Miss Dreamsville and the Lost Heiress of Col­lier County: A Novel

Luxe Beat Magazine - - Contents - By Amy Hill Hearth Book Ex­cerpt

And there she stayed, alone ex­cept for the son she raised, for twen­ty­five years.

•••

I, TOO, HAILED FROM COL­LIER County, but in­stead of the river or swamps I was raised nearby in Naples, an itty-bitty town with a sandy strip of beach on the Gulf.

I barely knew Dolores Simp­son. She was, shall we say, reclu­sive to an ex­treme. My only knowl­edge of her was that she had once been a strip­per but now hunted al­li­ga­tors for a liv­ing. If she had been a man she would have been ad­mired as a fear­less fron­tiers­man.

I wouldn’t have known even this much, nor would I have met her, if not for her son, Rob­bie-lee. In the late sum­mer of 1962, he and I be­came friends when we joined a new book club called the Col­lier County Women’s Lit­er­ary So­ci­ety. To its mem­bers, the club pro­vided a sanc­tu­ary of sorts. Each of us was a mis­fit or out­cast in town—in my case, be­cause I had come back home af­ter a di­vorce—but in the book club we dis­cov­ered a place to be­long.

It is one of the ironies of life that be­ing part of a group can, in turn, lead you to find strength and in­de­pen­dence as an in­di­vid­ual. That’s ex­actly what hap­pened to Rob­bie-lee and me. Af­ter a year in the book club, we de­cided it was time to fol­low our dreams.

For Rob­bie-lee, who loved the theater, the only place on his mind was New York City. He spoke end­lessly of Broad­way and was de­ter­mined to get a job there, even if it meant sweep­ing side­walks. Dolores, whose ma­ter­nal in­stincts kicked in with a mighty roar at the idea of him leav­ing Col­lier County, ob­jected to his planned de­par­ture, but lost the bat­tle. Rob­bie-lee caught a north­bound bus on a steamy Au­gust morn­ing in 1963. At the same time Rob­bie-lee went north I set off for Mis­sis­sippi. I was hop­ing to learn more about my mother, who was born and raised in Jackson. Mama had died with­out telling me cer­tain things. She never talked about her fam­ily, or how she met Daddy, or when and where they got mar­ried. All I know is they got hitched at a Methodist church be­cause Mama in­sisted on hav­ing a bona fide preacher con­duct the cer­e­mony. They left Mis­sis­sippi and came to Florida be­cause Naples was Daddy’s home­town.

What I hoped to find was kin­folk. An aunt or un­cle, per­haps. Or maybe a cousin. Since I was a small child, Mama and I had been on our own. It’s painful to say, but Daddy up and left us. At least I hoped to find out why my name is Eu­dora Welty Wither­spoon—“dora” for short. I could only guess that Eu­dora Welty, the famed Mis­sis­sippi writer, had been a friend of Mama’s when she was grow­ing up.

As I said, Mama never told me cer­tain things.

I fig­ured I’d go to Jackson for a few weeks or at most sev­eral months, but be­fore I knew it I’d been away from Florida for a year. I had made more progress find­ing out about Mama and her peo­ple than I ever could have imag­ined. All I needed was a lit­tle more time to wrap things up and set­tle them prop­erly. I had a job shelv­ing books at the Jackson Li­brary and I rented a small room in the home of a widow named Mrs. Sheba Con­roy. I planned on giv­ing proper no­tice— I didn’t want to leave any­one in the lurch—then head home to Naples.

And then the tele­gram came.

About the Au­thor

Amy Hill Hearth is the au­thor of Miss Dreamsville and the Col­lier County Women’s Lit­er­ary So­ci­ety, in ad­di­tion to au­thor or coau­thor of seven non­fic­tion books, in­clud­ing Hav­ing Our Say: The De­lany Sis­ters’ First 100 Years, the New York Times best­seller­turned-broad­way-play. Hearth, a for­mer writer for The New York Times, be­gan her ca­reer as a re­porter at a small daily news­pa­per in Florida, where she met her fu­ture hus­band, Blair (a Col­lier County na­tive). She is a graduate of the Univer­sity of Tampa.

Pa­per­back: 320 pages Pub­lisher: Atria Books Pub­li­ca­tion Date: Septem­ber 8, 2015

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