Work in Progress #19: Warming Things Up For My Emily Post Biography

Emily Post 2As I begin chapter 11 of my Emily Post biography and survey the material I have to work with, it all looks a little cold to me. It’s the 1930s, and the pinnacle moment of Emily’s life (the publication of her etiquette book) took place in the last chapter. Now I have to figure out how to follow her career and the subsequent editions of her book as she becomes an icon and household word (“What would Emily do?”). The thing she so passionately sought – to do something meaningful with the particular (and peculiar) gifts she’d been given – has been realized. The facts surrounding the last three decades of her life will have to be warmed by something gentler than the burning desire to achieve. I’ve found that there’s no better warming element than key relationships.

I’ve decided to bring Emily’s one and only grandchild, Billy, front and center in this chapter. I thought I had picked up everything I could about him in my notes but I take a second look.  I comb through indices and transcribe any mention of him by date. I skim through the magazine articles I’ve collected looking for his name. I re-read the 1960 biography her son wrote (cursing it for not including an index!). William Goadby Post is the “man of the hour” just now. I want to know what Emily and her grandson talked about, what they did when they were together, and if she ever corrected his manners.

It seems to me that young Bill (now deceased but still young!) is a window into Emily’s very person. As regimented, as meticulous, as busy as Emily was with books, a syndicated column, letter-answering and a radio broadcast, she made time for Billy and he knew she loved him more than anything in the world. During these years, Emily the icon acquires a life of its own; but Emily the mortal woman ages, loves her family, and is sheltered by son, grandson, and great-grandchildren.

I am less focused on what Emily did than on who she was. The chapter is no longer looking cold to me.

Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge, Author

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