Archive 2008 - 2019


by Shirley White Nelson

The country is Guatemala, just southeast of Mexico, a remarkably beautiful and hospitable place.  Yet in recent decades there, fear and danger were an integral part of the culture.  Even a tourist, a U.S. citizen, could be caught in it, with a real possibility of mistaken identity, or of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong people on the wrong bus, or in a rented car on the wrong winding route through the wrong mountains.

In fact, fifteen years ago, my daughter and I, driving through those mountains in a van with nine other adults, were held up and robbed at gunpoint.  That taught me a lot, to be sure, about how it feels to not know if the next second will be your last.  Yet as instructive as it was—that whiteout of anything but the now, the immediate circumstance—I learned more from my years as a child in a small quiet town in Massachusetts.

Most of us get along just fine with the emotional education we need to live our lives with a fair amount of savvy and grace.  Learning what it feels like to live in fear on a daily basis is not commonly required.  I make no claim to getting that knowledge right in this book, but at least I had something to call on, as trivial as it might seem in retrospect.

When I was in high school, we lived at the upper end of Prospect Street, a neighborhood of three houses at the intersection of Highland.  Prior to that, we had lived in the woods on the hill above that intersection, a site that had provided its own uncertainties.  Yet even then it was not the woods that informed me as much as a particular lonely stretch on Prospect Street.

Today there is no “lonely stretch” on that road.  For more than a generation the whole street has been lined with houses, children, dogs, gardens and lawns.  The same hills are there, the one you come to quickly as you turn up from Washington, and another just beyond.  In the years when I walked the road, there were plenty of houses right to the top of the first hill, then a short run of empty fields and farmland, then just one house at the foot of the second hill, and no more the rest of the way.

At the halfway point between the top of the second hill and Highland, the elevation of the road dipped, with a small swamp on either side.  This was thickly over-arched by trees.  No sunlight broke in, ever.  I named it the Dark Place, or it named itself.  Anything could happen there.  It was more than just a metaphor.  It was a physical place, one to “get through” safely, day after day.

As a rule, I was an upbeat kid, in spite of a vagrant imagination.  And the street was “Prospect,” after all, a name that offered the ring of hope.  But that little section of it, one hundred steps of asphalt between home and anything I had left behind—school, Girl Scouts, Four-H—shadowed my days.  There was everything I loved about living in the town, and there was that, that stretch on the walk home, often at twilight and often alone.

My little dark place was minor, of course, compared to a place in the world where more has happened than history or fiction is apt to ever record.  Nothing disastrous happened to me on Prospect Street, but it taught me how it feels to know that something could.

 The novel is The Risk of Returning, co-authored with my husband, Rudy Nelson.


Description:  Ted Peterson, a U.S. citizen, returns to Guatemala, the country of his birth, to solve the mystery of his father's death years before.  Caught up in a network of violence and deadly secrets, what he learns is as much about himself as about his father.

It deserves a place next to the very finest political novels. —Chris Robinson, co-host of Readers and Writers, NCPR Book Show

Sure as hell not your mother's missionary story. —Mouthy Reader

Second edition published by Wipf and Stock, 2014.  Available from, or a local bookstore, price $18.00.  Kindle edition, 5.99.

Or try Amazon—or the Holliston Public Library.


Shirley (White) Nelson grew up in Holliston between the years 1932 and 1944.  Her family continued to live on Highland Street until 1970.  Her father, Arnold White, founded Child Life and Play.  The story of their life on Miller Hill was published in three parts in, "Squatting of Miller Hill."

For more information about the Nelsons, go to their website:

Postscript: I too knew the hills of Prospect Street although a generation later than Shirley White Nelson. Across the street lived Herbert Short and above on the second hill the Casey's. Only one family, the Raymonds lived beyond near the intersection of Highland Street. Across from the second hill and the Casey's lie the ruins of a home with only the chimney standing, and a wooden wheelbarrow which apparently escaped the fire. Where the present day Marked Tree Road crosses Prospect Street lay a cart path across open fields. The path to the left would bring one to the farm house of L.E.P.Smith (Linda Vista) at 1037 Washington Street. The Lyons family lived there when I was a kid and a day hike would be assembled by neighborhood kids to visit Tommy and Dennis Lyons. The path to the right would find us in Finn's field (present day high school) fishing in a small pond amongst the resident cows. Our explorations took us to Shirleys house on Highland Street where her dad Arnold - we always called him Mr. White had a display of swing sets in the yard. Mr. White made the swing sets in a small garage and his entrepreneurship lead to what eventually became the Child Life Swing Set Co.

Bobby Blair

Comments (3)

Steve and Sandy: Thanks for your comments. Sandy: Tell us more about your trip to Guate. And Steve: Yes, I did leave out some things, other stories. I'd like to know what you would add. What years were you there? I didn't know anyone named Stone. Shirley Nelson

Shirley Nelson | 2015-02-16 10:26:31

Very good book! I read it after returning from a trip to guatemala last March, the descriptions of the country were right on.

Sandy mack | 2015-02-12 14:55:50

Some great memories from that Street. We were fortunate to grow up there. I noticed that you left out a few things. If streets could talk...

Steve Stone | 2015-02-12 10:01:28