placed on a face with the same shaped nose that tickles and has to sneeze when you take too big a blob of peppermint toothpaste and a thin-lipped mouth that seems to burst into song just when yours does—“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine…” All of this is attached to this wonderful best friend, who is always ready to play, talk, hug you, or just sit and hold your hand. This is what being a twin was like for me.

We sounded alike too. Our voices had the same pitch.

“Eileen, come dry the dishes,” Mom called.

We looked up from the porch table where we were playing Crazy Eights.

“Okay, Mom,” I answered, barely able to keep the giggle out of my voice. When I stood up to go into the kitchen, Eileen grabbed my arm.

“You can’t fool her with how we look, silly.” I know, but wouldn’t that be something? A mother who couldn’t tell her twins apart.

When I went to college many years later I figured my Finn and I had greeted each other each morning for almost seven thousand days. My childhood had times of confusion, maybe even moments of fear, but never loneliness.

My twin, Eileen, and I were always together. My family, including Eileen, called us The Finns, but in my need to possess things—to feel connected—maybe in helping to see who I was, Eileen was my Finn. She was so close to me and so much a part of me that I thought of her as mine. My Finn was, and still is, my best friend, protector, and audience. And I am hers.

It was not just the looking alike. It was the feeling of having a double—double the feeling of being alive, double the courage, double the fun—and building a rock-solid foundation of who I would be. A foundation that was so strong that even when we were apart, we still had the courage, vitality, and the love of fun.

 

 

 

http://www.indiebound.org/book/9780595438778

 

Buy Locally in Arizona:

New Jersey:

  • Clifton Commons B&N,  Clifton
  • Watchung Booksellers, Montclair

New York:

People are Talking About…

Your story evoked so many remembrances of my own childhood, though I never had anything like a Miller Place… I guess anything that might have come close would have been the feeling I had when riding my Schwin bike. It was freedom to me… And you are right—many of those early times and experiences all helped to shape and mold us into the people we have grown up to be now… I think there should be a sequel. ~ Terrence Weber, co-author Thy Will Be Done: A Spiritual Portrait of Terence Cardinal Cooke

What a fine memoir…so evocative and poignant, not to mention well-written. I found so many parallels to my summers in Brentwood on my grandparent’s acreage—the dirt roads, self-cleared land, self-built house, berries, nuns, and more. Good Humor Toasted Almond—definitely the best. ~ D.A. Reilly, Archivist, Sonoma State University CA

For a former Marine and a redneck cowboy to read this kind of book may seem strange to some people, including me. The reading was completely enjoyable and the characters are so well described…The most touching part of the book was when you wrote about Eddie. Being a kid who moved a lot and being picked on at times, I could relate to what he went through. It was very touching how you ended the story of Eddie…Thank you for writing the book and allowing all of us who read it to be a part of your childhood world at Miller Place! – Al Manor, Motivational & Keynote Speaker, AZ

Who says we can’t go back to the beach of our childhood? In this charming memoir, Ethel Lee-Miller has captured those memories. The lazy, hazy days of an era when summer was truly “a summer” all come alive in this gem of a book. Lee-Miller’s gift for description vividly endows memories of life, family and growing up over six years of summer vacations. Viewed through the eyes of a child, vignettes are enhanced with adult insight. Doubling our pleasure, Lee-Miller is an identical twin; the reader shares in their unique bond.~ Michaele Lockhart, author, Coming Home; & Last Night at the Claremont

In her book, Ethel Lee- Miller manages to capture the magic of the “red-ribbon” place of her youth with exceptional clarity and touching emotion. Would that we all could return to such a happy place and have the talent to share it with others in such a crisp, evocative writing style. What a joy it is to be part of her special family, with real life characters like her “Finn” coming to life in glorious fashion… Moves far beyond the norm to reveal why Lee-Miller sees her experiences as molding her personality and life philosophy, not an easy task for a writer of memoirs. ~ Duke Southard, AZ author, The Week From Heaven and Hell

I am 78 and grew up in Miller Place and went to the local school for 8 years…I am a member of the “rich Davis” clan. We were distinguished as “Farmer Davis”, “Quaker Davis”, “Peaches Davis”, etc. I was “Post Office Davis” since my family had the general store and post office…I got a kick out of your “white washed stones” in the driveway…Anyway, I have rambled on long enough. Loved your book. ~Jane Davis Carter, Miller Place NY

 

Despite its idyllic setting, Miller Place has its “pokes and holes.” There were neighborhood feuds, cases of racial prejudice, riding out hurricanes under a table, and making fun of “Eddie.” That was the awkward kid that nobody wanted …When she became a teacher, Lee-Miller writes, she tried “to make amends by being kinder” to all the “Eddies” she encountered in her classrooms. That’s the most magical thing about “Thinking of Miller Place” –the adult voice of Ethel Lee-Miller as she looks back with sensitivity, humor and compassion on those long-ago summers of her childhood. ~ Tom Walker, co-author Contrary Creek

A recollection of growing up and smelling the roses, before adulthood takes us off into different places…I was particularly taken with Ethel’s dynamic with her two sisters…added nuance of being a “twin.” …reminded me of some hazy moments in my adolescence when my mother and father were real people doing things I then didn’t understand, while I moved on. ~ Carl Selinger, author, Stuff You Don’t Learn In Engineering School

I loved Thinking of Miller Place. My wish is that everyone could have a ‘red ribbon’ in their life. Although these were your memories I felt like I was there with you…a must for my own sister. We are not twins but it would be wonderful to help her remember too. Thinking of Miller Place put a smile on my face too. ~ Bryn Shain, retired educator, NJ

…A delightful trip down memory lane. You see, I am the Finn in her memoir…I am her twin, affectionately known as Finn. I thank her for allowing me to relive the delight I experienced during those pre-teen summers of the 1950s…She has a gift for linking words, characters and events until the picture is so real it’s almost tangible…Real life characters may bring a knowing nod from readers as they recognize the very human interactions amongst children, parents and neighbors. …for a twin, who has experienced the special sibling bond this accident of birth can bring, the stories are doubly meaningful. Lee-Miller has shared her experiences with a loving authenticity. ~ Eileen Erickson, Tucson AZ