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Washed Ashore: Family, Fatherhood, and Finding Home on Martha’s Vineyard

"Whether preaching or writing, Eville believes the goal of storytelling is 'trying to tell it and live it the best I can.' Could not the same be said of faith?" — Andrew Taylor-Troutman

Bill Eville
David R. Godine; 256 pages | Published May 16, 2023

“I find myself thinking about the story of my own life for a moment,” writes Bill Eville. The result is Washed Ashore, a memoir of quiet genius.

Eville is the editor of the Vineyard Gazette, a weekly newspaper of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. This island town is home to multi-millionaires in the summer and working-class folks year-round. Eville has the pulse of the community, detailing everything from gardening tips to tragedies—as well as stories that bring people to life on the page.

The heart of Washed Ashore is Eville’s own family life. He is married to Congregationalist minister Cathlin Baker. Eville left organized religion in high school when his mother stopped making him go to church. He met Baker in high school, wandered through adulthood as a banker and English teacher abroad, and reconnected with her when she was a seminary student, re-engaging his faith as well.

As the minister’s spouse, Eville is respectful, not sentimental, in describing the challenges and rewards of parish life. Baker walks with her parishioners, the embodiment of Henri Nouwen’s image of a wounded healer. A central storyline is Baker’s breast cancer diagnosis which required Eville to care for her and their two young children. He is open about his anxieties, shortcomings and fears, which makes his revelations of faith sound authentic, even breathtaking: “[P]ushing Cathlin in her wheelchair through the hospital that day I was overcome by the realization that, at some point, it all came down to the two of us who had somehow managed to find one another, fall in love, start a family, and stick by each other’s side. I felt as if my life – and my ability to give it over to the one I loved – really mattered.”

Eville’s openheartedness is on full display with his two kids. As a father myself, I resonate with poignant anecdotes that reveal the truth: you love your children yet are often helpless to protect them. Eville is not heavy-handed with his moralizing, but teachings about sacrificial love are there for those with ears to hear.

With Baker in the throes of chemotherapy, Eville’s young daughter asked him to rescue a unicorn from cheetahs in their backyard: “I reached down, scooped [her] up, and put her on my shoulders, never slowing down. As I picked up speed, I felt lighter with each stride. … The unicorn was out there, and we would know it when we saw it.”

Eville avoided his sense of vocation as a writer well into adulthood but came to embrace this calling, not dissimilar to the ways he returned to life in a church community. A crucial part was the role of Baker as his spouse and pastor. After the COVID-19 pandemic, he discovered that “more and more, I listen as [Baker’s] congregant, hungry for her message.”

Whether preaching or writing, Eville believes the goal of storytelling is “trying to tell it and live it the best I can.” Could not the same be said of faith?

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