The Women of Troy Hill
About the book:
In a small neighborhood, atop a hill in Pittsburgh, thrives a world where neighbors don’t move away, where friends become family, and where community takes on a deeper meaning. Welcome to the inviting and intriguing neighborhood of Troy Hill. Unlike nearby towns, the families of Troy Hill have lived in the same neighborhood for generations, providing continuity in these women’s lives and depth in their relationships. They christened babies, raised children, and even buried their loved ones together. Now in their seventies and eighties, the women of Troy Hill form a community of independent souls, who find joy in each other and solace in service. Troy Hill and these women resonate beyond this hilltop, providing insight into bonds between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, sisters and friends. From them we learn to shape our lives with love and humor.
Veteran reporter Clare Ansberry brings to life these vibrant women, and offers some invaluable lessons about acceptance, faith, and family. A portrait of American life and a hymn to the durability of the human spirit, The Women of Troy Hill is an inspiration for us all.
About the author:
Clare Ansberry is the Pittsburgh bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal and winner of numerous journalism awards. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. This is her first book.
Q. Troy Hill is more than a setting or backdrop for this book. It represents a way of life. How did Troy Hill shape the lives of these women? How did the women shape Troy Hill? Would you like to live in a place like Troy Hill? What are its virtues? Its faults?
Q. Community, a sense of belonging, and permanence are elemental themes of this book. What is the status of community, and all that it represents, today? Is it possible to exist in such a mobile society? What are the ramifications of moving around the way many Americans now do?
Q. Mildred Mares summarizes their way of life in four words: “Men worked, women neighbored.” Now women and men work. Who does the neighboring? Do women still see that as their job? Do they welcome or feel burdened by it? Has neighboring taken new forms today and does it have the same impact on the individuals and community? Do neighborhoods exist in any permanent or lasting way now?
Q. What role does Mary Wohleber play in this book and also in the community? At one point, she says she has always been a little different than everyone else-almost, but not quite, like an outsider-and yet at the same time she is the public face of Troy Hill. How can you be so much a part of something, yet feel distant?
Q. Emma’s daughter Jeanne and Margaret’s daughter Cecilia see their mothers as very strong, but for different reasons. Discuss those differences. How does our view of our parents change as we grow older? How are daughters shaped by a mother’s self image?
Q. As independent and competent as these women are, they are also deferent. Margaret drove her husband around until he got his license and then let him take over. Edna Mckinney ran the house but let her husband think he did. Cecilia Guehl says she didn’t go to college because that is just the way things were. These women didn’t expect much. Were they too accepting of what was dealt to them? Emma is an accepting and tolerant woman, yet content and happy. Is tolerance a factor in happiness?
Q. The church was a significant force on Troy Hill, as it was in many communities that were literally built around their places of worship. Discuss how and why the role of the church has changed in communities. Is it still a major force?
Q. Do you agree with the notion that faith begets habit and habit begets faith? Or do you think one is more important than the other?
Q. Tradition is a big part of these women’s lives from festivals to Fastnaught Day and weekly novenas. It was also instrumental in keeping families together. Some people want to break away from tradition. Others cling to it. What are the merits and demerits of traditions? Do our attitudes about tradition change with time? What are some of the traditions your parents created for you? How do you feel about them?
Q. All of these women had different relationships with their husbands. Margaret and Joe’s relationship was very different than Edna and Lou’s relationship. Discuss the differences and similarities in their relationships and in how they expressed devotion.
Q. Emma kept the outline of her granddaughter’s footprint, her daughters’ report cards, and tiny articles in the newspaper about them. Edna kept all of her sons’ yearbooks and many of their grade school papers. They can’t keep every momento. What does their choice signify? Why is it important to keep such things? Do you think they are preserving it for themselves or their children? What keepsakes do you cherish? How do children feel when they discover that their parents have preserved an old letter, or a handmade gift?
Q. Cecilia and Thelma were friends for seventy-five years. Emma and Ernestine were friends for about ten years. Does longevity or the sheer expanse of shared experiences make a friendship stronger? In both cases, each woman is different from her best friend. Is accepting differences a critical part of friendship?
Q. These women are comfortable with growing older. Do you think we as a society are comfortable with aging? How does growing up around older people shape attitudes? If you grew up close to an older relative, what did they add to your life? If you didn’t, do you wish you did? Does everyone gain wisdom with age?
Q. When Joe died, Margaret told a priest that she didn’t think it was fair, that she thought they would grow old together. When the priest responded “Well, you are old,” she replied that she was not, even though she was in her eighties. Is anyone ready to die? Is life, even a full life, ever enough? Why do you think Dolly told the priest she was ready to die?
Q. Which of these women do you feel most connected to and why? Do any of these women make you think of someone in your own life in a different way?
Q. None of these women are famous. Why are their lives instructive?