The last two books I have read had one thing in common: a blurb on the back cover by Pat Conroy. And since I liked these books, and have always enjoyed Pat Conroy's books, I suppose that in the future when considering a book, I should first check and see if Pat has a quote on the back cover.
First I read Rick Bragg's memoir, "All Over but the Shoutin'." In the blurb, Conroy calls it one of the best books he's read, a work of art. If "art" is that which reflects to us our lives but in a way which makes sense our of the chaos, I would agree that it is a work of art.
Rick is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist. His writing style is beautiful, and his stories moving. In the second paragraph he claims, "This is not an important book. It is only the story of a strong woman, a tortured man and three sons..." later he states that he had "put off" telling this story for ten years, because "dreaming backwards can carry a man through some dark rooms where the walls seem lined with razor blades."
And so Bragg begins to delineate the story of his family, about a beautiful woman who loved a man damaged in the Korean conflict and went down the the self-destructive path of alcoholism. How the man abandoned his family, and the woman picked cotton to clothe and fed her three sons.
Rick Bragg is not a Depression-era child. We are used to hearing these stories from that time period. But to read about someone my younger brother's age growing up in poverty rearranges my view of the world.
Bragg calls himself lucky, just a guy in the right place at the right time. His climb up the ranks, from writing sports stories for the local paper to feature writing at the New York Times is presented without bravado, not a jot of egoism sneaking through the words.
Bragg's descriptions of life in Haiti are chilling. While on the staff of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, my husband had visited Haiti several times between 1985 and 1989. Bragg's first trip was in 1991. Bragg writes, " I had come to believe that I was good at one thing, writing about people in trouble. As it turned out, I was a rank amateur I didn't know what misery was, but I would learn." Bragg was over-whelmed by the poverty and garbage, death and despair around him. Three years latter he returned to find "not much had changed." Political upheaval and deadly repercussions still ruled the lives of the citizens. The poor were still maimed-- or killed, their bodies stolen and held for ransom.
Real Life rarely has happy endings tied up nice and neat. So it was sweet to read about how Bragg repaid his mother's sacrifice by purchasing her a home of her own. "And I am grateful I could give her this much, before more time tumbled by lost. There ain't no way to make it perfect. You do the best you can for the people left..."
Bragg's father, on his death bed, asked his sons to see him, and he tries to make amends for years of abandonment. He tells his son, "It's all over but the shoutin'."
The second book I read last month was "America, America" by Ethan Canin. I bought the book for 50 cents at Big Lots. It sat on my shelf for at least a year. I picked it up and fell in love. I did not want to read it too fast, yet did not want to put it down. In his blurb, Pat Conroy confesses "I love this book." Well, Pat, I do too. I finished it over a week ago, and the characters and images live in my mind's eye as if I had lived the story myself.
Corey, the son of a blue-collar, working class man, shares his father's high standards of careful workmanship. While helping his father replace a drain, and saving the roots of an aged oak tree, he is noticed by Liam Metery, who has inherited the wealth accumulated by his Gilded Age grandfather. Corey is asked to help around the Metarey estate, and as Liam Metary and his family come to respect Corey, he is invited into their lives. Liam himself is a man who loves workmanship, and the simple pleasure of hands-on industry. He is also a progressive liberal who decides to back the great Liberal senator from New York State, Henry Bonwiller, in his run for the presidency in 1972.
As Corey becomes involved with the behind-the-scene machinations of politics, his world widens. Corey is especially taken by a journalist, who becomes his role model, leading him to his life's work in journalist. Corey is also affected by Liam's dreams of a better country, the end of the war in Viet Nam, and a government that aligns itself with the common man's good. Liam recognizes the boy's potential, and assists him with a scholarship to a private school, and later leaves him money for a Harvard education.
The fairy tale unravels, dragging Liam and Corey into the ambiguous black hole created by Bonwiller, and their loss of innocence reflects the national loss of idealism in the 1970s.
What would you do to protect your most sacred dream? How reliable are the human vessels in whom you place your dreams? Can you live with the knowledge that you have compromised yourself?
One reviewer I read thought that the title "America, America" should be heard like a sigh for what might have been, knowledge of what has been lost.
After completing my First Ladies quilt "Remember the Ladies" I decided to make a series of quilts on American leaders. I did complete "I Will Lift My Voice Like a Trumpet" which portrays women abolitionists and Civil Rights Workers. Life and several moves got in the way, but I finally finished a quilt top for Ecology Heroes...Only because I found a wonderful website that offers information sheets and line drawn portraits for use in teaching, Better World Heroes (http://www.betterworld.net/heroes/ ). I wanted to focus on American heroes, so I had to forgo using some favorite leaders, including Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall. I added a few that were not included on that website, such as Annie Dillard, whose Pilgrim at Tinker Creek impressed me so much when it was published.
I wanted to try a modern color scheme, and so chose green fabric and black embroidery thread.
I found a leaf print that added colors, including red, and set in a small border of red and green woven plaid. The blocks sat and languished for a year. I hope I get it quilted before another year goes by!
One of my favorite people on this quilt is Lois Gibbs, the Love Canal mom and activist.
Love Canal is not far from where I grew up in Tonawanda, NY. On Sunday afternoons we would drive to Niagara Falls and be back in time for dinner.
This part of New York is an industrial center. When we went to visit my cousins on Grand Island in the Niagara River, we passed the Ashland Oil refinery which lined the road near the Grand Island Bridges. It smelled! In front of our house was an Ashland gas station which my grandfather had built in the late 1940s. My family sold the house and station in 1963, and several years later they were torn down and an apartment building was built on the site..
We'd go boating on the Niagara River and pass industrial sites of all kinds. The Tonawanda dumps, where my dad used to go as a kid, was full of hazardous waste. Uranium from the Manhattan Project, the development of the atomic bomb, was dumped there! (We actually own a painting found in the Tonawanda Dump in the early 1970s. I wonder if we should get it tested for radioactivity!)
The Linde Air Products plant was near the housing project in Sheridan Park where my mom grew up. Known as 'the Projects,' the duplexes housed the influx of workers for the war plants. My grandfather was an engineer at a Chevy plant. A 2001 report by Don Finch of F.A.C.T.S. states that the Tonawanda problems is not "as bad as the Love Canal findings of the 1970s" but he sees the entire Western New York area as a chemical wasteland. "If you move here you have a choice. Do you want to live on top of radioactive, toxic, or heavy metal materials?" The area's cancer cases were 10% higher than expected. http://factsofwny.org/fundmtls.htm; http://westvalleyfactsofwny.org/chrono.htm
Love Canal began as a scheme to connect the Niagara River with Lake Ontario. Money ran out and water filled the site. In the 1920s, the canal became a City of Niagara dump. In the 1940s, the U.S. Army used the dump, including for waste from the Manhattan Project. Hooker Electrochemical Company also used this site as a dump until 1953. Hooker sold the property to the City of Niagara for $1. In 1955 the City of Niagara built a school on the property, and a second on was built a year later.And in 1957 the Love Canal housing project was built.
In 1976 reporters found toxic chemicals in sump pumps in the area. Birth defects and health problems were reported at higher than normal levels. On August 2, 1978, Lois Gibbs founded the Love Canal Homeowners Associations. The activists fought for four years until President Carter allocated government funds to Love Canal clean up. Nearly 900 families were relocated, and reimbursed for their lost homes. Congress passed the Superfund Act because of Love Canal.
In 1981 Lois created the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice.She proved that through activism, people can change the world.
Hooker Chemical also left behind a polluted area in Montague, MI, where we lived for four years. The site was fenced off, but it had not been cleaned up Residents there were concerned that in the future people would forget its history, and build there.
My parents both died of cancer. When mom was diagnosed in 1990, at age 57, she was asked if she had been exposed to toxins, and she thought of Love Canal and the polluted corridor of Western New York.
The Brontës, Charlotte Brontë
and her Family by Rebecca Fraser
I did not imagine that when I
picked this book up that it would lead me to reread Charlotte and Emily Brontë’s books, which I
had read so long ago. I also waded through Charlotte’s Villette, luckily on my Kindle so
I could translate the endless conversations in French. I am planning on reading
Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Agnes Grey, and Shirley by Charlotte. I have also skimmed the poetry by
Anne, Emily and Charlotte—who published as Acton, Ellis and Currer Bell.
Their Methodist father’s church was situated in an isolated area of Yorkshire, among the uneducated and struggling poor. The five sisters and one brother were
dependent on each other’s company. Their mother died when they were young, and their father
oversaw their education, teaching Classical languages, current affairs, poetry,
Charlotte and her younger
brother Branwell were deeply enmeshed in an imaginary world they created, as if
today’s Gamemasters and alternate reality players never left the world of the
game to resume normal life. Even when Charlotte
went away to school, her thoughts were in that other world.
Elizabeth and Maria
contracted tuberculosis while away at school. Charlotte was also brought home. It was too late; the two older
girls died, leaving Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell.
Branwell was highly sensitive
and passionate, and frustrated by his inability to find the recognition the
whole family felt was due him. In his late teens he began drinking and taking
opium. He found a position as a tutor, fell in love with the wife of his charges, and was
dismissed. His was a life of, addiction, failure and early death.
Emily shunned society,
preferring to stay at home and tend their father while Anne and Charlotte went
to school in Brussels
to prepare to be governesses. The girls excelled in their studies, but after a
year were called home when their father needed cataract surgery. Only Charlotte returned for
Charlotte, having lived in such a limited society, fell in love
with the school master, the first man to give her attention apart from her
family. Later, after publishing her book Jane Eyre, she fell in love with her
publisher George Smith. Her suffering, knowing neither man was attainable, was chronicled in her novels.
Emily and Anne both died
of Tuberculosis. Charlotte
suffered great loneliness, and felt she was doomed to be alone. She was
vilified and lionized for Jane Eyre, and did form some friendships. But she was
limited by keeping her books a secret from her father, and hid behind her persona of Currer Bell.
Arthur Bell, who had
been her father’s curate, reappeared announcing he could not get over his love
After great inner questioning, and with great fear, Charlotte accepted Arthur. He proved to be a
perfect companion. Charlotte’s
health had never been good, and she died within a year of marriage. Surely, had Charlotte lived, her
writing, which she said rose out of her experiences, would have reflected a
different kind of woman than the lonely and alienated creatures of her
ReadingWutheringHeights after Jane Eyre, I was struck by the vast differences in style. Jane
Eyre has passion and high emotion, and a strong but submissive heroine who
stays true to her ideals. But Charlotte
also seems to be working hard to preach the Christian Women’s duty and to adhere
to constrained Victorian standards. Emily, on the other hand, has a distinctly
modern style of writing, direct, clean, and fresh. Her characters are as
twisted as the wind-driven trees on the Yorkshire
moors. They are no role models!
I could not help but to
compare the Brontës to Jane Austen. Jane was born at the end of the Age of
Reason, while the Brontes were products of the Romantic Era. Both were clergy children, growing up in a parsonage and endeavored to adhere to the standard of the Christian woman of her time. Both wrote in childhood. Jane, like Charlotte, turned down several proposals, but she never found her man. At least Charlotte did marry, and had some months of
wedded happiness with a companion who put her needs first. Both women died in their thirties. Both women had
close ties to siblings and father, and an absent or alienated mother. And both
wrote only what they knew, and were diligent in their adherence to Truth.
Jane Austen is most loved for
her bright and sparkling novels, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility,
and Emma. These books are alive with wit and irony, pithy insight, and
unexpected turns of events leading to happy marriages. MansfieldPark
and Persuasion are darker, their heroines victimized by situation, poverty, and powerlessness. Their heroines are more like Charlotte’s characters Jane Eyre and Lucy
Snowe. And in the end, a happy marriage is the ultimate goal of the novels of both writers.
Emily, on the other hand,
dared to show what can happen if convention puts asunder two souls who nature
intended to become one. Readers may not like Marianne married to ‘old’ Brandon,
or Jane taking care of the crippled and blind Rochester, but the characters at least have
found their proper mates. Catherine and Heathcliff, Linton and Isabella,
brought on their own unhappiness by not following their true natures to embrace
their proper partners. And consequently, every family member suffers and is
blighted. The cover of Fraser's book said it was 'enthralling," and I have been enthralled by the blasted lives of the Bronte family.
Growing up there were no quilters in my family. But in 1966 my grandfather took my mom and me with him on a trip 'back home' to Milroy, PA to visit his Aunt Carrie. And Aunt Carrie gave him and my grandmother a quilt which was given to my mom, who gave it to me in the 1970s.
Carrie V. Ramer Bobb was my grandfather's mother's sister. When Gramps lost his mother and then his grandmother, he was an orphan at the age of nine years. Sisters Aunt Carrie and Aunt Annie Ramer Smithers took turns raising him. My grandfather Lynne O. Ramer got a sound education, and worked his way through college and seminary and gaining a teaching certificate.
Aunt Carrie (1904-1971)
The quilt passed down to me is a Dresden Plate. The layers were machine sewn, with the backing turned to the front and sewn down. Then the plates were hand appliqued to the quilt!
The background fabric is white, the plate centers are light blue or medium blue.
The quilt was likely made in the early 1960s shortly before it was gifted to my grandfather. I expect that like most quilters, Aunt Carrie had a collection of fabrics that spanned the early 20th century and came from a wide variety of sources. In September 1965 my grandfather wrote a letter to the Lewistown Sentinel about just where Carrie got her stash:
“Well we have stitched on another vacation patch to the crazy quilt of life. At the Richfield ‘Ramer clutch” several widely separated cuzzins brought bags of patches for Aunt Carrie Bobb of the Mifflin County Home, who has another Postage Stamp Quilt under way.
“Aunt Carrie sews on this quilt between times devoted to the guests and writing 10 letters each week. This year the patches came from Bethesda, Camden, Annapolis, Indianapolis, Sinking Valley, Allen Park and Berkley, etc., etc.—and a crazy assortment they were to be sure!”
“Yet when a quilt is complete there is some manner of symmetry and form to the total, be it a Dresden Circles, a Field of Diamonds, a Double Wedding Ring or just a plain Postage Stamp.
“Such is life! Patches added willy nilly, seemingly with no central purpose, yet the total displays an amazing degree of purpose. A quilt is hard to see because we look at the patches, just like it’s said we can’t see the forest due to the single trees."
The fabric scraps from Allen Park and Berkley were from Michigan: Gramps lived in Berkley and his daughter Nancy in Allen Park. The scraps from Annapolis was my mom's brother, Uncle Dave and his wife Pat.
Aunt Carrie Bobb's grandson, Sid Bobb, shared with me a photo of the two Aunt Carrie quilts he inherited, a Drunkard's Path variation in red and white and a Grandmother's Flower Garden variation in pastels.
I also have a quilt from my husband's side of the family, given to me by my mother-in-law. It was made by her grandmother, Harriet Scoville (Scovile, Schoville) Nelson, and was given to her daughter Charlotte Grace Nelson O'Dell, then came to my mother-in-law Laura Grace O'Dell Bekofske.
Harriet Scoville (1877-1951)and Aaron Nelson.
Charlotte Grace Nelson and John Oren O'Dell, 1896
Laura Grace O'Dell Bekofske
The quilt is a red and white Single Wedding Ring, with a polka dot backing, and tied with faded red and white floss.
The cotton batting is quite lumpy!
The edges were turned in and machine sewn. A thread was never cut. The floss looks pink, but is pin or red and white.
The quilt was kept in Laura's cedar chest and never used. Tannin in the wood left brown spots.
Laura made Gary and I several quilts in the early 1980s, a blue Log Cabin and a multi-colored Sister's Choice, much beloved by our son.
By the time I started to quilt in 1991, my mother-in-law was ending her quilting career. Arthritis had settled in her thumb joint. She instead took up counted cross stitch. Her vision remained clear and she enjoyed this work until her death.
Many years ago I was at the Royal Oak, MI flea market and saw a trunk full of old papers that had been lifted from the streets. I asked the seller what he wanted for the papers, and he said $10, which was an awful lot of money for what was trash! I gathered up all the papers I could, noting there were covered with a thick sprinkling of baby powder. There was one album with papers, a few photos, and a few letters.
Back home, I sorted the papers. There was a whole man's history in receipts, from the purchase of a ring to payments on a house and furniture. I later sold these to a collector of African American ephemera.
The letters were very moving. George S. Miller was a vet who was trying to get the government to cover his medical expenses for injuries incurred in the war. He was in love with a woman named Nelton, who had a son. He poured his heart out to her, how he wanted to be a father to her son.
I made a little quilt with scanned letters and photos printed on fabric.Because George's life was in such turmoil, the quilt is chaotic. I used a vintage napkin for the background, which I stamped with various paint patterns. I layered my scans with fabric bits, and appliqued threads and buttons and silk flowers.
George's handwriting was not hard to read, and he wrote three sheets of paper per letter, using three hole punched lined school paper.
The photos showed two women, one of whom I believe to be Nelton.
Several houses photos were included. I found a paper with his address.
My heart still breaks when I read this letter from George. I wonder if he and Nelton ever were able to be together as a family. I sure hope so.