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Monday, October 5, 2009

The Love of an Old Book

It was a small volume tossed carelessly in with the rest of the frayed spines on the Public Library bookshelf. "Love of Seven Dolls" by Paul Gallico.
He was one of my favorite authors as a teen, and this was one book that intrigued me, with a faded rendition of a full-skirted girl looking at what appeared to be a puppet show on the cover.
I borrowed it frequently, whenever I felt the urge, over the next several years. I must have been the only person in the city who took out that particular book, judging from my ability to always locate it on the shelf, whenever I wanted it.
The years passed, but it remained one of the books seared in my memory, even though the story, in retrospect, doesn't seem that remarkable now. On a rereading, some of the story seems rather dated, but the charm of the main plot still shines through.
After much deliberation, I decided to see if I could locate a new copy of it for my home library. It was out of print, only available through second-hand book sellers. So I turned to the likes of abebooks.com and alibris.com and placed an order for the least expensive hard-bound edition I could find.
The book arrived, among others that I had ordered at the same time. This had a faux leather cover, with the name of the book and the mysterious legend ALYCE PEKORS at the bottom right.
I couldn't resist checking for the name on Google. And, the history of this particular carefully-preserved copy fell in place.
The original owner of this book was Miss Alyce Pekors, the longest serving US civil servant in Singapore, who died in Michigan last November.
From a newsletter with a memorial article:
"Of course, much of the details of her “working” life prior to taking the administrative role with the Navy in Singapore were never discussed among her many friends. She brushed off enquiries with Lauren Bacall like aplomb. By her very nature, she was reminiscent of an interesting earlier era.
Whether it was her Isadora Duncan impersonation as she drove her vintage MG around town (of course, it wasn’t vintage when she first bought it), or her Givenchy and pearls Audrey Hepburn look when she entertained, Alyce was always one classy lady."
She must have loved the book very much to have taken pains to have the original paperback replaced by a custom hard-binding.
Now the book sits on my shelf, bringing with it a whiff of the chequered life of the one who owned it before me. We are strangely bound across space and time, through this slim black volume with gold lettering.

14 comments:

Sujatha said...

How utterly fascinating!

Sujatha said...

Yes, I think, even more than the original book that led to this unexpected discovery of Alyce Pekors.
Here's what I pieced out from what I read about her. She was a huge fan of Hepburn and Leslie Caron (the latter acted in a 1953 movie called Lili, loosely based on the Gallico novelette.) In her career, she may in fact have been a precursor of sorts to the Valerie Plames, a hidden asset whose role can be never be revealed except in private. She was a bowling champion in S'pore long before I was even born, earning mention in the newspapers of the day.
It might have been wonderful to have known her in person, but I now have to settle for making a picture of her in my mind based on the obituaries.

Ruchira said...

Sujatha, this is quite an excellent book tale. I am not surprised that with your superior sleuthing abilities, you were able to locate both a copy of the out of print book as well as unearth so much about one of its owners. I suggest you cross post this vignette on A.B. including the above comment about Ms Alyce Pekors. Thanks.

Kats said...

I am so glad that a mutual friend forwarded this wonderful story of Miss Alyce Pekors! While a Commander in the Navy, my husband worked with her while stationed at Singapore) for 3 years. We were so blessed and fortunate to have made her acquaintance! She is a 'one-of-a-kind' and it really is no wonder that you found the book and unearthed a Gem! I am positive that Alyce's other (and many) friends will and can attest to the Unforgettable Ms. Alyce Pekors!! Thank you so much!!

Sujatha said...

Kats,

Thank you so much for the lovely comment. The 'gem unearthed' truly wasn't the book, as you say, but Miss Pekors and her life story. You were so lucky to have known her in person, I envy you!

Anonymous said...

Miss Alyce's brother is John Toski. He lives in Interlochen/Green Lake, Michigan. While I am reluctant to print a phone number, I would suggest that directory assistance can help you out. I am certain that he would be delighted to answer any questions you may have on the life of his sister. I know Mr. Toski pretty well. He's my father-in law. Rest assured that Ms. Alyce was indeed everything you imagine...and then some.

Anonymous said...

I was Miss Alyce's last Commanding Officer. She was 84 when I first met her. Ten years earlier she had shot a hole-in-one at one of the golf courses in Singapore. She was still a champion bowler at 80.

During the Malay riots against the Chinese in the early 70's she secreted a young Chinese boy out of the middle of the rioting by hiding him in the backseat of her MG under a cover. She was a hero when she pulled into the village with the boy. She became a local legend.

After being on the island almost 39 years, Miss Alyce knew everyone. There was a time when the President came to town and we needed to provide temporary quarters for his AWACS Squadron. We didn't have enough furniture on hand so we went looking for companies that would rent us furniture. People in Singapore just don't rent furniture. As we were walking away from our last hope the man stopped us and said, "Is Miss Alyce Pekors still working over there?" I assured him she was. His face lit up and he said, "Let me see what we can do." Miss Alyce's name opened all kinds of doors in Singapore.

Miss Alyce came into my office about three days after I arrived and placed a cup full of chocolate covered raisins on my desk. She said she would do that every morning. I thanked her and she shuffled back to her desk. True to her word she was back at my desk the next morning with another cup of chocolate covered raisins - for which I thanked her again. After about three straight days of this I could see that she wasn't going to stop so I told her, as politely as I could, that although I loved the jesture, if she kept this up I would be 400 pounds when I left the command. I asked her NOT to bring any more in. She was firm, she was determined to give me some sweets each day.

Eventually I talked her down to 5 chocolate covered raisins each morning. This she did for as long as she was working in the building. It gave us a chance to talk and I heard some wonderfull stories.

Miss Alyce was witty and very funny. Her heart was HUGE and all encompassing.

I never told Miss Alyce that I would put those chocolate covered raisins in my refridgerator uneaten. I had quite an accumulation by the time she left. She never knew. I shared them (and the story) with all of the attendees at the dedication of a memorial to her in the building she worked in.

I had the honor of giving Miss Alyce her Certificate of Appreciation for 65 years of government service. As far as I can tell that is a record.

You are fortunate to have stumbled upon Miss Alyce and her story. She was indeed a gem.

CAPT P

Sujatha said...

Anonymous(#1): Thank you very much for the suggestion. I would indeed love to hear more about Miss Pekors from her brother and will definitely contact him some day.

Capt P:
Thank you for sharing your wonderful reminiscences about Miss Alyce. She must have loved Singapore very much to stay there for so many years, and develop that legendary reputation among the locals. I'm so glad to see that my guess about her vast and varied experiences in life was not off the mark, in the least!

John said...

I KNEW ALYCE

Sujatha said...

@John:
Mr.Toski? Please feel free to talk about Miss Alyce, if you wish.
It's coming up to be the first anniversary since she passed, soon. I'm sure that you must all be missing her very much.

greenlakejt said...

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Anonymous said...

Alyce, you are always a special lady n a wonderful friend,client n mentor in my life, Thanks n always be remembered..Yours real estate agent,Choo EM

Cam The Jam said...

I worked with Alyce Pekors from April 1990 to April 1994. She was a great person and full of life despite her age. She worked for the U.S. Navy at Sembagwan from 1969 until 2009. She made sure all the visiting U.S. Navy ships were provided for logistically. She was an expert at her work and respected by all. A warm loving person, she became good friends with everyone she met. A long standing member of the Tanglin Club, she loved to entertain, dance, bowl, and was a big fan of the arts often attending the opera or symphony. She was loved by all and is sorely missed.