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Melissa Bini
Lady Slippers
A life bookended by pandemics, explores growing up in the tri-state area during the Great Depression and World War II. A lot changes over a century of life; from indoor plumbing to social media. After working multiple jobs during a recession, Bernice and her high school sweetheart, Henry, are finally able to get married. The honeymoon is disrupted when word from home notified the couple that Henry had received his draft notice. The war changes life on Staten Island with anti-aircraft units next door and her father, who is also drafted to the Coast Guard, escorting ships in New York Harbor. Post-war Bernice and her family face personal battles; from parenting to cancer. Despite personal trials and tribulations Bernice's zest for life, nature and her sense of humor makes for a feel-good adventure. 102 never felt this young.
A touching memoir of a life that began in 1920 and then stretched over a century of love, laughter, loss, and success, Lady Slippers shares the story of Bernice Dietrich, a spunky child, through her journals and the reminiscence of Melissa Bini, the granddaughter who calls her “Gram”—and notes, touchingly, that Dietrich’s life was bookended by global pandemics. Between them, growing up on a Staten Island of woods, truck farms, factories, train yards, and much “freedom and exploration,” Dietrich faced the Great Depression, the second World War, and the boom times and turbulence that followed, all recounted here with an inviting conversational spirit.

Dietrich’s exciting account of everyday wildlife while growing up will delight readers who are more familiar with the steel and concrete landscape of the island today, though the funny story of encountering an apple-stealing rat in their Wilde Avenue home the night after her wedding remains entirely contemporary. Such engaging details transport readers into the era-defining hardships the family endured, like lack of work and having to glue new soles onto worn shoes during the Depression, or the attack on Pearl Harbor three months after her wedding to Henry Dietrich. (A draft notice inevitably follows.) Also moving is Dietrich’s account of the premature birth of their firstborn, and Dietrich’s daily bus trips to nurse the infant at the hospital.

Dietrich’s photos serve as timestamp milestones for readers to visually experience these moments, including the couple on their wedding day, with Dietrich in a classic lace dress, and all their hopes pervading from youthful smiles. Dietrich’s family continued to grow, and the memoir captures the essence of their lives, loves, successes, celebrations, and the starting of families of their own. Through it all, Dietrich shares the things that fascinated her, from the gadget that allowed an aunt with a broken neck to read books, to a closing insight into how nature endlessly renews itself.

Takeaway: Touching memoir of life and love on Staten Island, from the 1920s to Covid-19.

Comparable Titles: George T. Wright’s Starting from Staten Island, T.H Watkins’s The Hungry Years.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A-