“I love the metaphor of the submarine,” Pam Devlin said over lunch at a long glass table with six others in a Santa Rosa home.
“Oh, I really liked that!” Wanda Burzycki replied.
“How’s life, Cathy?” Joan McCue asked.
“Full of babies!”
The 37-year-old book club’s monthly meeting buzzed with conversation and laughter and the clatter of silverware on plates. Members raised their wine glasses cheerfully in the air.
It was typical for My Book Club, an all-women group whose seven members have held each other close through some of life’s deepest losses and happiest beginnings — deaths of parents and a beloved husband, but also children’s first days of school, career changes and finding love again after divorce.
“It’s more than a book club,” Devlin said. “We talk about the book, but we talk about all other aspects of our lives, too. We’ve gone through life’s ups and downs together. This club has been a place of strength and inspiration.”
In the spring of 1985, member Burzycki attended a workshop at the annual California Association of Teachers of English conference in Long Beach. Several English teachers, all from the same high school, presented the workshop and described their “professional” book club. For them, the club was a way to discuss literature with other English teachers and have fun while doing it.
The teachers’ enthusiasm, camaraderie and encouragement to “get something started” inspired her that day, Burzycki said.
That summer, Burzycki, then an English teacher at Rincon Valley Middle School, was planning a leave of absence to enroll in a writing master’s degree program. But she knew she’d miss connecting with her colleagues, so she invited some of them to lunch at her Healdsburg home and asked each to bring their favorite book.
The idea bloomed, and a sisterhood unfolded.
My Book Club
“The book club was my thread of friendship,” Burzycki said. “They were there when I was heading in a different direction, who believed in me and who I just loved.”
The club began with nine members. Over time, one dropped out and another moved away. A solid seven have stayed with it: Burzycki, Devlin, McCue, Jeannette Anglin, Cathy Brew, Patty Dunlap and Mary Lou Milkoff.
As time passed, they began calling their group My Book Club. In addition to a love of literature, many of the members have another commonality: They were English, math and science teachers at Rincon Valley Middle School.
“When you’re so busy teaching, when do you discuss literature in the same way that you have in your class?” Burzycki said. “We wanted to practice what we preached.”
For the club’s 10th anniversary in September 1995, they rented a house at Sea Ranch for a weekend. That trip became a tradition repeated every summer after the school year ended. They would talk about books, sip wine, cook themed (Thai, Italian, Mexican, Filipino, Greek) dinners together, play Scrabble and share stories.
“It was like a three-day slumber party!” Burzycki said.
Over the years, they’ve made several scrapbooks filled with photos of their book club meetings, birthday celebrations and retirement parties.
“Our book club was a place where we could unload, where we could trust and could have a community,” said Milkoff, who lives in Santa Rosa.
They’ve also been a support to each other through life’s hardships.
In December 1995, McCue’s husband died. She had returned home from work one evening to find him in their Santa Rosa backyard, where he’d died of a heart attack.
When that unexpected tragedy hit, the club members immediately came over to McCue’s house with care packages. They held McCue through grief and uncertainty as time passed.