Maybe 13 grandchildren isn’t a record, but it’s enough to justify the Parler family ranch, southwest of Ocean View. And family matriarch Anne Hemenway-Parler has worked much of that love of life on the farm into her new book, “Jan Baer and the Mystery of the Silent Circus.”
The Parlers keep quarter horses, llamas and miniature horses, to name a few of their menagerie — one tiny Palomino had outgrown his “miniature” status and consented to become a mount for the little ones, she pointed out.
“We had an 800-pound pig, but he’s gone — he started lifting up the fences and taking them off their hinges, causing complete chaos,” Hemenway-Parler explained.
There are linotypes of horses throughout “Jan Baer and the Mystery of the Silent Circus,” and the story opens with scene’s from Baer’s home on Plum Thicket Farm (set somewhere near the Chesapeake Bay).
Originally from the countryside northwest of Chicago, Hemenway-Parler wrote her children’s/pre-teens’ book under her maiden name — and noted the patrilineal influence behind her own love of ranch life.
“My father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather raised purebred Hereford cows and shipped them to ranchers out west. That’s what’s in there,” she explained, pointing to the book.
But although Hemenway-Parler still refuses to delegate the mucking of the stalls (it keeps her young, she asserts), she embodies at least as much sophistication as salt. A long-time music teacher (vocal, primarily), she’s a member of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and said she organizes a group outing to New York City at least once a year, and she arranges cultural trips for her associates at the Lord Baltimore Women’s Club.
After earning her teaching degree at North Illinois University (music education, English minor), she headed west for California to help offset what was in the early 1950s a teacher shortage in that part of the country.
Hemenway-Parler picked up the pace a little at that point — a marriage (the Parlers just celebrated their 50th anniversary), and several moves later, she touched down in Maryland with four young children in tow.
She returned to teaching, part-time, in the 1960s, first at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Day School in Washington, D.C., and then at the University of Maryland, College Park.
As her children grew up, Hemenway-Parler moved into full-time work, as a music teacher in Montgomery County public schools — and pursued her specialization.
She would become a music teacher for deaf and hard-of-hearing children – and getting back to “Jan Baer and the Mystery of the Silent Circus,” the heroine is a 12-year-old deaf child.
“There are very few books having handicapped children as heroes or heroines, and I think it’s good for kids to see they can be,” she said.
“When I first started writing, an art teacher in Montgomery County took the book in and read parts of the book to her classes,” Hemenway-Parler reflected. “There was a young, deaf girl in the class who had just sort of melted into the woodwork. She was very shy — and all of a sudden, the other children began looking at her like, ‘Hey, maybe there’s something going on inside of her we didn’t know about.’
“And she blossomed,” she concluded. “So, if I can do some good that way, that’s important, too.”
The Parlers retired to Delaware in 1995, and Hemenway-Parler’s role as an educator continued, with her grandchildren.
But having always loved to read and write, she said she was mildly horrified to learn two of her grandchildren didn’t share that love. She was determined to do something, and despite long-distance charges, she started calling them and reading them stories over the phone.
Eventually, she encouraged them to visit the library, pick out books for themselves and read to her.
“Well, that worked for a while, but they got a little bored, so I started writing stories with them in the story — which they loved,” Hemenway-Parler said.
And that’s how it started — eventually children and grandchildren pressed her to write a real book, and she agreed to do it, as long as everyone promised to read it. And she said everyone had, or in the case of the youngest grandchildren, at least heard it read to them.
“But they’re getting there,” she said with a smile.
As the name suggests, “Jan Baer and the Mystery of the Silent Circus” is a junior sleuth adventure. Baer, her girlfriends (a pair of twins) and three little boys decide to investigate some strange goings-on at the circus — “And they get themselves in a little trouble, now and then,” Hemenway-Parler added.
The book was published just last month, and she said a recent book signing at Atlantic Books in Bethany Beach had gone swimmingly. She hoped for similar success at her next signing, Saturday, Oct. 1, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Martha’s Episcopal Church (corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Maplewood Street in Bethany Beach).
The book runs 110 pages, costs $10, and she will be donating 100 percent of her proceeds that day — 50 to St. Martha’s and 50 to local deaf and hard-of-hearing programs.