Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

This is the January/Family page of my scrapbook. Each of them looks a bit different — mine has a snow family.

(Book 129) Chris was gracious enough to start off our book club year hosting on Zoom. She sent us this email labeled Welcome to the Moonstone:

Hello, ladies:

Did you ever have/want/need/destroy/torture/ignore/leave/screw up/forgive/create/borrow a family?

If so, please join me at the Moonstone on Tuesday (invitation details below) for a rousing discussion of the many roles we play in families and families play for us. Teresa chose a perfect overarching book on family as the first on this theme for the year. There’s lots to talk about, with tons of great insights into families and what they mean to us.

Cissy said, “Rough as life can be, I know in my bones we are supposed to stick around and play our part….And it might be you never know the part you played, what it meant to someone to watch you make your way each day.”

Since Cissy seems to know what she’s doing, if we were meeting at my house, I would probably serve soup (BYOThermos) and orange cookies.

Since it happens to be one of my favorites and it’s very nourishing, comforting, and also stimulating (a little zing from harissa), it would probably be Joan Nathan’s harira, which I happen to have in my fridge right now thanks to the events of the month:


Or it might be this one, which I haven’t tried yet but intend to (it came highly recommended from a friend who is my soup maven):


Or it could be this easy and surprisingly delicious one that I made with Liz when she was here a couple years ago and which I would make in her honor since I haven’t seen her in over a year:


I highly recommend you garnish it with a little marinated feta from Yotam Ottolenghi’s shrimp and orzo recipe. That was Liz’s idea, and we had a lot of the feta from making the orzo dish, which will also knock your socks off:

https://www.finecooking.com/recipe/orzo-shrimp-tomato-marinated feta

As to orange cookies, I’d have to look around for a recipe, and having stuffed myself endlessly with all the Christmas cookies, I’m trying not to.

See you tomorrow. Please book your room early so we don’t run out.


Chris started our meeting by discussing the variety of family descriptions distinguished throughout the book and asked if there was a particular observation by a character with which we resonated. Melissa went back to Cissy’s quote about playing our part (that Chris included in the invitation above) and many agreed that was a favorite moment in the book. Rosalie added that Cissy is the person who ‘gets it’ and is there for people whether they are biological family members or family she has made along the way. I mentioned that I appreciated Lydia’s mother, Natalie’s comment regarding the Morey family, that “there is strength in numbers.” If I ever get to do this again, I will get started earlier and have more children! George’s concerns about the mistakes we make were also a big part of our discussion: “Why is it only later that things begin to make sense? Mostly, I’ve made my peace with the mistakes I’ve made, but every so often I bump into a memory and it will sit me right down.” Linda added that George, June and Lydia were all victims of their mistakes, though they made their decisions thinking it was best for the child.

Chris brought up the scene in the coffee shop in which Lydia tells us that she failed in all the roles she’d every played and that now she plays no role. This led to me quoting the old drunk in the Tap telling her that “Some trees love and ax.” Linda opined that quote was the unfortunate result of people, and likely more women, who lose all sense of self and any understanding of how they relate to someone, such that they allow themselves to be beaten and misused. Chris compared the book to Our Town in that the characters didn’t often know what they were feeling and didn’t take time to talk about their feelings, but look back from a distance. (I’m sorry if that doesn’t do her comment justice.) Karen felt that we were looking at the evolution of each character as a result of the event and that most of the circumstances were generally relatable.

Chris mentioned that though her childhood family home was in New York, the description of Wells, Connecticut and its historical connection to the American Revolution was very familiar. Sharon mentioned that it was so ‘New England’ to keep that old stove despite its issues. I was happy for Sharon’s insight on that point because I found it very hard to believe that someone with June’s resources wouldn’t have replaced that stove long ago. Melissa mentioned that it was unusual that two of the central characters of the book were women who cleaned motel rooms.

Though most of us gave the book positive reviews, there were areas where we had questions or wanted more. Melissa wanted more of an ending specifically wanting to know if Lydia gets to Atlanta. Susan and I felt certain that she did eventually, while Chris felt she no longer needed to make that journey. Sharon wanted to know more about Luke and the basis for Luke and June’s attraction. I felt that story of Winton’s phone interaction with Lydia seemed too much its own story for the arch of the book, but Susan mentioned that she felt the slap in the face (from the daughter of another man who had been bilked by Winton) was what Lydia needed to move on. Susan added that she appreciated the way Lydia tried to help Silas so that his life wouldn’t be ruined by the event — that in some way she could make amends to Luke by helping Silas. Marcia noted that because Lydia received Luke’s insurance money, she wasn’t as desperate financially as she had been most of her life and had more agency to do what she wanted to do with her life.

After the book discussion, I started with Tolstoy’s opening line of Anna Karenina:  “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and asked the girls to talk about their families — either those they were born into or the ones they gave birth to — and we had a much longer zoom than has been typical for us. I won’t divulge any secrets here, though I’ve warned the girls I will be writing a book at the end of the year about fictional participants in a book club. We were interested to find that four of the girls had siblings with 10-20 year age gaps between them, and another four of us had mothers who were nurses. (I should be more accurate than to say ‘another four’ because two of the girls were in both groups.) When we talked about happy v. unhappy, we talked about whether or not there was humor/laughter, agreement/disagreement, as well as, as Mary put it, an agreement not to talk about things about which they disagreed, secrecy/open communication, health, support or lack thereof in times of trouble, the degree of parental involvement, the presence or absence of obvious favoritism, whether or not our parents had proper role models for parenting, and the way our perception of whether we were happy or unhappy changed over the years. The girls may correct me if I’m wrong about this, but there was no mention of wealth, possessions, or stature in the community (other than neighborhood nurse!)

Next month, Thursday, February 18, we will Zoom to discuss Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Our assignment is to have a marriage story ready to share.