Siobhan Taylor, Executive Director had the opportunity to interview Dede Montgomery regarding her new book, My Music Man

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Dede Montgomery
My Music Man
Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company - Fairfield, CA

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with West Linn resident, Dede Montgomery and share a pot of freshy brewed Irish tea.  Over the hot “cuppa” Montgomery shared her inspiration for her book My Music Man.

“When my father died three and a half years ago, I was devastated,” she said gazing into her cup.  “He had a long rich life, but I wanted to remember everything I could about him.  He had an amazing memory and he was a story teller, and he loved the rivers around here, especially the Willamette.”

Key among those memories were his early Oregon pioneer roots, his varied jobs, the most fulfilling being his time as a journalist and, of course, their time as a family on the Willamette. 

His memorial service was held aboard the steamer Portland, the Oregon Maritime Museum.  Dick Montgomery Jr. had been very involved with the steamer serving as president and receiving the maritime industry’s Old Salt award.  But Montgomery could not quite let go of her father.  Shortly after Montgomery was on a trip to Ireland and that’s when she started writing those stories and memories of her father.  What better place to get her writing inspiration than in that land of Saints and scholars?

At first Montgomery was simply recording history for her daughters and other family members.  She didn’t think she was writing a book but on her return to Oregon those memories soon evolved into full chapters.  Montgomery credits her mother for the background and materials that were woven into what was quickly becoming a book.

Fifteen years earlier her mother, Patricia Marilyn Daum, realizing she was losing her vision, dove into the family history on her husband’s side of the family.  That made Montgomery’s writing that much easier, well researched and authentic.  What her mother didn’t have, the archives at both Willamette University and the Oregon Historical Society did. They were there because the family history was so rich in the story of early Oregon.

Her great-great-great grandmother’s journal is in those archives.  Chloe Clarke Willson at the tender age of twenty-one made the journey around the horn of South America on the Lausanne to join the Jason Lee missionary expedition of 1839.  She came three years after William Willson, who was also full of missionary zeal.  He was assigned as  mission carpenter for the Methodist mission in Nisqually.  The young Chloe Clarke also received an assignment for Nisqually.  Just thirty-one days after her arrival in Nisqually Chloe and William were wed.  Theirs was the first official wedding in the Puget sound area.  Eventually the couple were based at Willamette Falls for a short period of time, and William joined those who supported the beginning of Oregon’s provisional government at Champoeg.  Upon their move to Salem, where William is sometimes noted as “founder,” Chloe became the first teacher of what is today Willamette University. Her home, originally located at the corner of Capitol and Court, was moved to campus, first named Women’s College, and later rebuilt as Lausanne Hall.

As she recounts that early missionary zeal to convert Native Americans to Christianity, Dede Montgomery gives pause.  “I feel I need to share my discomfort with the importance my great- great- great grandparents, especially my grandma, placed on sharing Christianity with the native Americans – a  message they generally neither  wanted nor felt they needed.   I believe those of us who come from the earliest generations of white Oregon own some of the legacy of injustice served to people of color.

With that nod to her pioneer heritage Montgomery’s book details in wonderful prose the sights, sounds and smells of being a child on the Willamette.  She describes the bloom of the cottonwood trees along its banks so well it draws on a reader’s own olfactory memories.  She recounts taking their family boat through the Locks at Willamette Falls. Through it all Montgomery pays a loving homage to her father – acknowledging his missteps and character flaws, but with love, respect and compassion for the father who loved her and her brothers and his wife truly, deeply and with humor and respect.  He was a terrific writer, full of humor and history.  “I felt as though he was helping me write this book,” Montgomery said.

There are her recollections of her father’s dealings with Tom McCall and the fondness her Dad had for today’s Butteville.  The love of the river sings through her writing.  She acknowledges her father’s bouts with alcohol but knows now that lack of passion for some of his work – when it was not the newspaper business – drove him to drink. 

She watched the change coming to small town community newspapers and what it meant for her father – a return to the world of advertising that he despised.  But he overcame it and the book is not a tell all about drinking.  It is her loving recollection of her not-so-perfect Dad, and the history that built his character.  It is the story of an only girl in a family of boys and her very special relationship with her father and his music and his Willamette river. 

As we refill our cups of tea Montgomery reminisces about today’s Willamette River, the Arch Bridge connecting West Linn and Oregon City.  She recalls the history of what once was and laments some of the present:  shuttered, abandoned mills, fat salmon runs diminished.  She mourns a missing legacy, but reimagines the rebuilding of that legacy with today’s heritage efforts.  An effort to honor the stories of the first people, settlement, industry and humans who continue to make history and memories on her Father’s Willamette River.

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