Milford-based book reveals love in unlikely places

Local realtor and author Diane Lane shows off her new book, “I Loved Her Enough.” from the Riverwalk in Milford.

MILFORD — Wharton and Murph, as they were known by many in Milford, raised their families nearly side-by-side. But one of them had a mystery that would last a lifetime.

“The people who know her know her as Eilleen Wharton Spence. She was living in New York, one of three little children. Her parents were French and German. Her father had left and her mother was dying of tuberculosis. And poor Grandmother Anna was trying to hold it all together …”

Those are the words of new author Diane Lane of Millsboro while describing her book: “I Loved Her Enough: Chance, Tragedy, Love and Fresh Air.”

The 1968 Harrington High School graduate and current realtor has held on to the story about her mother’s best friend for years. Attending the Rehoboth Beach Writers Guild helped her realize its potential as she started pouring Eilleen Spence’s words and experiences into the fibers of the book.

“I cried a lot writing the book because I had her beautiful words and I had her passion and I saw her emotion and I heard it from such a raw and unfiltered place as it sorted itself out and would settle. All I wanted to do was transfer that over so that other people could feel it for themselves and sense it for themselves,” Ms. Lane said.

“I’m fine with the book itself, but when I think about our time together, that’s what makes me cry. She started giving me this story only because I asked her to and it changed over to be healing for her.”

Ms. Spence’s story is deeply rooted in poverty and chance, laced with a love of humanity and history.

Ms. Spence would find herself on the Delaware shore through the help of the Fresh Air Fund, an organization that still runs to this day.

“The Fresh Air program, what a lovely thing to have a child for two weeks to see vegetables growing, beaches, things we take advantage of here,” Ms. Lane explained.

“They had more children than spaces. But then, at the last minute, a space opened up because a child got sick.”

The director at the time immediately told Grandmother Anna that they had a space for little Eilleen Jandreau. She would soon be Delaware bound, headed straight for the Whartons’ home in Milford and for a longer stay than either family anticipated.

“They had never had children and they were OK with that. And when this little girl came, they bonded. They just bonded in a beautiful way. It’s a beautiful love story,” Ms. Lane said.

Through tales and childhood antics, readers dive into the beaches of Delaware while learning of Eilleen’s adoption from poverty into a thriving community and family — an opportunity afforded to her through exposure to the Fresh Air Fund.

The Whartons, after bonding with the child they hosted through the program, ended up adopting her.

“This was most unusual. The Fresh Air Program was just for the two-week trip. Having no living parents, Ms. Pennypacker (the program’s director) decided to let the grandmother decide. It’s most unusual that a Fresh Air Child would stay the summer,” she said, adding that adoption was just as unusual for the organization.

“There’s a lot of strange little occurrences all through her story. What if that had happened or this hadn’t happened. Just a lot of little strange things that played out that I think makes her story what it is.”

Eilleen became a Wharton, eventually graduating from Milford High School in 1945 and marrying Dover veterinarian Dr. William Spence. She was a member of Avenue United Methodist Church and had three children with her husband – Bio, Debbie and Tommy.

Ms. Lane herself was like a family member to Ms. Spence. Even still, Ms. Spence’s past remained a secret to many.

“She was very important in my life. I knew she came by train and she was adopted. If you put it into two sentences, that’s all I knew. She never wanted to talk about it. In her view, she was 5 and life was horrible. It was very upsetting to her. Her children didn’t even know she was adopted until her daughter was in high school,” Ms. Lane said.

When Ms. Lane began attending the Writers’ Guild, she says she asked Ms. Spence if she was interested in telling her story.

“We interviewed for three months. I took extreme notes. And the journey that unfolded … She cried one time, ‘I always thought this was so tragic, but looking back at it from adult eyes, it’s all so beautiful to me now.’ She just cried and said ‘This has been so therapeutic to sort out,’” Ms. Lane said.

She weaved Ms. Spence’s words together with local history and facts with the help of the Delaware Public Archives.

“For example, they went to the fair. Well, it wasn’t the Delaware State Fair then. It was the Kent-Sussex Fair. When they went to Rehoboth, where did they go? The old Milford Chronicle issues helped me a lot. I saw which movies were playing at the time, like ‘Alice and Wonderland’ with Gary Cooper. I pulled it all to be accurate. She would remember going to the movies, but not how much it would cost. So, that was all stuff that I added,” she said.

The final product is a work Ms. Lane is proud to present to the community.

“This is a beautiful story about the love one can find when you least expect to. Very well written! It is an easy, fun book that pulls at your heart strings all the way through it,” Ms. Spence’s daughter Debbie Cromer said in a review on Amazon.com, adding that the book was “a great read.”

Holding hew new book in her hands, Ms. Lane said she is happy to present Ms. Spence’s colorful story.

“Circumstance and chance make this such a fun story. If that one kid hadn’t gotten sick, none of this would have happened. Writing is really word sculpture and you write it down and you finesse it. I wanted them [the reader] to feel and see her experiences. I think if she had gotten her head wrapped around, she was grateful and blessed. There’s no doubt about that. But, those days, she couldn’t think about it. They were sad for her,” Ms. Lane said.

“Everybody loved her enough as it turns out, but it took more than one. Family love makes a family. That’s the bottom line.”

Reach staff writer Jennifer Antonik at jantonik@newszap.com

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