Friday, June 30, 2017

"What Sad Creatures We Humans Are"

Nancy and Gary in Darby Parsonage
As progressive liberal Christians who wanted to make a difference, what better place to serve than in the city? We loved the culture, the restaurants, and the history of Philadelphia and did not want to be in some small town or rural church. So when Gary was offered a pastorate at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Darby, PA, just outside the West Philadelphia city line, he accepted.

Mt. Zion UM Church and parsonage. The parsonage was on the
left side where the enclosed porch is.
We were at a disadvantage having transferred into the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. We knew nothing about the churches. No one warned Gary that two pastors had turned down an appointment to Mt. Zion. One pastor later referred to Darby as 'the armpit of Delaware County!'

The church was established by 1836, the parsonage and church dating to around 1900.The parsonage was nestled up to the church with just a cement alley separating the buildings. There was a small patch of grass between the parsonage and the sidewalk and street.
Roasting marshmallows at the fireplace. Nasturtium loved laying in front of the fire. 
It was a large house with deep-set windows, an eat-in kitchen with a pink refrigerator (that broke twice before it was replaced), a formal dining room (that came with a silver plate coffee set used at church functions), a living room with a fireplace, an enclosed sunroom, and three bedrooms and a bath upstairs. The basement laundry area included a working 1930s gas stove and a cedar lined closet. There was no air conditioning. Gary's office was in the parsonage, situated between the house and church over the open alley below.
Gary's home office
The house was so close to the church that many a morning as Gary and I sat at the dining room table eating breakfast in our PJs and robes, Ed Messick would stop at the open window to chat before he went into the church. There was a marked lack of privacy!

Woodland Ave. is one of the oldest roads in America, originally an Indian trail; it became The King's Highway in 1696. It begins at 43rd St in West Philly and runs to the Cobbs Creek Parkway; at the city limit it makes a dog's leg turn to become Main St, where the church was located. At the intersection, several roads led north to Upper Darby and south into the suburbs.

Downtown Darby in 1980, photo by Gary
Darby had been settled by Dutch Quakers, the Meeting House a block away dating to 1682, and was an important stop between Philadelphia and Chester. Many years later I learned that one of my distant ancestor cousins had stopped there while traveling and was married in that church. Darby was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.
The Friends Meeting House was a few blocks away. Photo by Gary.
The library was established in 1743, one of the oldest in America. We were a few blocks from a Colonial-era houses and the 18th c Blue Bell Inn, and down Woodland was early American naturalist John Bartram's home and gardens. Darby Creek was a few blocks away.
The trolley Darby stop--before our time.
A trolley ran down the street day and night, picking up speed as it left the trolley stop on the other side of the church. The trolley line dated to 1858 when horses pulled the cars. The bus stop was across from the trolley stop.
Next to the church was a drug store and apartments, with the trolley stop on it's right.
A drug store was next door to the church; the National Bar was kitty corner at Ninth and Main.  W. C. Fields had been born either at the National when it was the Buttonwood Hotel, or at the Arlington House a block away.
The National Bar was on the corner across from the bus and trolley stops
Across the street from the parsonage was an empty lot, and another was next to the driveway that ran along the parsonage to an ancient garage situated behind the church. A corner store was on the other side of that empty lot.

It was brutally hot when we moved in and there was no air conditioning. I unpacked in shorts and bare feet. The previous pastoral family had several dogs. The rug stunk of urine and was infested with fleas. I had red bite marks all up my legs by the end of the day. The church scheduled the services of both an exterminator and a rug cleaner.

There was a matted acrylic shag carpet and 1950s drapes in tatters. I offered to sew new pinch pleat drapes at cost. There were three kinds of cockroaches, but locals claimed one was just a 'water bug.' Although a monthly exterminator came in, at night when you turned the light on we saw them scurrying.

Drunks would pass out on the steps, which were hidden from view, so when I came home I had to be very careful. The parsonage was a magnet for people looking for handouts. Gary made arrangements with a grocery store and a gas station so needy people could be sent there, with the church footing the bill. One time a lady pushed her way into the parsonage demanding milk money for her kids. Meanwhile, I saw a man walking down the driveway to try the back door, which luckily was locked.

Another time a man insisted on seeing the pastor for money. I sent him into the church where Gary was at a meeting. When he was told they did not give out cash he angrily said he was testing their Christian charity, and showed them a full wallet. When the District Superintendent's wife heard about these stories she insisted the church put in a new door with a peep hole.

The Hostetters came for dinner. Ellen was shocked by where we were living.
Me and Mark and Ellen Hostetter at Darby.
I made the pleated drapes for the living and dining rooms for $80. 
Our folks were not impressed, either. Mom was appalled at the roaches.
Me and Dad at Darby
Gary worked on a demographic study and a proposal for church growth, but it was rejected. Mt. Zion's parishioners had moved into first-line suburbs. They did not trust the Darby neighborhood people and complained they did not want outreach ministries that would bring in people who would 'steal the toilet paper.' They did not want a senior center. They wanted Gary to perform the miracle all pastors are called upon to perform: attract young families.
Drawing made by a JOY class member, the class I helped organize
When we arrived, I was asked to start a young woman's Sunday school class. Using my small group training I helped about eight women organize what I thought was a successful year including a Bible Study, social events, and fundraisers including a bake sale and rummage sale. The teacher was an older woman whose favorite teaching device was to ask, "Why did Jesus come to earth?" with the class expected to answer, "To save our sins." As an English major that made no sense to me. Jesus was, what, collecting sins like postage stamps?

The second year the gals told me that they just wanted to sit and talk about kids and daily life. I was told I had been 'corrupted' by my college education in wanting goals and such. When the teacher stated she resented paying apportionments, money that supported the connected church system, I gathered information on how the money was spent. I not allowed to present the information to the class. The gals became angry when I did not sit with them during a wedding, but I had been told that as the minister's wife I was to help the bride. I left that group to fend for themselves and taught Third Grade Sunday School. I loved working with kids.

The entire youth group consisted of two sisters and one other girl. They met in the parsonage on Sunday evening. After Bible study we let them turn the radio on and dance to Disco music. We were criticized, for the older generation believed that rock and roll was the music of the Devil.

In March 1978 my Adrian roommate Marti visited me after interviewing for a job in Center City Philadelphia. She and Jack were divorcing. 

My last year at Temple I commuted from Darby by trolley to Center City and then took the Broad Street Subway north to Temple. I saw things from those trolley windows I had never seen before. All kinds of people came onto the trolley. I was fascinated. 

My graduation photograph 1978
Me and my folks at my graduation from Temple, 1978
After graduation, my first job was working Christmas Rush at the Strawbridge and Clothier department store in Center City. I was assigned to small electrical appliances. Secret shoppers checked our performance and I won a customer service award. I was told if I stayed on I could eventually become a buyer. I spent much of my pay using my employee discount for Christmas gifts, including buying Gary a shearling coat which he wore for twenty years.

The economy was lousy and I could not find work in anything remotely related to my English major. I ended up in customer service for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company in Bala Cynwyd. Two other new employees and I studied together for an agent's license. Mary Lou had dropped out of working on her advanced degree in religion at the University of Pennsylvania. We both loved classical music and books. We became friends, meeting up in Center City for lunch, shopping, and sometimes attending the Arch Street Quaker Meeting.

After passing the agent's license test we shadowed workers to learn how the office operated. This included a stint at the switchboard. Incoming calls were routed to agents or customer service. I was totally flummoxed and apologized to one caller. "Who are you?" he asked. I couldn't remember what the position I was filing was and said, "I'm the call girl." After a moment's silence the man replied, "I didn't know they supplied those in the office."

My job involved taking fifty phone calls a day to make changes to auto and home policies. It was grueling. A previous employee contacted us and told us there was a customer service opening at the insurance agency where she worked. I applied and got the job. It was out on the Main Line, but a coworker lived in West Philadelphia and drove right past our parsonage, so she picked me up on her way to work.

The environment was very conservative; the women on staff made the coffee and picked up the men's mail. My boss was an elderly gent and hated the frizzy perm I got at a posh Center City hair salon. He also hated the Fry cowboy boots which I sometimes wore with a denim skirt. I was fired from the job even though the office was in merger and the man who was to be the new boss had personally interviewed me and liked me, especially since I had an agent's license.
With the frizzy perm that got me fired.
I collected unemployment and looked for a new job. But I kept busy. I was taking classes at the Philadelphia College of Art Saturday School. The teacher had taught at Jane Addams Jr High in Royal Oak, MI where I had attended and she called me "Royal Oak." I had a drawing at an exhibit at the Western Savings Bank downtown. I was teaching myself the recorder. I was researching for a historical novel on the Munster Rebellion which had fascinated me so in Reformation history class.

A drawing project from PCA Saturday School
Also, I was actively trying to publish my poetry. I remember getting a rejection slip saying to send more poems. Parishioners told me I was selfish and instead of looking for work, I should be having children!

The Calling

I think that all the poems
I will ever write
lie somewhere under my heart,
seeds that wait for someone
to come and gently call them out.
They are born
as if I had not labored
like flowing water
from primordial rock.

I was feeling trapped by the role of clergy wife. Expectations were exacting and criticism naturally followed. The parishioners did not understand me, and I met a lot of rejection, as did Gary. I learned it was useless to try to meet expectations; you would fall short.

River Dream

a small flat boat
with wood worn gray
paint long past peeled away
drifting in the water, afloat;

tugging gently at her mooring,
gathers speed, resists not the current,
stretching taught her tether,
by waves is lowered, lifted resurgent.

Reached her limit, caught between
the land’s mastery and river dream
she must decide- to keep her pledge
remain duty-bound at land’s edge,

or break away at river’s calling
a vessel made for ocean sailing.


The end is all knotted and rotted cords
fraying, displaying yellowed cores.
It is empty pockets, hollowed hopes,
dangling movements, memorized tightropes.
And lovely smiles veneered over sorrow
for gone are yesteryears and frightening the tomorrows.

Ends and beginnings are but
imagined delineations.
Our foresight is stunted,
our hindsight clouded,
we see but darkly thought the thickness of tears.

To turn, to turn away!
My arms ache to embrace a new day.

To leave home’s lamp glow in the window frame
for pale moonlight and soft spring rain;
the friendly kiss and the well-known smile
for a tune sung by a wandering child.

The gap between the lives we had hoped to have and the reality of others' expectations created much unhappiness in our lives. Gary was full of self-doubt and became depressed. Our marriage suffered. I was not fulfilling my dream of writing. I looked into returning to school for a library or reading specialty degree. Gary looked into an Urban Studies degree but for him to return to school meant finding a place to live and an income to live on.


There is a misery so keen
and clinging
the passing of many days
can not brush it offering
nor many nights efface
it's markings upon the soul.

It makes itself a burrowed home,
a tick beneath the skin.

Seasons pass, yet it pains
whenever robins fly north again
or chilly morns have skies of blue
or April forsythia bloom.

If the dead could be called to rise
from their cold and clammy beds
we would detect, amazed,
a powerful, ancient pain
wild in their blind eyes,
still quivering their voices.

And the memories of the past still troubled me. I avoided thought of my teenage years, especially the time between the suicide of a classmate and my mother's near fatal illness, the deaths of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. and the heartache over my high school boyfriend. April still made me sad.


Spring’s cold rain
received like Holy water.
I am awaiting grace
but first must suffer
the resurrection.
Awoken Lazarus
come to greet me.
Dreadful remembrance!
O bitter return!
I fail.
The rain has melted
my fortress of forgetfulness.
I see arms waving in the air;
he comes.
I bend my knee to await him.
He crowns me with thorns and roses.
Cruel sweetness.
I bleed for his sake.
I wish him away,
I wish him buried forever
that he no longer rise
with the advent of spring.

But there were good things during these years. Gary and I joined a community chorus out of Whitemarsh, PA called The Mastersingers. We performed the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes and Schubert's Mass in A flat. It was a joy to be singing again.

We also joined the Methodist Federation for Social Action. We boycotted Nestles over infant formula being promoted in Third World countries and J. P. Stevens for being anti-union.

Gary was involved in a community group that was fighting the opening of an adult bookstore in Darby and he was involved in the formation of a conference Credit Union. We were at the inaugural meeting of a historical society to preserve the Quaker Meeting House.

I was still sewing my own clothes, including a gray dress with lace collar and cuffs, a robin's egg blue silk dress with lace collar, a swimsuit, and the blouse and red jumper in the photo below. I had even made pleated drapes for the parsonage.
Gary and I around 1978, I had made the dress and blouse.
Gary took up photography, taking classes at The Photography Place in Center City. He set up a darkroom in the parsonage basement. I made him an apron with the words "In The Dark" on it.

Gary took and developed this photo from Reading Terminal
Gary's photo of Reading Terminal
Gary at Longwood Gardens
Nearly every month we went to Longwood Gardens on a Sunday afternoon. Gary would photograph the flowers while I stood by patiently.

Gary's photograph of me at Longwood Gardens, 1977-78
At Longwood Gardens, 1980, with my frizzy hairdo and in a dress I had made.
Photo by Gary.
The summer of 1977, and again in 1978, Gary and I went to the Philadelphia Folk Festival in Schwenksville, PA. A classmate in my folklore class had told me about it. We set up our tent and spent all day and night at the many concerts and workshops. We discovered amazing music. The rest of our years in Philadelphia we attended  Philadelphia Folk Song Society and local coffeehouse concerts. We saw Priscilla Herdman, Jean Redpath, Lou Killian, Silly Wizard, Stan Rogers and his brother Garnet, Pete Seeger, and John Roberts and Tony Barrand.
1978 Philadelphia Folk Festival
We were constantly on the go. We went to the Brandywine Museum, Brandywine State Park, and the Wyeth museum. We saw Coppelia, The Nutcracker, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Met perform Tosca, and P.D.Q. Bach. We went to the theater and saw Leonard Nimoy as Vincent; Liv Ullman in I Remember Mama (a flop musical); Dracula with sets by Edward Gorey; Jean Marsh in Too True to Be Good by Shaw; and Twelfth Night and A Winter's Tale. We saw classic movies at a repertoire movie theater near the University of Pennsylvania. We went on nature walks at Tinicum Preserve and Tyler Arboretum. We even had a picnic on the Schuylkill River. 

We would visit Tinicum during the bird migration. We saw thousands of white egrets in the trees and I wrote a poem.


A cluster of trees
            jade green fans brush-stroked against
            blue skies dappled with pearly gray clouds
stood lit by a noon-high sun.
Vivid and verdant, richness of growth,
nature's masterwork swathed in movement:

White flight checkering green 
like phantoms
or gathered angels.
Souls in gala celebration
saluting the season.

Egrets, white flames 
Leaping from cool still green,
darting from depths of green
into shadows of  green.
Hovering, alighting.
Eternity's crown,
nimbus of elms.
The miracle of flight
visiting the permanence of roots.

A visit to Historic Fort Mifflin with my dad and brother resulted in another poem.

Old Fort Mifflin

Wide vistas where once colonial soldiers trod,
with its perimeter of aged barracks,
the cool dark recesses of powder houses,
slit windows looking out into summer sun,
history's memory, empty and still
but for voyeurs peering  on the past's leavings.

Nearby the river ran round like a moat,
catchment of brush and reed, crickets
and frogs singing and leaping,
and looking down in contemplation
sitting on its barren branch, a heron.

Unexpectedly, a mechanical roar disturbed
this Eden of river and fort.
Above us hovered a great silver belly
its mass blocking out the sun,
its labored ascent a mystery.
We believed we could have stroked the silver belly,
it hung so low above us.
Machine made holier than all else
diminishing the heron's tandem flight
parallel under the great belly.
Convergent deities of flight
vying for preeminence.

And when the two had flown
we were left godless on the wide vistas
of a wasteland past.

I read over a hundred books a year. I had bought a condensed three-volume set of Samuel Pepys diary which I read every night before bed. I read Rilke, Naipaul, Doris Lessing, Virginia Wolfe, Trollope, Hawthorne, and Peter Mathiessen. I did not like Wuthering Heights; I found it Gothic, disagreeable, and poorly crafted! We went to see author talks with Saul Bellow, Elie Wiesel, and poets Stephen Spender and Gerald Stern.

Family portrait, with rabbit. The color is badly off as the carpet was green!
Every year we spent two or three weeks camping at Acadia National Park or the White Mountains. One year I sat on the cliffs at the ocean's edge reading Rainer Marie Rilke's Duino Elegies.

Nasturtium had a caretaker who came in to feed and water her and change her litter box, but she hated being alone. She would stomp her feet and avoid us when we returned.
Nasturtium opening her Christmas present
Nasturtium was six years old when her health began to fail. We took her to the University of Pennsylvania Small Animal Clinic where students flocked to learn about geriatric rabbit health. Over several weeks we watched her decline, giving her all the love and medical help we could. Sadly, they could not identify the problem and we finally had to put her to sleep. An autopsy showed complete liver failure. We were told she was 'living on love.'

By this time I was working at Drexel University as secretary in the Upward Bound Program. My boss did not understand why I was crying all day over a rabbit.
Senior photo from Upward Bound student Mark
He signed it, "To Nancy a good friend and a lovely person"
I had applied for work at Drexel University with the idea of studying library science with an employee discount. Because  I had experience working with youth, HR thought I was perfect for Upward Bound, a federal program that helps youth become academically successful, with alumni including Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Donna Brazile, Patrick Ewing, and Viola Davis.  I was hired to be the office manager at $3.64 an hour.

The kids embraced me as readily as I loved them.
Upward Bound tutors
Drexel University students tutored local high school students to prepare them for college.
Upward Bound Students
I needed to earn the trust of the college student tutors. After following through on my promises to type papers for the students, they began to accept me, with one gal befriending me.
Upward Bound staff, tutors, students

On lunch breaks I went to the Drexel library and took out books on fashion history. Dr. Olshin's inclusion of material culture in our Austen studies had brought a new interest.

After three years at Mt. Zion Gary was very discouraged. We had been through so much over the three years: church conflict, criticism, depression, marriage problems, and the death of our dear Nasturtium. Gary asked for an appointment change. Leaving the ministry seemed impossible without good jobs and no home of our own. We had to trust in the Bishop, and in God.
Gary took this photo of me in the parsonage.
We had many houseplants at this time which thrived.
Late on the evening of May 29 I was in my nightgown when the District Superintendent knocked on the door wanting to give the incoming pastor a tour of the parsonage. I was angry he had not made arrangements ahead of time.

On June 1, 1980 I wrote, "At some point during the evening I heard a siren in a quiet moment and I was transported out of time and looking back upon myself. I saw what sad things we human, anxious creatures are, adrift in life with no meaning, our work inherited from Adam, the continual guest, constructing a meaning every day, each of us needing to create their own [meaning]. All the changes have worn out my gossamer garment and I am left graceless, naked, and vulnerable."
Gary at Darby. 
Gary was first offered an associate pastor position at a large suburban church. The senior pastor said Gary could 'kiss his evenings goodbye.' We knew that would be devastating to our marriage. The rental house the associate pastor usually rented was "seedy and unkempt." We had one car, the trusty orange Super Beetle, but the community was so isolated we would need to buy a second car for my use. The salary wasn't much. And the pastor and congregation were conservative fundamentalists and we were progressive liberals. Gary turned it down. Gary discovered that our District Superintendent had never talked about Gary's goals, gifts, or concerns with the Cabinet.

In early June we were packing and working at Vacation Bible School. I was sorry to leave my Third Graders. One girl especially broke my heart. She was smart and pretty, living in poverty with a single mom who had no resources. I hated leaving kids like that, thinking I could have been an influence.

My folks paid my air fare to return home for my high school class tenth reunion on June 14. I enjoyed seeing my family and old neighbors, going to the Detroit Institute of Art, an Irish concert, and shopping and oil painting with Mom. The reunion was interesting, the old social dynamics still in effect. I felt like a failure for having accomplished so little in comparison.
Reunion photo. I am in the back.
During that trip, while playing cards with my folks and the McNabs, Mom made her old comment that I'd be 'so pretty' if only I lost weight. I had maintained my weight for years because I walked everywhere and skipped meals. But I had put on ten or fifteen pounds since graduation. I said I would like to lose the weight, but that I liked who I was anyway. The next day Mom came to me in tears. She had not realized the message she had been giving me all my life. She had been hurt when her father had told her, "you'd be so pretty if you didn't have such deep eyes." It was a turning point in our relationship.

Back in Darby, on the evening of June 21, 1980 I woke up from sleeping when I heard gun shots. I looked out the window and saw a man with a gun stagger and fall to the ground. I panicked. Gary was on the phone with a parishioner and I wanted to call the police. Soon people were rushing to the scene and the police arrived. The man was taken away by stretcher and the street roped off as a crime scene. A fight between two women over a man had started at the National Bar and ended in his being shot.

It was summer and the next morning during Sunday worship the windows were open. Just as the sermon was to begin, a fire truck arrived to wash the blood off the street. The noise came through the open church windows and Gary had to wait until they were done before he could preach.

A few days later, on June 25, my mom called to tell me that Grandma Ramer had suffered a heart attack that required electric shock but she was recovering.

Gary was offered a dual charge in Kensington, in the inner city of Philadelphia. I had once commented, seeing this area, that I never wanted to live there. There were no trees, no beauty, empty factories, just cement and rowhouses. But when we met the Pastor-Parish Relations committees we really liked them.

I turned in my resignation. I was still considering returning to school for library science, but I knew I could not work full-time and go to school, especially with the move and a new church.

Gary's last Sunday was June 29, a hot and humid day. Mt. Zion did not give us a goodbye--no gifts, no after church party or even a cake at Fellowship Time. The next day Gary and I went to Longwood Gardens. And on July 1 we moved to Allegheny Avenue and B St. in one of the oldest industrial areas in the country, a poor area where the houses were valued at a few thousand dollars.


Tell Me How This Ends Well: A Dark Family Comedy

In 2022 Los Angeles the Jacobson family is gathering for Passover. Their matriarch is dying and her three kids are planning for the Angel of Death to visit dear old dad. They just want mom's last days to be happy and peaceful.

"America First" resulted in allowing a military takeover of Israel by surrounding Arab countries. The Jews were forced out to find new homes across the world. Germany has welcomed the Jews, perhaps as expiation for their past sins. America has seen a rise in Anti-Semitism and terrorist attacks on Jews.

Julian Jacobson deserves the title of world's worst father and husband. He married heiress Roz, but with the birth of their first child Mo, the honeymoon was over.

Julian is disappointed in each successive child--Mo, Edith, and Jacob--and he deals out abuse that impairs them all their lives, into their adult relationships. Mo works out at the gym for a "few hours of intense weight lifting and cardio to expunge these memories." Renewed, Moses returns from "the battleground of the past having once again slain the fire-breathing dragon that was dad."

"He just stabs with his mouth."

The kids wonder why Roz has stayed with the selfish bastard. Now there is evidence that Julian is hastening Roz's demise, perhaps to keep her money from going yo his disappointing kids. The sibs plot, plan, and argue while realizing just how evil their father really was. The ending is a surprise and a satisfying twist.

Tell Me How This Ends Well by David Samuel Levinson surprised me. The novel is wildly funny, and yet is deadly serious. I loved the dark comedy and the over-the-top characters. It is also a chilling look at how America, and the world, is evolving. Readers who enjoy dark comedy on "taboo subjects" --like patricide, an unethical ethics professor, and the disposal of dead bodies--will love this book.

I received a free book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Tell Me How This Ends Well
by David Samuel Levinson
Hogarth Books
$27 hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-451-49688-1

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt:: The Aftermath of War and its Human Cost

After WWII there were 11.5 million refugees in Europe. Some were on the move back to their homelands, some were leaving to start over abroad, and some were fleeing because of their political alliances.

Jason Hewitt's Devastation Road is a chilling vision of the impact of war, the human toll when millions of lives are left without food or homes, separated from loved ones, struggling to survive. It is a mystery, a love story and a revelation of war's human cost.

A British soldier finds himself lost and without memory. His clothes don't fit. He has a button in his pocket, a torn piece of silky fabric, and a pain in his side. Snatches of images arise from his past but he can't construct them into a narrative.

He is in the company of a young Czech. As the boy leads him across a landscape of ruin they see war's legacy: utter devastation, starvation, the loss of moral codes or legal order, roads clogged with people on the move, a land where people will do anything to survive.

The soldier is moved to save a baby abandoned along the roadside. The mother follows and later joins them, saying she seeks the baby's father to give the baby to him. She is a victim of rape.

The book gains momentum. The soldier discovers he is not who he thinks he is, but also learns that the stories his companions tell are also fictions. The reader will be caught up in the story to learn the mystery behind these characters.

Hewitt has drawn upon historical events and places, bringing to light the destruction of Czechoslovakian during WWII. The camps, the resistance groups, and especially the millions displaced by war were all too real.

I love how new books about WWII are focusing on lesser-known aspects of the war. Some I have read include Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelley on Polish girls who became victims of Nazi experiments, Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleeves about both the London homefront and the embattled soldiers on Malta, War & Turpentine by Stephen Hertmans on The Rape of Belgium, and A Pledge of Silence by Florence Solomon about nurses in Manila taken prisoners of war.

Devastation Road reminds us of the human cost of war, any war, every war. I will not soon forget the images of a country destroyed and the suffering of millions who lost everything.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Devastation Road
Jason Hewitt
Little, Brown & Company
Publication July 3, 2017
$26 hardcover
ISBN: 9780316316354

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller

"Life is a circle and we as common people are created to stand within it and not on it. I am not just of the past but I am the past. I am here. I am now and I will be for tomorrow." Oglala Lakota maxim

Alexandra Fuller spent most of her life in Africa. In her letter which opens the galley of her debut novel Quiet Until the Thaw she writes that in encountering the Lakota Oglala Sioux she found an "unexpected homecoming, if home is where your soul can settle in recognition." The Native Americans were the only kindred spirits she had found in America. The love she bears her subject shines through every word and page and image.

On the Tex in the 1940s, two orphaned boys are suckled by a resentful Mina Overlooking Horse. At age forty she has raised a child every year for twenty-four years. She counts the years until the boys will be grown.

Rick Overlooking Horse keeps his words to himself, while You Choose Watson is determined to wreck his anger on the world, even to the point of self-destruction. Mina teaches Rick Overlooking Horse that the world is; nothing is taken away, nothing is added. He seeks to understand why he is in the world here, now.

Rick Overlooking Horse does not resist being drafted and sent to Vietnam; You Choose Watson fakes illness to avoid the draft. Rick Overlooking Horse survives a horrendous injury. You Choose Watson escapes into drugs and alcohol and women, only intensifying his suffering.

The boys reach manhood and impact their world, each in their own way. Rick is at peace with a traditional way of life, a teacher of the old ways. You Choose struggles and lashes out. Both become involved with the American Indian Movement and the protest at Wounded Knee.

It is the context of the boy's stories that sets the novel apart: Fuller's awareness of the Lakota understanding of reality; the reminders that white society cut the native way of life at the root, leaving their people rudderless and lost in an alien reality, and suffering the homelessness of living where your people have always lived yet not able to recognize your own land.

Fuller's authorial voice is often heard, interjecting thoughtful insight into the Native American experience. In writing beautiful and eloquent, she charges the novel with emotional intensity and devastating revelation.

Fuller's previous books were memoirs and nonfiction. Her experiences in Africa inform her insight into the Native American experience.
"While she has not written anything overtly political, she says that everything we do is political from the decision we make to wake up in the morning to the clothes we put on our bodies, to the words we have the courage to speak.
"Africa is a great teacher," she has explained. "We're not a good example of much, but we're a terrible warning of power run amok and of the long, high price of oppression."

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Quiet Until the Thaw
Alexandra Fuller
Penguin Press
Publication June 27, 2017
$25 hard cover
ISBN: 9780735223349

Monday, June 26, 2017

2017 Kresge Literay Arts Fellowship Awards Include Drew Philp and Jean Alicia Elster

Two writers I have reviewed are recipients of the 2017 Kresge Fellowship Awards.

Drew Philp wrote The $500 House in Detroit, which I reviewed earlier this year.

Jean Alicia Elster wrote Who's Jim Hines, which I reviewed this year, and The Colored Car, which I reviewed several years ago.

I interviewed Philps and have met Jean at a local Book and Authors fest held annually at Leon & Lulu's in Clawson, MI.

According to their website, The Kresge Fellowship Awards is in its eighth year. It is administered by the College for Creative Studies to provide support to artists living and working in Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties. The Fellowship includes a $25,000 award and a professional practice program and retreat. Eighteen Visual and Literary artists received the award.

Read my review of Philp's book and interview at

Read my reviews of Elster's books at

Congratulations to all the winners!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York by Francis Spufford

My first year of college I took a survey course in English Lit. We read Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding, published in 1742. "Written in Imitation of the Manner of Cervantes," the book is picaresque and bawdy, a new literary form: the novel. I loved it and went on to read more Fielding, and Richardson, and Smollett.

I requested a galley of Golden Hill because I had read Francis Spufford's marvelous book I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination, which I savored for its beautiful writing and enjoyed for its subject matter. Golden Hill is Spufford's first foray into fiction.

A Novel of Old New York: Golden Hill is a 'colonial counterpart to Joseph Andrews or David Simple,' the story of a young man learning the hard way about how things operate in the New World.

Mr. Smith, our hero, undergoes a series of unfortunate incidents, including imprisonment, a duel, and a death sentence. His morals are corrupted by a lusty older woman, alienating him from his true love. He has come to New York on a secret mission, which makes him suspect. Could he be a French spy? At the end, he pulls off a venture that amazes everyone.

Spufford fully captures the spirit of the early novels by Henry Fielding. The reader is addressed by the author. There are page-long sentences. Hilarious situations abound.

Readers will marvel at how little they know about 18th c New York, then a city of 7,000 persons and still very Dutch. New Yorkers are loyal to the King of England, and Guy Fawkes Day is celebrated with riot and mayhem. Wealth is on paper, with limited paper and coin currency in circulation; each colony has its own specie, and international coin circulates. Smith participates in a staging of Addison's play Cato with its theme of liberty--George Washington's favorite play.

The end of the novel has a surprise revelation that feels more modern in sensibility but is satisfying.

Reading this novel was such fun. It may be time to revisit Fielding again.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Golden Hill
Francis Spufford
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
$35 hardcover
ISBN: 9781501163876

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nancy Juggles Being a Minister's Wife and a University Student

Me and Gary 1975. I had a 'shag' haircut.
I was still twenty-three years old when I became a full-time minister's wife in June 1975. Gary had been accepted into the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church. His first full-time church appointment was at Morrisville United Methodist. As an Associate Pastor, Gary was in charge of Education and Youth ministires.

Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was one of the earliest settlements in the state. A few blocks away from the church was the Delaware River and across the bridge was Trenton, NJ. It was a lovely community.
Gary's salary of $7,400 more than doubled what we had jointly earned while at seminary! 

Our first parsonage 
We moved into the 'old' parsonage that had been designated for the senior pastor before a new parsonage for the senior pastor was built across the street. After living in a college dormitory and a two-room apartment we did not know what to do with all the space in the tri-level house!

We had a rocking chair, a record player, several hundred books, and a few bookcases. We were lucky that the parsonage was partially furnished. My folks bought a bedroom set from friends and hauled it to us. The Hostetters gave us a couch for the family room. We picked up rummage sale items, turned in Green Stamps for a lamp, and purchased a desk with a hutch.

Off the dining room was a screened-in porch. We spent most of our summer on the porch, listening to music and reading. The rest of the time, Nasturtium and I were in the family room, and I used the home office as my space for sewing. The house was surrounded by beautiful azaleas and rhododendrons.

Me and Nasturtium
That first July 4 a parish family invited us to join them for a picnic in a park. It was the kind of informal outing I had grown up with. We had our first Tastycakes and learned that out East no one knew what 'pop' was. It was 'soda' from now on!
Sid, Ellen and Mark Hostetter
Mark and Ellen Hostetter were from Pennsylvania Dutch country. This would be Mark's last pastorate before retirement. When he began his career a pastor made a few hundred dollars and was moved to a new appointment every year. Pastors would learn where they were being sent a few weeks before move-out! Mark had served across the country before returning to Pennsylvania.

Their only child, Sid, was our age and taught high school science. Summers he worked with the famous Jack Horner at his Montana dinosaur dig, and he loved spelunking. Sid's pet iguana had grown too large for his apartment so his parents kept Iggy in a huge aquarium in the parsonage. We had our litter box trained bunny. The congregation had great fun with their new ministers' strange pets!

Ellen took me to minister's wives meetings. Ellen had been a teacher when she fell for 'the reverend'. She loved being a clergy wife.

On holidays the Hostetters invited us to their home and we enjoyed Pennsylvania Dutch hospitality with seven sweets and seven sours. A few hours after gorging on dinner Ellen would serve sandwiches with the leftovers and a desert.

I found a fabric store just down the road. Also in town was a great mom and pop pizza place and a fish market where the owner helped us learn about Bluefish, Croaker, and Porgies and explained how to cook fish whole. I missed my garden fresh veggies, but we visited local farms to pick our own strawberries and peaches. We still baked our bread.
Gary and I are on the far right with the vacuum we won.
Gary and I both are wearing jackets I made.
We bought a microwave oven from Jerry Plavin's. It was large enough to cook a turkey, which we did once. When we bought the microwave we were entered into a giveaway and won a Hoover upright vacuum!

Across the street, next to the Hostetters, lived a childless Russian couple who had immigrated to America after WWII. Nadia was a teenager when she was taken to a Nazi farm as forced labor. She volunteered to go in place of her father, as he was needed to provide for the family. It appears she had been sterilized by the Nazis. After the war, she met her husband, who had also been in forced labor. They were given the choice of immigrating to Canada, the US, or South America.
Gary and I in front of the Morrisville UM Church
After Gary left for work in the morning, Nadia would rush across the street to visit with me. She asked, "why two priests" were needed at the church. And she insisted I have a child. She would tell me to ask my husband what to do to have a baby. She did not understand my plans for finishing my education. Nadia could not read, write, or drive.
Morrisville UMC
Gary had his own office with a Mr. Coffee machine. Doris Burkhardt, the church secretary, complained that he was so quiet in his rubber-soled shoes that he was always sneaking up on her. I wonder that the smell of the coffee he always had in hand didn't give him away!
Sanctuary of Morrisville UMC
Mark intended to share responsibilities with Gary, but the Staff-Parish had different expectations. They wanted Gary full time with the youth. Gary and Mark were concerned this would limit Gary's experience and preparedness for his own church.

The church had a huge youth and children's ministry that Gary was in charge of, including two youth groups, Sunday school classes, a mid-week program with a meal and Bible study, retreats, confirmation class, and a youth choir and youth musical! We loved the church youth, many of whom were my younger brother's age.

With the change in youth pastors many volunteers left and Gary had to rebuild the leadership. I helped out with the youth groups and mid-week program. I also played piano for the children's worship service on Sunday during adult worship service, sang in the choir with the youth musical, participated in Bible study classes led by Gary, and when not teaching, joined an Adult Sunday School class.

At times I came into conflict with church members. One time in Sunday School class we were discussing 'insiders who felt like outsiders' in the church and I mentioned that the youth felt that way. In particular, they wished worship was more joyful and upbeat. A youth parent scolded me saying the kids would grow up and accept tradition. And Gary was pressured to be like the last youth pastor, playing baseball with the youth. We learned how the idolization of a leader makes it difficult for their replacement who is compared instead of appreciated for the strengths that they bring.

I did not want to wait a year before returning to school and sent out applications in the fall for winter semester. My reference letters were from METHESCO professors who attested to my preparedness and participation as an auditor. 

It was very unusual for a married woman to return to school after a break in those days. Most women in their early twenties were eager to start a family.

I applied first to the University of Pennsylvania. They suggested I enroll in a special program for women returning to college, and if I succeded in it I could then apply as a regular full time student. I also applied to LaSalle University and Temple University and was accepted by both. Temple cost less, and I enrolled in classes to begin January 1976.

To commute to Temple, located in North Philadelphia, Gary drove me to the train station and I got off the train a few blocks away from campus. It was not a nice neighborhood, so I always was alert walking down that empty street. The campus was huge!

I had to juggle the role of pastor's wife and youth leader with a full college schedule. When I had breaks I spent my time feverishly sewing.
Temple University

My first semester I had Literary Criticism, which was very helpful to me as an English major. Studies in Shakespeare ended up being a Freudian approach. I loved Studies in the Victorian Age. I also had a history class on the Reformation. Professor Schwoebel broke the class into groups to research an aspect of the Reformation. We were to present what we had learned to the rest of the class using multi-media and non-lecture techniques. I was in the group studying John Calvin, but I became most interested in the Anabaptist movement. A year later I discovered that my Gochenour ancestors were Swiss Brethren, an Anabaptist group!

Gary's one year probation as a Deacon concluded with his ordination as an elder into the UMC.
Gary's ordination class June, 1976. Gary is fourth from the left.
Fall of 1976 I took The Novel from Defore to Austen, which was great. I enjoyed Modern British and American Poetry and made several friends. One was a gay Hispanic poet who told me horror stories of Catholic education in Philly. I needed a language and took Elements of Latin. The teacher said I had an odd pronunciation, and I realized I was influenced by how my choirs pronounced Latin when singing.

Spring semester 1977 I had an honors course on John Milton which required three papers; the professor really liked me and I got an A. I also had my second semester of Latin and a self-created class on writing curriculum in which I was mentored by a friend I had met in Victorian Studies class. Murray was fascinated to know a Protestant. So many of my classmates were Catholic and Jewish that I was often a novelty to them!

That fall I had Honors Topics in Religion which looked at Myth and History in the Old Testament; Studies in Drama in which we studied the first and last plays of three major playwrights; and an Honors English course on James Joyce's Ulysses for which I wrote a 50 page paper on Bloom in Nighttown from a Jungian approach, which got me an A. The professor had the class to his home for an Irish meal with Guinness Stout. I loved the course Folklore in America for which I wrote a paper on the culinary roots of American cooking. The professor encouraged me to consider grad school.

My last semester in Spring 1977 I had Colonial American History, American Indian Ethnology, Studies in Drama: Religion and Literature; and Advanced Honors Jane Austen--the class that really changed my life. The Studies in Drama was team taught with the professor who taught Myth and History. The class visited different churches, including Gloria Dei, the early Swedish church, Christ Church where our earliest Colonial ancestors worshipped, a Black Pentecostal church in North Philly, and Beth Sholom, a synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We also had a Seder meal.

I had a poem published in the literary magazine.

Our pet rabbit adjusted to the move nicely. Nasturtium loved the large family room as 'her place', with a litter box in the utility room. I would come home and find Nasty Buns sleeping on the end table next to the couch. She would wake and run circles around my feet. If I took her outside she was terrified and crawled on my shoulder, hiding her head under my hair.

When we were away Ellen would take care of Nasturtium. But the bunny would attack Ellen, nipping at her ankles. Ellen always wore a dress, nylons, and high heels so she had no protection! Ellen had to come into the house with a broom to swish Nasty Buns away! When we cared for Iggy we had no such problems!

At Christmas break, Gary and I drove back to Michigan to see our families, first stopping at Tonawanda, NY to see my Grandmother Gochenour and family. Then we drove across Canada to Gary's folks home in Grand Blanc and then down to Clawson to see my family. The second Christmas trip, we left Tonawanda and drove into a heavy snow storm. We finally pulled into a hotel and went the rest of the way home the next day. That ended our Christmas homecomings.

Our first visit back to Michigan my Grandma Ramer was living with my folks. Mom put us in the hide-a-bed in the family room, which was open to the kitchen. Gary had forgotten his PJs that year, and when we woke my Grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table, eating her toast and tea, watching us. Gary couldn't get out of bed!

Before our first anniversary, my grandmother had been set up on a blind date with Milo Fisher, a widower of 25 years. He came to the door and Grandma answered, but he said, "I am here to see your mother." He thought Grandma was my mom! Grandma was only in her early fifties. Almost a year after Grandma had caught my wedding bouquet she married Milo.
Grandma and Milo Fisher at his Birmingham home
During our time in Morrisville, we loved to take the train into Center City Philadelphia and explore the city. We walked from one end of the city to the other, looking in the huge department stores--Gimbels, Lit Brothers, John Wanamaker's with it's inner court and organ concerts, Strawbridge & Clothier-- and shopping at Reading Terminal Market where we first ate Tabouli.

We visited the Philadelphia Art Museum and stood in line on Friday afternoons for cheap seats in the 'nosebleed gallery' to see Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
1776 musical program
The Bicentennial celebration in Philadelphia was exciting. We saw the musical 1776 for free. We visited the historical museums and Independence Hall.
1776 musical stage on Independence Mall
A new museum for Benjamin Franklin opened, and we visited his grave. We saw the Rodin Museum and I often went to the Free Library. There was the Edgar Allen Poe house, Betsey Ross House, and Elfreth Alley. At Head House Square's New Market we saw vendors selling crafts, including miniature quilts. I loved to have ice cream at Once Upon a Porch in Society Hill; the restaurant decor included porches were customer enjoyed their ice cream.

On the Fourth of July, we went downtown to see the fireworks and free concerts. One year we saw the Beach Boys perform on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

On Christmas Day we went to Washington Crossing State Park and saw a reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware.
Reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware
Reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware
We visited the Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve and learned to identify Eastern wildflowers. We drove to Princeton, NJ, passing cranberry farms, to visit an antique and used book shop. Our first trip to New York City we took a bag lunch which we ate in Central Park, then we saw The Fantasticks. We also saw Yentl, visited the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Modern Museum of Art.

The youth group made trips to Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore and the Hostetters took us on day trips to Cape May and Ocean Grove. The Hostetters took us to Lancaster, County where we enjoyed family style meals.

The craft revival was in full swing during the Bicentennial. Gary and I took macrame classes and made hanging plant holders. I tried my hand at needlepoint, hooked rug making, and Crewel embroidery.
Gary and I in the Morrisville parsonage back yard, 1977
Our second year at Morrisville I wrote elementary school curriculum for Vacation Bible School with an ecology theme. Gary and I also helped create the church's first elementary school age retreat.

We had joined several small groups. One group met monthly for a world food dinner. The other was a support group. A man in that group was involved in Serendipity small group training and we took the training.

For summer vacation we went camping. We intended to go to Nova Scotia but fell in love with Acadia National Park in Maine. We made it to the Bay of Fundy. We saw the tide come in. But we also got soaking wet and spent a night in motel room drying out. Then we turned back for Maine.

Mark Hostetter suggested that Gary should not stay an associate too long. Gary let it be known to the District Superintendent that if the 'right church' came up he was willing to make a move. The Cabinet contacted him about going to a church in Darby, PA and Gary accepted.

It was a sad day when we left the great youth we had come to know and love, and the wonderful friends we had made.

After two years in Morrisville, we were moving again. I was 25 years old. We had no idea that two pastors had already turned down the Darby appointment.