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Life stories: finding love at a parents without partners dance

Story Terrace writer Celeste Hamilton Dennis on the experience of capturing Deborah Schroeder's life story, "My Boys, My Life"

Deborah Schroeder told me she met her second husband at a PWP dance. Did I know what that was?

I nodded. “Parents Without Partners.”

She went on to tell me about the first time she met Ronin, the charismatic President of the local PWP chapter. Her friend naturally thought they should meet. Their first dance was awkward and ended with Deborah twirling into someone else's arms. They clicked at their second dance a few months later, gliding on the dancefloor like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. They've now been married for over three decades. 

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Watch: Celeste on the experience of writing biographies with Story Terrace

I loved hearing Deborah talk about PWP. I'd grown up going to various PWP events a kid in the 80s and 90s, whether picnics at Eisenhower Park or a long summer weekend camp on a lake in the Catskills. Like Deborah, my mom was a single parent. But I hadn't heard the name PWP mentioned in years, and in fact, never really talked to my mom about it other than laughing about that one year on the lake when a bunch of brace-faced misfits (myself included) did a rendition of The Who's Tommy.

"I always leave my Story Terrace interviews feeling lucky."

Talking with Deborah felt like talking with a friend. Even before I'd met Deborah, I'd felt like I'd known her. Out of the few bullets on information I received beforehand, the one that stuck out was “she likes to go out with her girlfriends.” She valued having a community of women. So did I.

At her kitchen table over the course of two days, I was privy to all sorts of interesting things about her rich and varied life. I learned more about Portland’s Rose Parade, an annual tradition in my adopted city, and how she was in the running for Rose City princess in high school. I got an intimate glimpse of what life was like as a single mom of three boys for many years, and admired her unwavering devotion to them. I heard about the women’s fashion shop she managed alongside her mother before taking over herself—and that Seattle has great fabric markets. We laughed easily together.

I always leave my Story Terrace interviews feeling lucky. In this case, I felt lucky to have another viewpoint of Portland history. As a mother myself, I also felt lucky to absorb her wisdom about love and motherhood—especially from a single mom perspective. “My boys were my life,” she told me. Whether making sure they got the best education or showing up for every sporting event, she did everything she could to ensure they thrived.

My mom, a single mother who worked as a bowling alley waitress, did the same.

It doesn't happen all the time, but every now and then I really click with my interviewees. Deborah and I really clicked. Just when I wished I’d had more time with her, she casually mentioned she'd like to have our family over for dinner as I was walking out the door. I wasn’t surprised. That was Deborah—warm, inviting, and ever so generous.

First, though, I had a call to make. “Mom, I realized I never asked you much about PWP, " I said when she picked up the phone. “Tell me more.”

You can learn more about Deborah's experience of making her book, on our blog. To find out more about working with us, subscribe to our newsletter, or get in touch via our contact page.

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