BRATTLEBORO -- Like other men of his generation, Edie Clark's father, Luther, didn't like to talk about his experiences in World War II, fighting in North Africa, Italy and Corsica.
"There's isn't much to tell," he would say.
But, of course, there was.
Edie grew up in the presence of so much that there was to tell. It shaped her childhood, influenced the dyamics of her family.
Later, after her parents had died, she was left with bags and boxes of their old letters. Reading through them, Clark discovered so much of what there had been to tell.
What she discovered -- a story of love and loss, pain and poignancy, sorrow and stoicism -- she tells in her new memoir, "What There Was Not to Tell." Clark, a resident of Dublin, N.H., and former resident of Brattleboro, will give a reading on Saturday at 1 p.m., at Centre Congregational Church, 193 Main St.
In reading her parents' letters, Clark discovered a fairy tale and a war story woven together to create a tapestry of conflicting emotions.
During the war, Clark's mother was a beautiful young woman, with movie star looks, according to Clark. Two young men loved her and wanted to marry her, and both went off to war, one to North Africa, the other to New Guinea in the Pacific Theater.
After much thought, the young woman decided who she would marry and sent a letter to Tom with the happy news she had decided to marry him.
"The letter was sent back marked ‘Deceased,'" said Clark. "He was shot down on his first mission and never got the letter."
After the war ended, the young woman married the other man, Luther, who knew he was not the first choice. They had two daughters and made a life together, though never quite happily ever after.
Tom was still present in the family's life. His parents stayed close and became a third set of grandparents to Clark and her sister. Tom had willed his one valued possession, a 1937 Ford convertible, to Clark's mother, and it remained a family vehicle; generations of Clark descendants learned to drive on it.
"It colored my upbringing. I couldn't understand why Tom was such a part of our lives," said Clark.
Tom remained a presence and a mystery throughout her childhood.
Then, in 1994, both Clark's parents died, and she came into possession of all their letters. At first, she thought she would just throw them out, but something, perhaps the writer in her, perhaps a hunger to find out more about Tom, convinced Clark to keep the letters. Summoning the courage to read them was another story.
"My first emotion was fear. I didn't want to go there," said Clark. "This was, I think, a great sadness for my father. It did cause a rift in my family; my parents almost got divorced."
As she pored through the letters, Clark became more and more determined to unravel the mystery of Tom, to get to know him better. She began traveling to places he was stationed, walking the ground he walked on, learning what she could.
"It sort of became an odyssey to find Tom," she said.
She ultimately found where he was buried, in a cemetery in Hawaii.
"That was amazing. I was just walking along, and there was his grave," she said. "It was like having the dead rise. I found that the cemetery was unbelievably moving."
As her journey grew longer, the book evolved, too. Initially, she intended it to be an intimate look at her father, mother and Tom through their letters. It became something with broader resonance.
"I began to realize that this was totally universal. What happens to a family when one member of a family is lost. This reverberated throughout the world," said Clark. "I think that perhaps our family represented all those other families. ... That was such an important part of growing up -- this loss of Tom."
Clark's book reflects an important part of the World War II story that doesn't get enough light shed on it -- What happens after? What does coming home look like?
"It was all going to be wonderful, and that's why they had to go on and make their happy lives. That's what they fought for," said Clark. "Yet I think there is this huge underlinement of grief."
Books will be available for purchase at Saturday's reading at 1 p.m., at Centre Church.
Clark has written extensively about New England in award-winning feature stories for Yankee magazine, where she was also a senior editor. She is the author of the books "The View from Mary's Farm," "Saturday Beans and Sunday Suppers," "States of Grace" and "The Place He Made." She has been a fellow at the McDowell Colony and the Hedgebrook Writer's Colony and has taught writing and journalism at several New England colleges and universities.
For more information, visit www.edieclark.com.