The Cooper Museum, housed in a small building in the heart of historic downtown Upland, offers a cozy and often crowded venue for local events. A favorite place to hang out with city residents, this cheery place often invites authors whose books feature the history of American towns and people, especially people from Upland, California.
I wrote my first edition of He Wrote Her Every Day in Upland and printed twenty copies in time to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. Based on letters Mom had saved from my father in Germany during WWII, the book was my mother’s gift to share with the family. This hard-cover version of their story includes photographs and follows a narrative using all the documents and souvenirs my mother saved. When I received an invitation to present my book on Author’s Day at the Cooper, I was delighted—and a bit apprehensive.
I decided to prepare a visual display of a few of Dad’s letters and many of the souvenirs. Did I mention that Mom saved everything? I needed three tables, but managed to make do with two. A three-foot square map mounted on a display board earned center stage, balanced between my tables. It was also a place I could hide if no one showed any interest in my book.
The map, sent to all the soldiers and their families from the Army post-war, depicts the route this Infantry division traveled from the beginning of the war until the final return of the last Occupation troops. So when the recommissioned Queen Mary finally brought Dad home, Mom already had the map of the route taken by his troops known as the Railsplitters.
Our afternoon of book signing invited walk-through traffic in the patio area outside of the small museum. A beautiful afternoon in California promised our group of about a dozen local authors a busy opportunity to talk to our neighbors about our books. I was hoping for a few sales and a chance to meet my fellow writers.
Flattered when the assistant curator pulled a chair up at my table, I smiled widely as he began to go through all of the V-mails, coins, K-ration kit remnants, and the seventy-five-year-old postcards that make up my father’s collection. He looked through the assemblage of bits and pieces that had been the focus of my writing for about a half hour before, at last, he raised his head and just said, “Wow!”
Hungry for some positive feedback, I answered by asking, “Wow what?”
His response was a surprise. “You should not have all of this sitting out here in the sun for anyone to handle. This should be in a museum.” I thought he was trolling for a donation to the Cooper, but no, he assured me that mother’s bits and pieces needed a place where scholars could read the primary documents and preserve them for posterity.
He told me about the National WWII museum in New Orleans, LA. It took me a year to do it, but Kim Guise, curator of the museum in New Orleans, guided me through the process and helped our family contribute the collection to them. Mom was tickled to sign the donation papers and make it official. The museum staff is currently working on a display of the letters and souvenirs of Private James William Hendrickson, Jr. It is, according to Guise, the largest collection of letters and documents from an individual American soldier.
This was exciting, but the best experience at the Cooper came on yet another day when my display had been transferred from the originals to mere copies. The Railsplitter Map held pride of place and looked as sharp and clear as the originals.
He Wrote Her Every Day will be published by Sapere Books and is coming soon!