Born and raised in rural eastern Oregon by a family with deep, homesteading roots, Jackie Shannon Hollis was encouraged by her parents to go to college, even though most of the rest of her large family remained closer to home. As a teen, she had been a good student, but reckless, too — they thought maybe getting her out into the wider world would assuage her restlessness and help her find purpose.
In her new memoir, “This Particular Happiness,” Hollis traces her bumpy journey into womanhood and how that shapes who she ultimately becomes.
For many readers, Hollis’ decisions to go away to school or move in with a boyfriend don’t seem to be terribly beyond the pale, but for Hollis these choices seem like trailblazing as she becomes the first girl in her family to graduate from college and launch a professional career.
Immediately after college, she marries a boy she’d known when she was growing up, but just a few years later, she wants out. It’s another first.
“We don’t get divorced in this family,” her shocked father responds when she tells him that she is leaving her husband of less than four years.
And then she is on to a parade of other men while her steadier siblings back home start having children and raising families.
Eventually Hollis meets Bill, the fellow who might actually become her happily-ever-after love, but he makes one thing clear. Twice divorced himself, and ten years older than she, he does not want to have children.
She initially agrees to this without much hesitation, but it isn’t long after they marry that she begins to have second thoughts. Whenever they travel from their home in Portland to eastern Oregon to visit her family — including the growing passel of young nieces and nephews — she harbors regrets that she and Bill will not be having any children of their own.
She feels pressure from her family, too. Her dad’s disappointed and her mom worries that she’ll “end up being a bitter, lonely old woman. Like your Aunt Lena.”
Hollis prides herself on having developed a reputation as the fun aunt of the family, but these words cut deep and underscore her own insecurity about remaining childless. Bill, meanwhile, thinks they are childfree.
While she and her husband are compatible and happy in many ways, will this be the wedge that drives them apart?
Hollis probes the roles that we aspire to in life — the ones that are thrust upon us, the ones we embrace, and the ones we never get to experience — whether that’s by choice or otherwise.
She muses on how one’s personal experiences with tragedy or terror, dysfunction or neglect, can significantly affect his or her decision-making process.
Compromise and accommodation are elements in any relationship, but that’s balanced with the need to be true to oneself. “This Particular Happiness” is one woman’s account of how she has made peace with the choices she’s made along the way.
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com