“I love the submarine metaphor,” Pam Devlin said while having lunch at a long glass table with six other people in a Santa Rosa home.
“Oh, I really liked that!” Wanda Burzycki responded.
“How’s life, Cathy?” asked Joan McCue.
“Full of babies!”
The 37-year-old’s monthly book club meeting was buzzing with conversation and laughter and the clinking of silverware on the plates. The members happily raised their wine glasses in the air.
It was typical for My Book Club, an all-female group whose seven members huddled together through some of life’s deepest losses and happiest beginnings – the deaths of parents and a beloved husband, but also the children’s first days of school, career changes and finding love again after a divorce.
“It’s more than a book club,” Devlin said. “We talk about the book, but we also talk about all the other aspects of our life. We have been through life’s ups and downs together. This club has been a place of strength and inspiration.
In the spring of 1985, Member Burzycki attended a workshop at the annual conference of the California Association of Teachers of English in Long Beach. Several English teachers, all from the same high school, presented the workshop and described their “professional” book club. For them, the club was a way to discuss literature with other English teachers and have fun while doing it.
The teachers’ enthusiasm, camaraderie and encouragement to “start something” inspired her that day, Burzycki said.
That summer, Burzycki, then an English teacher at Rincon Valley Middle School, was planning a leave of absence to enroll in a master’s program in writing. But she knew she would miss contact with her colleagues, so she invited some of them to lunch at her home in Healdsburg and asked everyone to bring their favorite book.
The idea blossomed and a brotherhood developed.
my book club
“The book club was my thread of friendship,” Burzycki said. “They were there when I was heading in a different direction, who believed in me and who I just loved.”
The club started with nine members. Over time, one gave up and another moved on. Seven solids stayed with her: Burzycki, Devlin, McCue, Jeannette Anglin, Cathy Brew, Patty Dunlap and Mary Lou Milkoff.
Over time, they started calling their group My Book Club. In addition to a love of literature, many of the members have another thing in common: they were English, math and science teachers at Rincon Valley Middle School.
“When you’re so busy teaching, when do you talk about literature the way you do in your classroom?” said Burzycki. “We wanted to practice what we preached.
For the club’s 10th anniversary in September 1995, they rented a house at Sea Ranch for a weekend. This trip has become a tradition repeated every summer after the end of the school year. They talked about books, sipped wine, cooked themed dinners together (Thai, Italian, Mexican, Filipino, Greek), played Scrabble and shared stories.
“It was like a three-day slumber party!” said Burzycki.
Over the years, they’ve created several scrapbooks filled with photos of their book club meetings, birthdays, and retirements.
“Our book club was a place where we could unload, where we could trust, and where we could have community,” said Milkoff, who lives in Santa Rosa.
They also supported each other in the trials of life.
In December 1995, McCue’s husband died. She had come home from work one evening to find him in their Santa Rosa backyard, where he had died of a heart attack.
When this unexpected tragedy struck, club members immediately came to McCue’s home with care packages. They held McCue back through grief and uncertainty over time.