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Simple story makes woman's life complete

September 21, 1998

Cathy NewcomerBy TERRY TALBERT / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




In a leap of faith, a Washington County woman has written a book about her family and the other larger "family" that was Boonsboro during the Great Depression.

Catherine "Cathy" Reese Newcomer, 68, wrote "Precious Memories" over the past three winters, after her herb garden was put to bed for the season and the need to write awoke within her.

The book is only 43 pages long, but rich with detail and with feeling.

It was a long time coming. "I've wanted to write this as long as I can remember, since I was about 15," Newcomer said. "They told me I'd never survive my childhood. When I survived, I realized I needed to tell the stories of my family."

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The book tells in words and old photos the story of a town that pulled together to overcome the agony and poverty of the Depression. It takes a close look at her family and their home on Boonsboro Mountain.

"Precious Memories" is a compilation of just that, Newcomer said. It is a story of the tragedies, humor, sadness and most of all, the victories in the life of her family and others who lived in Boonsboro in the 1930s and 1940s.

In the book, the world of the stock market crash, bank failures and lost lives is seen through the clear innocent eyes of a child. That child was Newcomer.

The way her parents handled the poverty of those years, and her mother's strong faith, brought joy to Newcomer and her siblings in those years when the neighbors came to share the farm family's bounty and her mother fed tramps with what little was left. "We didn't know we were poor," Newcomer said. "There was so much joy."

In 1995, Newcomer said the need to write stirred and she told her husband Charlie that she needed to get a word processor. She did. She was one-third of the way through the book when she lost the five disks that told her story. She was devastated.

"I said, 'I can't do this again,'" Newcomer said.

But the story needed to be told and Newcomer began again. The second version was better than the first.

The book was a labor of love. It took Newcomer back in time. "As I write I cried, and laughed ... I absolutely felt I was there again," she said.

The book, which was self-published, became available for sale last month. Cost is $11.95.

The response so far has been overwhelming for Newcomer, who never went to college and has no journalistic training. She's already sold about 300 of the 500 copies printed, and has had orders from states as far away as California.

Newcomer said the most common comment she's heard from readers is that they couldn't lay the book down.

"That humbles me so," she said. "I didn't want to sell something that people would be bored with. I feel complete now. I was under a lot of pressure for a lot of years. I didn't know how I could do it, but I had no fear I couldn't."

Newcomer lives now on Blue Mountain in Smithsburg. She retired in 1984 from her job as general manager at the Ramada/Tortuga motel and started selling home-grown dried flowers, dried flower wreaths, herbal vinegars and other such things at local craft shows.

In July, she opened Blue Mountain Herbs & Roses in a shop behind her home.

Newcomer is an organist at Church of Christ on White Hall Road, and volunteers in the emergency room of Waynesboro (Pa.) Hospital two nights a week.

But of all the things that have given Newcomer a sense of fulfillment, "Precious Memories" is near the top of the list.

Newcomer found that what her heart told her was true - sometimes the best stories are those told simply.

To order "Precious Memories," call Newcomer at 301-745-3455.

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