Peggy O’Toole Lamb’s ‘Darling: Letters from WWII’
Santa Barbara Author Relies on Family Correspondence to Tell Universal Tale of Soldiers Abroad
By Matt Kettmann
Darling: Letters from WWII is the second time that author Peggy O’Toole Lamb turned to her family’s correspondence to tell a dramatic true tale.
The first was her debut book, Then I Won’t Seem So Far Away, a memoir of hitchhiking across Europe in the 1970s based on letters she sent to her mother. Darling, meanwhile, concerns the letters that her uncle First Lieutenant Frank J. Foster sent to his wife while commanding an anti-aircraft battalion in defense of General Patton against the Nazis.
The book was named as a finalist in the military category of the 2021 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. The author explains more below.
When did you come to Santa Barbara, and when did you start writing?
In 1968, I attended UCSB — yes, during the riots and burning of the bank. After graduating and getting my teaching credentials and Master in Education, I taught Special Ed in the Santa Barbara District for 30 years. During a 10-year hiatus, I worked internationally at Club Med and returned to Santa Barbara to open my own company, Sundance Windsurfing, in the original Funk Zone.
I married, had three daughters, and after they left home in 2004, I started writing my first book, Then I Won’t Seem So Far Away, a memoir of my 15 months in the ’70s hitchhiking across Europe and North Africa. When I found the letters I sent to my mother, a floodgate of memories opened. What I didn’t tell my mother is what fuels the story.
Both books revolve around letters between your family. Why is that such a treasure trove of material?
Letters are written in the present and have a sense of urgency and the unknown. Reading my uncle Frank’s letters from WWII gives me a window into the past and his mind. “Words are like the god Janus: they face outward and inward at once.” Old letters are like a scavenger hunt. When I read the name of a song or person or his use of slang, it made me wonder what Frank meant, so I researched everything and learned interesting tidbits about history and WWII more than one could find in any textbook.
What did you find most meaningful about this new book?
It tells a universal story of soldiers away from family and home, risking their lives for others, and the strong bonds they make during war. After writing Frank’s story, I felt closer to him and his friends, almost as if I lived through the war with them. I made myself cry and laugh while writing, and I fell in love with the characters.
Any more books up your sleeve? Any more family correspondence worthy of the limelight?
I haven’t any more letters stashed away, but I do have a family story. Six years ago, my husband had a heart transplant. During the months leading to the surgery and the year of recovery, I kept records of the events. I am writing a medical memoir from the view of a caretaker, Change of Heart.