Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Legacy of Reading

Lois Hamilton Fuller. August 13, 1915 - June 14, 2010

My Aunt Lois died yesterday two months shy of her 95th birthday. 94 5/6, as her daughter wrote. Can’t complain about that. It was a fine life. Ups, downs, hard times, times filled with joy and fulfillment, lonely times. Life.

My Aunt Lois wrote children’s books. Her first was inspired by the Brownie Troop her daughter belonged to in New Jersey. It was called The Mystery of the Old Fisk House, and starred an entire troop of Brownies – not one or two lead characters for my Aunt Lois and her friend and co-writer Mary Shiverick Fishler, despite their publishers’ request. First book though it was, the two authors insisted that the story was about the whole group of girls acting together as a team. And they won.

I loved that book. I re-read it recently, and it holds up – well-structured, well-paced, and all of the girls have personalities and roles to play. Unfortunately it’s the one book of my aunt’s for which I don’t have the dust jacket. Here are the endpapers though:

Many years ago (the 1980s, I guess), I worked under two editors in a fine children’s books house, coincidentally to discover they had worked with my aunt on her books in the 1960s – Jean Karl and Marcia Marshall. Life is weird.

Lois Hamilton Fuller was born in 1915. On Long Island, I believe. I’m sure I have some old letters, something in my father’s footlocker (she was the wife of my father’s middle brother), more facts. What counts, of course, is that she was intelligent, literate, compassionate, vibrant and vivacious. She had experienced the twentieth century fully, as an American woman, a teacher, a wife, mother, and as a writer of children’s books.

Here’s the list of Aunt Lois’ books as I’ve known it:
Fuller, Lois Hamilton and Fishler, Mary Shiverick. The Mystery of the Old Fisk House: a Brownie Scout Story. Abington Press, 1960.
Fuller, Lois Hamilton. Keo the Cave Boy. ill. Bolognese, Donald. Abingdon Press, 1961
Fuller, Lois Hamilton. The Jade Jaguar Mystery. ill. Silverman, Mel. Abington Press, 1962
Fuller, Lois Hamilton. Fire in the Sky: Story of a Boy of Pompeii. ill. Silverman, Mel. Abingdon Press, 1965
Fuller, Lois Hamilton. Little Tiger, Big Tiger. Ill. Vyas, Anil. Children’s Book Trust New Delhi. 1970.

A fine legacy --

Today I Googled my aunt and discovered that there’s also a book called Swarup Returns that I never heard about -- she wrote it for the same Indian publisher as Little Tiger Big Tiger, Children's Book Trust of India. Who knew. It’s presently unavailable on Amazon.co.uk, but I’ve put it on my WishList.

Married to a scientist, Aunt Lois’ social circle included other scientists, and the conversations doubtless sparked her interest in many topics. She told stories and listened to them, and needed to know more, always more. She thoroughly researched her subsequent books – coming of age stories and mysteries involving 12-year-olds experiencing the last days of Pompei, a community of Neanderthals in what is now Belgium, and Mayan culture shortly before the coming of Europeans.

She lived with her husband, my uncle, in New Jersey, Ohio, DC, New Delhi, India, and Boise, Idaho, among other cities. In the Boise house I visited the two of them, staying in the guest room with its own wood-paneled shower. Uncle Don cooked and served the two of us cocktails and appetizers. Terribly civilized, with appropriate portions. No wonder they both stayed slim. The Boise house was also where I saw her last, the year she turned 90. It was her birthday party, and I’d driven there from a conference in LA. (Note: If ever you decide to make that drive, bring CDs – radios don’t receive signals in the desert terrain.) Her 90th birthday party was huge, filled with people from different times in her life, different places. Once in Aunt Lois’ life, people stayed there.

My first autographed book:

We’d always corresponded, Aunt Lois and I, since we didn’t live near one another. In her 80s, living in Boise, she took up the computer, and our letters turned to e-mails. In recent years, she’d had to give up her house in Boise and move to an assisted living facility in northern California, nearer her daughter, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. E-mails turned back to letters.

My Aunt Lois could make a life and friends anywhere. Each Christmas that she spent in northern California, I sent her a gingerbread house, which she’d share with the other residents, putting it on display for all to enjoy until it came time for all to eat it. That’s what Aunt Lois was like. Generous. Kind. Social. People gravitated toward her, because she was not only a good talker – and she could talk! -- she was also a fine listener.

Lois Hamilton Fuller was a storyteller. On the jacket flap of her book, Keo the Cave Boy, she wrote, “Although storytelling is fun and writing is work, I can think of no work I want to do more.”


I will always regret not flying out to the Pacific Coast to see her in her final home in California. I thought there’d be time. There never is.

She was a class act, my Aunt Lois. I miss her already.

~ Molly Matera, turning off the computer, but not the light. Time to re-read The Jade Jaguar Mystery.


  1. Nice. I'm going to hunt these down for myself now.

  2. She sounds wonderful--I'm fascinated by a life that took her from New Dehli to Boise, Idaho! I will track these down for Ben. The Jade Jaguar Mystery sounds right up our alley.

  3. P.S. The endpapers of the Brownie troop mystery are great. Have you tried searching abe.com for a jacketed copy?

  4. What a lovely tribute to your aunt!

  5. Hi Molly, Wonderful write-up! I am working on a family tree. We may be related. Don & Lois used to visit my grandmother Kay Fullers farm in Spokane, Washington. I was told Don worked in India for the US government and Lois wrote childrens books. In retirement they moved to Boise Idaho and lived out their lives. My uncle has pictures of them. Please email me and i hope to talk more! Thank you scott.coast@outlook.com