Story of Catholic upbringing a ‘Damn’ good read

It has been a long time since a memoir has brought me such laughter and warmth.

In “Wild Blueberries,” Peter Damm, now a resident of Berkeley, takes the reader back to his childhood as the youngest of six in a strongly Catholic family in Flushing, Mich., where he lived until moving to nearby Grand Blanc.

What propels the reader from one chapter to the next is Damm’s ability to draw upon his thoughts as a child rather than his voice as a child. Picture yourself as a youngster entering school with the last name of Damm. Now think about how that name sounded coming out of the mouth of the author’s teacher, a Catholic nun. Add to that the heat taken every time he’d admit he was from Flushing. The giggles and snickering are contagious.

The author’s Catholicism is the moral compass of his youth. Bearing that in mind, consider why he thought Catholics had more children than Methodists or Presbyterians. Or how he puzzled over the fact that at his 7th birthday, the church declared he’d reached the age of reason and would forever be accountable for his sins. The very misdeeds one day before were passable.

Each chapter is a vignette of something of importance, whether it is the animal crackers given as a reward for the dreaded dental appointments or his now-adult understanding of his mother and father. Each event is recorded with an immediacy, as if it were yesterday – like the amazing adventures of Putsy, the cat neither parent wanted, or the fishing outing that lasted until dark.

A happy childhood is not necessarily boring or without struggles. Damm’s first encounters with his sexuality, and then working through sinful and not so sinful behavior, is just one example.

This is not a chronological memoir; he tell us things as they come to him. June bugs have terrorized him from his earliest dreams. We follow with empathy his passage through thoughts of the priesthood vs. his maturing interest in girls. Baseball was the “principal way” he connected with his father, and the story of the baseball signed and given to him by Jim Coates of the New York Yankees will almost bring a reader to tears, baseball fan or not.

The book is rich in its landscape of mind and place. Damm takes the reader from his earliest years to those of maturity as he leaves home after college. He doesn’t follow his siblings into medical and legal professions. Instead, he chooses to travel and write, finally settling in Northern California.

The memoir closes with the death of his father. He writes from early May until his father’s death from cancer in August.

“Wild Blueberries” is a memoir of one son’s appreciation for the abiding richness of his family.

Sunny Solomon is a freelance writer and head of the Clayton Book Club. Visit her website at for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’