Memoir Reveals Where 'Ask Amy' Gets Her Advice Amy Dickinson, author of the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy," writes about the strong women in her life in her new memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville. The youngest in her family, Dickinson says she's "the plankton at the end of the food chain and the advice flows down."

Memoir Reveals Where 'Ask Amy' Gets Her Advice

Memoir Reveals Where 'Ask Amy' Gets Her Advice

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Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy," describes how much she depends on the women in her life in her new memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville. Brasco Productions hide caption

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Brasco Productions

Amy Dickinson, who writes the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy," describes how much she depends on the women in her life in her new memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville.

Brasco Productions

Writer Amy Dickinson has found her voice listening to the voices of the women around her.

In her new memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, Dickinson traces her practical sensibility back to Freeville, N.Y. — a town with a population of 458. It's where the author of the syndicated advice column "Ask Amy" grew up, and where she's gone back to be near the women in her family.

"It's one of those little towns that you drive through and you go, 'Oh boy, who lives here?' " says Dickinson, who is also an NPR contributor.

When she's in Freeville, Dickinson has breakfast every Wednesday morning at a diner with all of the women in her life: her mother, her aunts, her sisters and their children when they are in town.

"We see each other virtually every day, and yet we feel the need to get together in a planned schedule," Dickinson tells NPR's Melissa Block. "They can be pretty noisy — there is a lot of interrupting. Everyone gets separate checks, of course, because no one will let anyone pick up the check. The checks are always like $1.10. We always have the same waitress, and we talk over another, we talk about what's going on, we ask a lot of questions, laugh a lot, it's a lot of fun."

And as the youngest, Dickinson has been on the receiving end of advice from all of the women in her family — the women her daughter Emily started calling the "mighty queens."

"In my family, I'm the plankton at the end of the food chain and the advice flows down," Dickinson says.

Dickinson says she particularly learned lessons from her mother, who was a housewife on a dairy farm that was "always on the verge of collapse." She says her mother "excelled at keeping things together."

When Dickinson's father left the family, her mother got a job as a typist at Cornell University's engineering school — her first office job.

"She would come home at night and she would walk in and go lie down on her bed in her coat and put her purse sort of on top of her," Dickinson says. "Just thinking about it, it's the essence of weariness."

Dickinson tells what she calls "the most amazing story" about how one day the deans called her mother into a meeting and said they thought she should go through college and they would help her. At 48 years old, Dickinson's mother went to school to get her undergraduate degree. She went on to get a master's degree in fine arts and then taught at Cornell.

After Dickinson's father left, her mother "simply prevailed," Dickinson writes.

"There's a lot of prevailing in my family. When I think about what's going on right now in the economy, we live in a cynical age, but we really need one another right now," Dickinson says. "We need to remember or learn to just keep going. That's something the women in my life really excelled at. They just prevailed."

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Excerpt: 'The Mighty Queens Of Freeville'

Mighty Queens Cover

In my family, the women tend to do the heavy lifting while the men — well, the men are nice and fine and they love us for a time. Then at some point, it seems that they tire of their indeterminate role in our lives, so they wage a campaign of passive resistance, and then they leave.

I come from a family of women. Nature played its part (my mother is the youngest of four daughters and I am the youngest of three), but so did the tidal outflow of men in our lives. In time, my soon-to-be husband became an ex- husband, leaving me with — yes — a daughter to raise. And it is this daughter, Emily, now eighteen, who one day looked around at her family of women and declared us to be the Mighty Queens of Freeville.

Our realm, the village of Freeville (pop. 458), isn't much to look at. It's located on the northern fringes of Appalachia, in the rural and worn-out landscape of upstate New York. It's a town with one stop sign, anchored by a church, post office, elementary school, and gas station. There's a little diner called Toads, which seems to go in and out of business roughly on the same schedule as the floods that bedevil the creek that runs behind the village. (Toads and Fall Creek both seem to jump their banks on a regular basis.)

My family has called Freeville home for over two hundred years. We've tilled and cultivated the land, tended chickens and Holsteins, built houses and barns and backyard sheds. Most significantly, my family has made more family, and that's the main reason I continue to call this little place home. My mother, three aunts, two cousins, one of my sisters, three nieces, and a nephew all live in a tiny ten-house radius. My home offers one-stop shopping — family style. Though I've lived in New York City, London, Washington, D.C., and now Chicago, for me, all roads lead back to my hometown.

My mother and two of my aunts raised their children alone. My two sisters, Rachel and Anne, were also single parents. When I got married, I deliberately tried to reverse the family's terrible marital track record, but failed. Afterward, I did what I do best — and what I've been doing off and on through my adulthood.

I went home.

The women of my family taught me what family is about. They helped me to pick up the pieces when my life fell apart, and we reassembled them together into something new. They celebrated my slow recovery, witnessed my daughter's growth and development, and championed my choices. The women in my life showed Emily and me in large and small ways that they would love us, no matter what. They abide.

From The Mighty Queens Of Freeville by Amy Dickinson. Copyright (c) 2009 Amy Dickinson. To be published Feb. 3, 2009, by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All rights reserved.