January 6, 2013

Author Q &A: Peace of the Past

A largely untold chapter of Nazi-occupied Belgium – and of one family's history – combine in Maine writer Walter W. Bannon's new book.

By TOM ATWEL, Special to the Telegram

When Walter W. Bannon's son Danny got married on the Naples Causeway, Bannon's mother, born Andree Laure Florin, came from Connecticut to attend. Days after the wedding, following a lunch in North Conway, N.H., Andree fell and broke several bones near her hip.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

Walter W. Bannon

MEET THE AUTHOR

WALTER W. BANNON has two book signings scheduled, and is planning to do more.

3 p.m. Wednesday, Harrison Village Library, 4 Front St.

Noon March 1, Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square

For more information, go to:

thewhitepocketbook.com

During Andree's yearlong stay recuperating in Maine, Bannon spent time talking with her about her childhood growing up in Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia, including World War II, when the region was occupied by Nazi Germany. His mother had seldom discussed those topics when Bannon, who lives in Bridgton, was growing up.

The Florin family villa was destroyed, and the family moved to a basement. Andree's father was in the resistance, and Andree had run-ins and close escapes involving the Nazis.

When the fighting ended, an American soldier came to the Florin house to play their piano, and Andree ended up marrying him.

All of these tales are included in Bannon's book "The White Pocketbook." The 188-page, self-published paperback is available at Amazon, some local bookstores and at thewhitepocketbook.com. Bannon and his family have also recorded a song, also titled "The White Pocketbook," that will be played at some of his readings. 

Q: Even bad things can have good results. If your mother had not broken bones in her hip while visiting in Maine, you might never have written this book.

A: It really ended up as something good. We knew there was something going on in the war, but she never talked about it. We six children knew never to complain about the food, or she would say that she had to eat grass soup.

Now that I have reached the point of my life where I can take my mother very seriously, I thought, "This is my chance to get her story if she is willing to tell it." She didn't jump and say, "I would love to share the history of my life," but she would talk for a little while and then stop. And we went through all of these boxes of hers, with pictures and unbelievable things, and I think it ended up being a very good thing for both of us. 

Q: Being from Bouillon in the Walloon part of Belgium, she was considered a great-granddaughter of Duke Godfroi and was from a well-to-do family. When the German occupation started, it must have been especially rough on her and her family.

A: It was really hard. They did have money, a jewelry and tobacco business passed on to the family, a villa on the hill and a store in town, and they had money to send her to private school. She never learned to cook, so it was hard when she became an American wife, expected to cook. My father's favorite meal was spaghetti and meatballs, and my mother thought the sauce was ketchup. If it was served for dinner, my father would be eating out of the house. He was in the military and always had good food there, but we six kids ate what she cooked. 

Q: I find it amazing that the pocketbook she was given at age 10 survived all this time.

A: I have it right now. At the end of the book I say I will mail it back to her, but I haven't done it yet. I have taken it to a number of signings, and people all want to pick it up.

She got it as a little girl, and their house was bombed, so it was lost for six years. She met an American soldier and was in Germany with him, and another gentlemen showed up. He had found the pocketbook and her name was on the papers, and she had put all sorts of papers and other things in that. 

(Continued on page 2)

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