Potomac One day while helping her parents move their belongings into a retirement community, Potomac resident Selby McPhee stumbled upon a box of letters with the words “Personal letters of Mr. and Mrs. J. J. Fleming, Jr — to be destroyed unopened" written on the lid in 1983.
"I couldn't resist reading them," she said.
Based on these letters between her parents (Jack and Peggy Fleming), McPhee wrote the memoir "Love Crazy."
The book documents her parents' intense and often chaotic courtship and marriage. The author also addresses how "we are formed by our families" and "how we carry some of our parents with us" in relation to her family.
"It was a sort of treasure trove of the history of my family. Including their secret elopement and their families trying to break them up. As I read the letters, I wanted to write the story because it really told the story of the 1920s," she said.
McPhee was thrilled to discover hundreds of letters her mother and father sent to each other.
Since both of her parents were in their 40s when she was born, these letters also gave her a rare glimpse into the early years of their relationship and marriage.
During the first year of their marriage, her father's parents send him back to Cornell University to finish out his last year without his wife, Peggy. So the early letters captured her parents' dreams and hopes for the future of their marriage and family.
One of her favorite letters captures her parents' life in 1920's Chicago during the height of the jazz scene and speakeasy era.
"It was wonderful to read about this young couple who were having fun, drinking bathtub gin and going to speakeasies ... and doing all those things you read about in Fitzgerald novels," she said.
Moreover, she was also able to learn about her father's journey overseas during World War II.
"I really loved reading my father's war letters. I was fascinated to read what it was like for the Navy in the Pacific, on ships heading for unknown places, being on Guam, building a base, interacting with the Chamorro children who went to school nearby," she said.
Like many "war babies," she did not meet her father until she was older. When her father returned home, she and her mother took a train ride to meet him when she was two years old.
As a first time author, she faced a number of challenges. One of the biggest challenges she faced was being objective and "controlling some of her emotional reactions" by not allowing them to color her writing.
Although her older brother died before the book was published, McPhee's family was supportive and offered much feedback throughout the writing process.
McPhee also she tried to give a realistic portrayal of her parents and the period in which they lived in. Besides reading their letters, she spent hours gathering background information from books on each of the time periods covered in the book.
"It was very interesting reading the books about the Depression and learning how old rubber hoses and bathing caps were taken so that the government could make tires," she said.
She also encourages individuals to look through those old boxes of letters or papers in their attics because "there are stories there to be told."
McPhee is a retired staff writer and editor at schools, universities, and other educational institutions including Tufts University and the National Association of Independent Schools.
The book was released in April 2013 and is available at local bookstores, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.