Constable: 97-year-old author surprised by discovery of book she wrote decades ago
A lifelong historian and writer, 97-year-old Margery Frisbie of Arlington Heights no longer sees well enough to read books, not even the recently unearthed novel she wrote decades ago.
"The funny thing is, I have no idea what the plot of the story is. I have no idea," Frisbie says, her words gaining momentum and volume as she ponders the possibilities. "I'm as surprised as the reader. Isn't that fun?"
She's getting the full story thanks to Matt Binns, who is married to Frisbie's daughter, Margaret Frisbie. Binns, who reads a wide variety of "poems in a time of plague" on YouTube in the English accent he grew up with in England, decided to read his mother-in-law's book to her face to face when he can, and on YouTube as well.
"She is a poet, an author, columnist, biographer, activist, mother of eight, and delightful company to boot," says Binns, who also has a diverse background.
In his career across three continents, Binns established a popular beach bar off the Isthmus of Kra in the Gulf of Thailand, teaches a film class about mechanical special effects at Columbia College in Chicago, and builds installations for companies and museums through his company at giantglobes.com.
"We read the first chapter out loud in person," says Margaret Frisbie, the executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, who snapped a photo of her mom leaning over the table on Christmas Eve to hear her words read by Binns.
"It's been underneath a pile of books for 40 years," Margery Frisbie says. "It really is very funny to have something lost turn up. At age 97, it is great fun to have someone read a book you wrote 40 years ago on YouTube."
While she can't remember where her plot is headed, she does know the book, titled "Every Third House," is set in Arlington Heights and deals with a subject she knows firsthand.
"The protagonist is a student at Arlington High School, and her mother has mental illness. She's depressed," says Frisbie. "My mother was depressed and she was hospitalized, so it's very personal."
The title comes from a conversation the student character has with a school counselor. "You're not alone," Frisbie has the counselor say. "When you walk down the street, there's some sort of mental illness in every third house."
Frisbie has lived in the same house since 1954. She and her late husband, Richard, a fellow writer and author, and member of the Arlington Heights Memorial Library board for 44 years, are legends in the community, winning awards and once leading the village's Fourth of July parade. She maintains her progressive political passion.
"I follow Georgia," she says on the day that state elects a Black preacher and a Jewish filmmaker to give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. "Things are looking up."
She remembers putting up a yard sign for a Democrat in the 1950s and pretty much shocking the neighbors. "We were the only Democrats in town," she says. She and her husband were civil rights activists who worked to integrate Arlington Heights,
"It was really interesting how stuffy Arlington Heights was. I gave a little speech at the high school," she says. She remembers sending her husband to the home of the first Black family to move into the village to invite them to dinner.
"The kids were mortified because Richard went on his bicycle," she says with a laugh, noting the families became good friends.
Frisbie jokes that, raising eight kids, she didn't start her career until age 70. But she was always a writer, penning a nationally syndicated column reviewing children's books when her own kids were little.
Her 2002 biography of progressive Catholic priest Monsignor John Egan remains popular. She wrote a history column for the Daily Herald until her eyesight started to go at age 93, was a publicist for Mundelein College and Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, and wrote poetry.
She's listening to an audio version of "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" now and keeps active. She played violin as a teen, so her family brought her a violin at Thanksgiving. She was a little rusty, "but her form was perfect," Margaret Frisbie says.
"I'm not recommending 97 to anyone. It's terrible," says Frisbie, who still finds a way to enjoy everything she can and gets help from those who love her.
"Not being able to see means not being able to read newspapers, and that is really difficult. Fortunately, I have a large, noisy family."