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At 96, Virginia woman is hit book author

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Polly Curry is the first to acknowledge that she's an unlikely first-time author. For starters, she's 96 years old and it took her more than 30 years to write her book.

And unlike authors who peddle their writing relentlessly at bookstore signings and in promotional ads, Mrs. Curry tells anyone who listens that she doesn't understand her sudden stardom, what all the fuss is about or "why everybody thinks it's a wonderful book."

But what the silver-haired Southwest Virginia woman has proven to the publishing world is that a simple, wittily told memoir about faith, family and life can sell, garner readers' fancy, and win the author comparison with Patrick Dennis' literary character Auntie Mame.

As the daughter of Marine Maj. Gen. John Marston and the wife of Marine Brig. Gen. Lamar Curry, Mrs. Curry has traveled the world.

The stories she recounts in "For All Our Days" (Mariner Publishing) come from her recollections of time spent in Haiti, Hawaii, Nicaragua and France, along with Annapolis, Quantico, Va., and Camp Lejeune, N.C., where her father was the commanding officer.

A September book launch in Lexington, Va., where she lives, drew a capacity crowd. Andy Wolfe, president of Mariner Media, said that locally, "the book sold out of the first run, and stores are restocking."

Mr. Wolfe said Mrs. Curry's manuscript came to his attention when "it was brought to me by her niece, Katie Letcher Lyle, a best-selling author. I edited and published a book with Katie a couple of years ago. I've also known Polly from the time she moved into Kendal at Lexington [retirement community]. She lives across the hall from my aunt, and I helped her with her closets.

"I read the draft, got misty-eyed and laughed quite a bit. It is a very funny book. The project was undertaken for her family, and no one expected the sensation it would cause," he said.

Nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, a longtime family friend, said he understands the excitement about the book. He described Mrs. Curry as "a modern-day Auntie Mame. She still has a sharp mind, loves to laugh. It is fascinating at her stage of life that she was able to write something so readable and interesting."

Mrs. Curry said, "I think everybody has a life, and I wrote this for my grandchildren and great-grandchildren."

In the book, she offers readers rare insights into military life across a broad swath of the past century. She writes:

"In 1916, Daddy was ordered to Haiti. He had been promoted to First-Lieutenant and was assigned to the Haitian Constabulary with the temporary rank of Captain. We went by Naval transport to Port au Prince with him. I read in some Marine Corps publication that during his tour of duty in Haiti, he took part in operations against the bandit Cacos, whoever he was. Bandits (members of another political party?) were always trying to overthrow the governments of Central American countries. This duty could not have been considered dangerous by our government, because my father was allowed to take his family with him.

"I have no memory of that trip. I was three years old."

And from there, the book takes off. Mr. Thomas said, "She has seen the world and put it down. She is someone whose company you just enjoy. She's seen so much of history - the sweep of modern history."

Sprightly, ironic, irreverent but not without a strong Christian faith, Mrs. Curry was fighting a cold the day she was interviewed by The Washington Times. She pushed on with the interview anyway - her energy and her youthful appearance belying her years.

Mrs. Curry started writing the book in longhand in 1975 and said it became a little easier after her husband (they were married 66 years at the time of his death) got her a word processor. The question she hears most often from those who have read the book is: "Were you really engaged three times?" She was. And once to a Gary Cooper look-alike. She recounts details of her young life and courtships in a chapter titled "Girlhood," much of which was spent in Annapolis, the place she considers home.

Mrs. Curry said the place she enjoyed most was Fontainebleau, where her husband attended classes at a field artillery school. She delivers details of this period in a section titled "Innocents Abroad," covering 1936 to 1939, when her husband was officially attached to the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

Three children and more postings came in due course, and the tumultuous 1960s (when she read Betty Friedan, became an agnostic and considered protesting the Vietnam War) eventually yielded to a different time. "I became a Christian when I was 70. ... I always had attended church, but I went through a time when I began to worry about what I was saying."

Mrs. Curry theorized that the book's appeal derives from the fact that there are "not many people my age left that can tell what happened that far back."

She returned to the notion that she has written the book for her family. Replete with an extensive family tree for her family and her husband's family, Mrs. Curry's story is quintessentially American.

And for other seniors pondering putting their memoirs to paper? Phil Kopper, president of Posterity Press in Bethesda, said, "As Mrs. Curry proves, it's never too late. Nor can there be too many memoirs. As a publisher, the sorry fact I encounter with sad regularity is the memoir that never gets finished."

Mr. Wolfe said, "From the editor's point of view, I'd say most memoirs get pretty long in the tooth, and that ends the publishing opportunity. 'For All Our Days' is a life story the way a story should be told."

Mrs. Curry noted, "Everybody says, 'How do you remember it all?' Well, I'm probably not going to remember it much longer. ... I'm the oldest member of the family on both sides. ... I thought it's a pretty interesting family with all of our Colonial people coming over here and being in the Civil War, and children ought to know that. It's history."

About the Author
Carol Herman

Carol Herman

Carol Herman, a member of The Washington Times staff since 1999, has been Books Editor for the last seven years. An award-winning OnBooks columnist, she has been a guest on WTOP and has been a guest panelist on C-Span’s BookTV. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Chicago.

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