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WL's Dede Montgomery pens memoir on family's Oregon roots
Dede Montgomery couldn't stop writing.
Shortly after her father died several years ago, Montgomery decided to write down everything she could remember about him. A gifted storyteller and native Oregonian with deep roots in the state, Montgomery's father Dick played an immense role in her life — particularly in his later years after he swore off alcohol. She felt that his memories — and hers — should be preserved.
And while Montgomery, who lives in West Linn and is married to Mayor Russ Axelrod, didn't know at first where her writing would take her, she would eventually decide to turn it into a full-on memoir called "My Music Man," which was released in early October.
The final product is truly a labor of love. Over the course of about six months working on a first draft, Montgomery's fingers were practically glued to her keyboard.
"It was this phenomenal experience where I could not (stop writing)," Montgomery said. "That's all I wanted to do. I would stay up later at night, I would get up at 5 (a.m.) on a Saturday morning so I could write, I would write on the TriMet bus in the morning on the way to work."
Montgomery's singular focus was driven in large part by a feeling that her father — a former journalist — was guiding her through the process.
"It kind of felt like Dad was with me as I wrote," she said. "Because he was a wonderful writer, and he had really great use of humor in his writing, so it felt like this joint experience."
The book, however, reaches far beyond this particular father-daughter relationship. Indeed, "My Music Man" chronicles seven generations of the Montgomery family's time in Oregon, from as far back as her great-great-great grandparents — who were among the first settlers in the Willamette Valley — to the present day lives of Montgomery's daughters. Running through the center of it all is the Willamette River, which played a key role in the lives of each successive generation.
"I really wanted to do two things — I wanted to weave the stories within seven generations ... of who really lived in the Willamette Valley, especially tied to the Willamette River.
"That was my intention at the beginning, and to tell my dad's story, and what I learned in writing this book — that probably people who are experienced book writers know — is that you don't know where your book is going to go."
What surprised Montgomery most was how the book, at its core, became a reflection on her relationship with her father.
"There's the river, there's the history, but it really is about my relationship with my dad," Montgomery said. "It's kind of a beautiful story, because my dad was an alcoholic ... he was an alcoholic and stopped drinking at 50, and never looked back."
Growing up in what was then rural Wilsonville on a street named after her family, Montgomery's teenage years were rough — particularly after her parents divorced. When Dick Montgomery gave up alcohol and reunited with his ex-wife, he also grew closer with his daughter.
"He was very open about what drinking had done for him, and what it meant to give it up, and he had 35 years where we became incredibly close," Montgomery said. "So for me it's really this beautiful story of forgiveness and reconciliation."
The book also aims to show the power of storytelling, and in her research Montgomery uncovered plenty of anecdotes about her family's history — including some details that were less than savory.
"I think the challenge, of course, as someone who comes from early, white Oregon (is) not all the stories are good for our state," Montgomery said. "There's a lot of things that happened in those 1800s and early 1900s that weren't fair to people of color and our Native Americans. And not that my ancestors had a direct decision-making hand in that, but they were part of it.
"It was interesting to write about from my lens of today."
Coming off an initial book launch party at Café West Linn Oct. 12, Montgomery is set to appear at a reading and signing event at the West Linn Public Library Nov. 12. To learn more about the book or upcoming author events, visit https://dedemontgomery.com/the-book-my-music-man/.