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After the sudden death of her thirty-five-year-old husband, Thomas Wiggington, dressmaker Margaret Bailes Moon Wigginton moves back home to Newmarket, England from Chantilly, France with her five children leaving the two oldest behind, James and Thomas.
Being the oldest at the time, Fred is forced to apprentice at a grocer at the tender age of thirteen to help his mother take care of the family. They move to Maldon, England and Fred finds a job in Ipswich at Leatherbys Grocers. Under the suggestions of Mrs. Chapman, a good friend of the Livock family; he goes to the Livock Draper Shop to inquire if there is flat in Ipswich he can rent. Before he enters the shop, we get a glimpse of Fred’s state of mind. He sees couples on the street strolling arm in arm, and his loneliness intensifies. He is twenty-nine, unmarried, and the pressure of being a breadwinner weighs down on him. Being a person with a high degree of responsibility requires sacrifice to some extent. The thing is, when it comes to attachments, you either have to cut or sink into them, and Fred does not let the resulting resentment I sensed from him poison his life.The only difference now is that women can be where men have been for the past centuries.And there at the shop, Fred meets Gertie and her father owns the shop. Their first meeting leaves an impression on both of them from the accidental touch and Fred’s French farewell. Gertie is intrigued by Fred and would like to see him again. A week later, Fred comes back to the shop with his mother for dressmaking supplies. Gertie’s lovely, kind and attentive nature grabs his attention.
Gertie’s infatuation with Fred grows. Her stalkerish behavior is endearing. Peeking at Fred through the windows of his place of employment, looking for excuses to buy things at Leatherbys. That’s okay because Fred likes her too. He stops by now and then to share a cup of tea and Gertie looks forward to those visits. Their affection for each other grows as they spend more time in each other’s company and learn that they have the same interests. Literature for example.Fred loses his job at Leatherbys and moves back to Maldon. Weeks pass by with no word from Fred, and when Gertie is invited to spend the weekend at Maldon, she finds out that the Wiggingtons are moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, America. Fred’s brothers’ Will and George remain behind, Fred’s mother, his sister Mag and brother John leave for America. On his way, Fred meets Mr. McArthur, a man who would change his professional life forever.In Fred’s absence, Gertie’s father dies, and she struggles to keep the business afloat and is eventually forced to close it down. A year passes and still no word from Fred. Gertie is heartbroken. One day, Fred realizes how much he loves Gertie and letters begin to flow back and forth between them. Will their love survive the barrier of distance? This brings it down to the question of how much of a distance is a deal breaker? When there is a specific aim, it makes everything worthwhile. Fred’s awareness that he might not be the only man after Gertie’s affections makes him propose.
Torn between two man one five years younger and a continent away, the other eight years older, a widow and a short distance away, Gertie needs to make a decision. She makes an emotional one by choosing Fred over the Forbes character. He sends an engagement ring through the mail from Minnesota to Ipswich, that’s the way it went. A strong sense of family, which united these two, would not permit Gertie to leave her ailing mother behind as she embarks for America to be reunited with her Fred forever.
In 2010, a century later, the letters, which were written by her grandparents, are found by the thirty-five-year-old Lisa, a teacher, and a mentor, in the cluttered attic of her dead parents’ home. She has just broken up with a cheating boyfriend and is putting herself out there. She goes to single’s dinner and ends up on a date with a persistent Tyler, but it never goes anywhere.Taking the place of a co-worker as a volunteer for the school at a painting event downtown, she meets Spanish, Mario Amador.
When his job takes him back home, an ocean away Lisa decides to give her ex a second chance only to find out he never broke up with the woman he cheated her with. Lisa and Mario continue communicating through emails, and she gets a happy ending just like Gertie did.
The relevant fact of the matter is that Judith Pinkerton Josephson made this down to earth historical memoir of her maternal grandparents interwoven with a modern fictional story, art and that makes it matter to me as a reader and a reviewer.
I like this book for purely elemental reasons. It is a clean, soft, sweet romance story that will warm your heart. It’s heightened by the excellent pictures of the places and people she mentions in her book. And it made me realize how far we have come and created a visual representation of our evolution. The elaborate gowns and the hats. Stunning! The mode of transportation to cross oceans has changed from ships to planes. Courtship has moved, since that era from public acts to private spaces. It’s funny, you know, At some point in the story when Fred came to the shop with his mother, Gertie mentions that she wishes women rode astride instead of side-saddle. At that time it was considered unladylike and improper. I could imagine a woman straddling a horse and the other ladies screaming. How unbecoming of a lady! Was it of the dresses they wore? Probably Not. When it boils down to it, it had everything to do with protecting one’s virtue.And the letters between Gertie and Fred seem more meaningful than the emails and texts between Mario and Lisa. It just feels like they have/had more tangible memories to look back on.
If you are not into raunchy romance novels and are a Betty Neels fan purchase yourself a copy.