Thursday, December 23, 2010
Scholars are using it to show trends in language. And I can think of many authors who will love being able to research the evolution of slang and idioms.
You can go play for yourself here.
You can look at it from a more cultural perspective here.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Garrison Keillor's review of Twain's autobiography is nearly as entertaining as Twain himself. In fact, one of my favorite things about the New York Times Sunday Book Review is the reviews themselves, which are often more interesting and better written than the books they are reviewing. A snippet of Keillor on Twain here:
...bravo to Samuel Clemens, still able to catch the public’s attention a century after he expired. He speaks from the grave, he writes, so that he can speak freely — “as frank and free and unembarrassed as a love letter” — but there’s precious little frankness and freedom here and plenty of proof that Mark Twain, in the hands of academics, can be just as tedious as anybody else when he is under the burden of his own reputation. Here, sandwiched between a 58-page barrage of an introduction and 180 pages of footnotes, is a ragbag of scraps, some of interest, most of them not: travel notes, the dictated reminiscences of an old man in a dithery voice...
And it goes on from there. Twain's comments on his well-known contemporaries were a hundred years before WikiLeaks. The only thing that makes them more entertaining is Keillor's take on them. Enjoy.
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
By Mary M. Byers
There's a big difference between working to put food on the table vs.working for the "extras" such as summer camp or a vacation. Both are legitimate but it's essential to be honest about your motivation. Knowing what drives you will help you keep your priorities in order. When my children were young, I worked for the extras. However, instead of stopping when I earned enough to help with vacation costs I kept right on going, becoming a workaholic in the process. It didn't serve me or my family. When I recognized my error, I was able to cut back on work in order to create a healthier balance. Now that my children are school-age and I'm working to help cover orthodontia, tuition and retirement, I've increased my hours accordingly.
Understanding why you are working makes it easier to make tough work-related decisions. Will you work on the weekends? Stay up late to get it all done? If you're working to put food on the table, the answer will more likely be yes. But if you're working for the fun of it, you may choose not to compromise family time by late night or weekend work. When you know why you are working, it gets easier to decide what kind of boundaries you'll adhere to.
Monday, November 22, 2010
I'll be first to say that I can get my thoughts down much faster typing than writing. But I know writers who prefer to write by longhand first then transcribe on to the computer. And with my own children, I've wondered if our technological advances were causing them to lose the valuable skill of penmanship.
And in the category of ironic, there are apps (of course!) you can get to improve your handwriting (abc PocketPhonics) and to translate your finger or stylus input into text (WritePad).
Friday, November 05, 2010
Kathleen Basi is a stay-at-home mom, freelance writer, flute and voice teacher, composer, choir director, natural family planning teacher, scrapbooker, sometime-chef and budding disability rights activist. She puts her juggling skills on display on her website (see below).
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $5.99
Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Liguori Publications (July 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Call it December madness: On the day after Thanksgiving 2008, a seasonal worker was trampled to death by shoppers swarming a department store at opening time. In mid-America, two women got into a fist fight over a toy, and the store personnel had to pull them off each other.
At this time of year, it’s hardly possible to escape feeling rushed, harried, and overwhelmed. It seems like every year the Christmas decorations at the mall go up a little earlier, and all the news reports dwell on how much money retailers are (or aren’t) going to make. The ad inserts get fatter and the TV shouts: “No need to wait! Zero down! No interest for thirteen months! Hurry, hurry, hurry!”
Just about everyone gripes about it, but no one seems to know what to do about it. Some families throw out the whole secular celebration in an attempt to prevent materialism from overwhelming both Advent and Christmas. But most families feel—rightly so—that they shouldn’t have to choose one over the other. It’s supposed to be “the most wonderful time of the year,” but often families feel stressed as the calendar fills up with recitals, shopping, parties, and housecleaning. In this atmosphere filled with distractions, the idea of Advent as a season in its own right has been overwhelmed. How can we wait for Christmas when we never have to wait for anything else?
Christmas is not about children, gifts, cookies, or trees. It’s about a love so powerful that God came to earth to dwell among us: human and divine intertwining—a holy union of wills that reaches its apex not in birth, but in crucifixion and resurrection. In salvation.
And we spend December fighting over Blu-ray discs and toys?
It’s time to reclaim Advent—that season of holy hush, of waiting, of light and anticipation—that season that helps make Christmas so special. We can’t withdraw from the world, but we can take the trappings of the season and infuse them with a deeper meaning. Joy to the World: Advent Activities for Your Family outlines a way to reconcile the secular with the sacred—to celebrate them side-by-side, to mold them into a single, month-long “liturgy,” and in so doing, to enrich both celebrations.
Chapter 1 presents a brief overview of Advent and why it is important. Chapter 2 introduces the three parts of the Advent Reclamation Project, which are explained more fully in Chapters 3 through 5. Chapter 6 offers suggestions for other traditions that families or parish communities might choose to adopt as their own, and in the appendices, you will find resources to flesh out the earlier chapters.
Early childhood is the ideal time to start developing family traditions, so this book is aimed at young families. Each chapter contains a short italicized section to be read directly to children, explaining some part of the celebration. As your family grows, you can adapt the traditions to fit your own circumstances. Many of the ideas will also translate to the classroom. Remember that Advent, like Sabbath, was not created for God’s sake, but for ours (see Mark 2:27). God doesn’t need it. We do.
Advent holds a unique place in the Christian calendar. For Catholics, it is the beginning of the liturgical year. It is a season in which the church is decked out in purple—a sign of penitence—yet the Scriptures also speak of joy, hope, and light.
The word “Advent” comes from a Latin word meaning arrival or coming. In the earliest days of the Church, all of life focused on the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. After all, the Apostles expected the Second Coming during their lifetimes.
At this time, the ancient pagan cultures structured their seasonal celebrations on nature. The celebration of the winter solstice was the biggest festival of the year in ancient times. It centered upon the shortest day of the year—the day when the “unconquered” sun began slowly to take back the days. Gift-giving, feasting, lights, and greenery all originated in these pagan celebrations. As Christianity expanded into these lands, the Church adopted many of these traditions, infusing them with Christian meaning in order to ease the transition for its new members. Thus, sometime in the fourth century ad, Christmas—and Advent—made their appearances.
Originally, Advent was a forty-day period of fasting and penitence—a parallel to Lent. In the early centuries, the Church focused on preparing for the Second Coming. Not until the middle ages did Advent begin to point toward the birth of Christ. Over the centuries, many traditions cropped up surrounding the season. The Advent wreath grew out of a Pagan tradition of lighting candles to signify the hope of spring. The Jesse tree probably originated in Northern Europe, where lineage and genealogy determined one’s place in society. The Jesse tree taught the faithful about Jesus’ royal lineage. Over time, these customs (and the meanings associated with them) have evolved. Some grew more important, others less so.
Nowadays, the secular culture and many Protestant denominations make no distinction between Advent and Christmas. The Sundays of December are filled with the story of the Christ Child, and the Christmas celebration is over and done around New Year’s. But in Catholic tradition, the season of Advent focuses on the two “comings” of Christ—the Incarnation, when God came to Earth as human child, and the glorious Second Coming at the end of time. In fact, the readings for the first two weeks of Advent speak of John the Baptist “preparing the way” for Jesus, the grown man who turned the world upside down. Only in the later part of Advent does our focus zero in on Bethlehem.
This duality is something we experience even with our senses. Catholic churches are hung with violet for these four weeks—the color traditionally associated with penitence. But the purple we use at this time of year is different from the purple of Lent; it is meant to be a richer, royal purple, reminding us also that Christ is King.
Advent gives us a chance to meditate on:
Expectation—for the coming of one who will bring justice to an unjust world;
Preparation—so that we may prepare our hearts to receive Christ, who is
Light—the light of the world.
These are beautiful themes. Why should Advent be shoved into a corner, nothing more than four weeks of filler before Christmas? Advent can be a magical time, if we approach it the right way.
Advent does not need to become a “second Lent,” but the violet hangings and vestments remind us that penitence remains an important part of the season. Advent gives us the chance to examine our hearts and “defrag” our scattered souls. To reorder our thinking and our priorities. To point our lives, for four weeks, toward Christmas, so that when we reach the holiday, it has meaning and beauty that is distinct from the four preceding weeks.
Nor is Christmas the end of the journey. Without Holy Week and the resurrection, the manger in Bethlehem would be unremarkable: just one more baby born in poverty. For Christians, the destination is Easter. Glorious as it is, Christmas is a stop along the way.
For the children:
Even though all the advertisements on TV are about Christmas, right now we are actually in the season of Advent. During Advent, our job is to get ready for Jesus to come and live in our hearts. At Christmas, we will celebrate Jesus being born as a baby—but he has promised us that he will come back again someday, and we need to be ready. One way we do this is by remembering our sins and trying to do better. This is called penitence, and it is why the church is decorated in purple. But Advent is also about looking forward to Jesus coming. We are excited because Jesus is the light of the world, and when he comes, he will make the world fair for everyone.
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
Martha Rogers is a former schoolteacher and English instructor whose first book in the Winds Across the Prairie series, Becoming Lucy, became an immediate best seller. Morning for Dove (May 2010) is the second book in this series. Her book Not on the Menu is a part of Sugar and Grits, a novella collection with DiAnn Mills, Janice Thompson, and Kathleen Y’Barbo. Rogers lives with her husband in Houston, Texas.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Realms (October 5, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Rebecca Haynes slammed her book shut. If those children didn’t quiet down soon, she would scream. A mother ought to be able to control her own young ones, but the haggard, worn look of the woman across the aisle told Rebecca that the problem was more than unruly children. She was just the type of woman Rebecca hoped to liberate in her efforts with the women’s suffrage movement. The landscape outside the train window sped by, drawing Rebecca closer to home with each clack of the wheels. To this point the journey had been quite pleasant, but when the mother with her brood of three had joined the travelers, all peace disappeared. Not that she blamed the mother, but the commotion was bothersome. Rebecca turned her attention to the youngsters. They had quieted down some, but the two older ones still roamed the aisles while the baby whimpered in her mother’s arms. She loved children, but she preferred the well-mannered, quiet ones like the cousins she’d met during her stay in Boston. A deep sigh escaped. How she would miss the friends she’d made while in college at Wellesley. Her aunt Clara had made sure she would have the best education possible, and Rebecca had loved every minute of it, but it was now time to go home and see what a difference she could make in the world.
She mused at the similarity of her situation with that of Lucy Starnes, one of her cousins from Boston now living in Barton Creek. Just as Lucy had come to live in Oklahoma Territory to live with her aunt and uncle, Rebecca had traveled to Boston to live with an aunt and uncle there. The difference being that Lucy’s parents had died, forcing her to move out West to live with family. Rebecca had gone back East to further her education and get to know her father’s family.
Now she was headed home to Barton Creek, where she hoped to begin the steps toward a career in journalism. Mr. Lansdowne, her new boss, had balked at first at the idea of having a female reporter working for him, but then he’d relented and hired her. Her father was bound to have had some influence there, but that didn’t matter. She had the job, and if she did it right, she’d be ready for a larger city paper when the opportunity arose.
A hand tugged at her skirt. A blond-haired little boy gripped the fabric with grubby fingers. She glanced over at the weariness in the face of the mother and realized the load carried by the young woman was taking its toll. Instead of scolding the child, Rebecca’s heart softened, and she took matters into her own hands. She grasped the boy’s hand in hers and removed it from her skirt, thankful for the gloves she wore. His bright blue eyes opened wide in surprise. “And what is your name, young master?”
At first he said nothing. He tilted his head as though deciding if it would be all right to answer. A grin revealed a space in his bottom row of teeth. “I’m Billy, and I’m six.”
“Hello, Billy. That’s a fine name.”
A little girl wedged her way next to Rebecca. “My name is Sally, and I’m six years old too. What’s your name?”
A smile filled Rebecca’s heart, her previous vexation gone. The two were twins. No wonder the mother had her hands full. Her heart filled with sympathy. “My name is Rebecca.”
The twins looked at each other, then back to Rebecca. As one voice they said, “We like that name. Can you tell us a story?”
“Children, please don’t bother the young lady.” The mother cast an apologetic frown toward Rebecca.
“That’s all right. I’ll tell them a story.” Doing so would give their mother a much-needed break to take care of the baby.
The mother rewarded her with a relieved smile. Rebecca reached down and lifted Sally to her lap while Billy climbed up beside her. Since she planned to be a writer, Rebecca decided to make up her own story for the two. As she wove the tale of two children on a great adventure across the plains in a covered wagon, Sally’s and Billy’s heads began to nod.
The young woman across the aisle laid her now sleeping baby on the seat and came to Rebecca’s side. “I’ll take them now.”
Though almost reluctant to let her go, Rebecca handed Sally to the mother, then picked up Billy. She followed the two back to their seats. The mother laid Sally on the seat facing her own, then picked up the baby. “You can put Billy by his sister.”
“Do you mind if I sit here and hold him? You must have your hands full with the three of them.”
A tentative smile formed. “That would be nice.”
Rebecca settled herself and shifted Billy so that his weight was more evenly distributed. Just as she craved to speak with another woman, the young mother might enjoy the same. “My name is Rebecca Haynes, and I’m going to Barton Creek.”
The weariness left the woman’s eyes, replaced with a sparkle of excitement. “I’m Ruth Dorsett, and I’m headed for Barton Creek myself.”
Rebecca searched her memory for a recollection of a Dorsett family in Barton Creek. Of course, in the four years she’d been gone, many new families had moved to the town. “I grew up there. Are you visiting, or do you live there now?”
A sadness veiled Ruth’s face. “My husband passed on a few months ago, so we’re going there to live with my parents.”
A lump formed in Rebecca’s throat. “I’m so sorry about your husband. Who are your parents? Perhaps I know them.”
“Their name is Weems. Ma owns a dressmaking shop, and Pa works in the telegraph office.”
“Oh, I do know them. I remember when Mrs. Weems opened her business. We were so glad to have someone who could keep us up-to-date on the latest fashions. She does wonderful work.”
“Thank you. They heard about the opportunities in Oklahoma Territory and moved there when Pa learned they would open a new telegraph office in Barton Creek.”
“Business is doing quite well for your mother. Will you be helping her?”
“Most definitely. Ma taught me to sew at an early age, and I’ve been doing it for my family. I was learning to be a nurse when I met my husband, a doctor, and quit to marry him. I helped with his practice until our babies came along, and then gave assistance whenever I could. Henry was killed in an accident with his buggy going out to deliver a baby on a stormy night. After he passed on, I didn’t know where to turn. I didn’t have the time or money to finish my nurse’s training. The people in Glasson, Kansas, were so helpful, but they weren’t family. After a few months, Ma insisted that I come live with her. She’s delighted to have her grandchildren so close.”
What a small world. Rebecca marveled at the coincidence. The people in Barton Creek were going to love Ruth and these adorable children who had captured Rebecca’s own heart with their big blue eyes and captivating smiles. Now that Aunt Clara lived in town as Doc Carter’s wife, she would certainly spoil them if Mrs. Weems didn’t, and Ruth couldn’t be much older than Lucy. They would be great friends, and Doc Carter could probably use her nursing skills.
The young woman’s desire to work with her mother in business and her nurse’s training impressed Rebecca. If more women would be willing to take charge and seek careers besides baking, cooking, and taking care of children and husbands, more would be willing to join the movement to secure voting privileges for women. Perhaps she could convince Ruth to join the fight. Women had as much right to have a say in who ran the government as any man.
“The twins told me they are six, but how old is the baby?”
Ruth eyed the sleeping child. “Emma is fifteen months old and just started walking without falling every few steps.”
“They’re all beautiful children.” Talking with Ruth reminded her of the story she wanted to write for the editor of the Barton Creek Chronicle. If she were going to be a success at the newspaper, she must show her capabilities right away. “Ruth, if you will excuse me, I have some work I must do before our destination. We’ll talk again later, and I’m happy to already find a new friend in Barton Creek.”
“So am I. It’ll be nice to have someone I can visit with and talk to on occasion.”
Rebecca placed the still sleeping Billy beside Sally. “I look forward to it.” Someday in the distant future she might have such a family, but at the moment her mission was to become the best reporter in Oklahoma Territory and then on to bigger and better opportunities in a larger city.
A grin spread across her face. No matter that she’d won the traditional Hoop Race at Wellesley. After her dunk in the fountain, she’d declared she would break the tradition and not be the first in the class to marry. Hoots and hollers from her fellow classmates told her they didn’t believe that. Let them laugh. She’d prove there was more to life for a woman than being a wife and mother. Although nothing was wrong with that, she simply wanted to see what the world had to offer before settling down, if she ever did.
Geoff Kensington studied the attractive young woman in the seat across from him. She had amazed him several times during this trip. First she’d been reading a book by Sarah Orne Jewett, then she befriended the children who had made enough noise to be heard across the prairie, and then she sat and spoke with their mother. Remarkable! None of the young women he’d known in Chicago would have had anything to with the children, much less their mother. Now the young lady furrowed her brow and stared at a tablet while she tapped a pencil against her cheek.
The stylish cut of her light brown gored skirt and braid-trimmed jacket was of a fashion he’d seen worn by women in the upper classes in Chicago, and it fit her form quite nicely. Her straw hat trimmed in matching ribbon and braid sat at a rakish angle on her upswept hair. He stroked his chin, trying to decide on the color of her hair. Finally he decided that it reminded him of the fine cherry furniture in his mother’s dining room.
In the conversation with the young mother, he had overheard her name, Rebecca Haynes. What a stroke of luck. She had to be kin to one of the men he hoped to meet on this trip. Ben Haynes, Sam Morris, and Jake Starnes were three of the most successful ranchers in the state, and he needed their support for the project he’d been assigned. Perhaps Miss Haynes was Ben’s daughter.
Geoff pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time. He had two hours to charm the lovely Miss Haynes before their arrival in Barton Creek. If his good fortune held out, the children would sleep until then, and he could have an uninterrupted conversation with her.
He stood and bowed. “Pardon me, Miss Haynes. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Geoffrey Kensington, spelled with a G, and I overheard you tell Mrs. Dorsett that you are going to Barton Creek. That is my destination also.”
Miss Haynes’s cheeks blushed pink. “Yes, Barton Creek is my home.” She smiled and indicated the seat next to her. “Please, Mr. Kensington, would you join me?”
“Thank you, I’d be honored. I do have many questions about the town.”
She laughed. “Ask away, but I haven’t been home for four years. I’ve been at college. Wellesley to be exact.”
So, Miss Haynes was not only pretty but well educated too. What a stroke of good fortune to have chosen the same train for the final leg of his journey. “That is a fine school for young women. What are your plans now?”
Her smile only served to accent her beauty. “I’m going to be a reporter for the Barton Creek Chronicle. It’s a weekly newspaper now, but Mr. Lansdowne hopes to publish it more often in the coming year.”
“How interesting. I’ve heard that more women are going into the field of journalism these days. Are you a supporter of the suffrage movement?”
Her eyes, more green than brown, opened wide with excitement. “Oh, yes, I am. I’ve read everything I can about Susan Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Carrie Chapman Catt. Did you know Mrs. Catt has been in Oklahoma, and that women here almost had voting rights granted to them in 1899? And she worked for a newspaper for awhile too. She’s wonderful.”
“Those are all fascinating women.” The animation now in her expressive hands and eyes beguiled him and reminded him of his sister, who was near Rebecca’s age. Even if he didn’t support the movement, he could appreciate her enthusiasm. It might even be a help to him in the business he had in Barton Creek. “Are you related to Ben Haynes, the cattle rancher?”
“I am his daughter. His aunt Clara is the one who insisted that I go back East to go to college. Both of my parents are originally from Boston.”
“I’ve never had the pleasure of visiting that city. I’ve spent most of my time in Chicago and St. Louis. But at the moment I’m more interested in Barton Creek.” And the attractive young woman seated with him.
“Then I shall be happy to share my town with you.”
Her voice had a musical quality that enchanted Geoff. This assignment would be the best one yet in his career. “I have business with your father regarding a cattle purchase. Perchance you will be able to introduce me to him when we arrive.”
“Oh, yes, I’d be delighted to do just that. Father has some of the best cattle to be found in the Territory.”
“Then I shall look forward to our meeting.” He grinned and sat back to enjoy her description of the people in Barton Creek.
Rob Frankston paced the platform at the train station. He flipped open his watch and read the numbers. Two minutes since he last looked. The train was supposed to be on time, but he could neither see nor hear any indication of it coming on the tracks.
The Haynes clan and several friends milled about as a group near the depot, as anxious to see Becky as he was. Of course their reasons were far different from his. He’d waited four years for Becky to return to Barton Creek. He’d loved her since they were thirteen, but she never gave any indication of her feelings one way or the other in those last years of school. Her correspondence with him while he attended the University of Oklahoma indicated nothing more than friendship, and even those letters declined the past year.
When she had up and proclaimed her plans to go off to college in the East, he had to bite back his own disappointment. Aunt Clara spotted his hurt. She took him aside one day and, without naming Becky, told him that if he loved someone more than life itself and let her go her own way, true love would bring her back. He prayed that would be true with Becky’s return to Barton Creek.
The newspaper had announced her arrival with bold headlines in the weekly edition. Rob read of her accomplishments and shook his head. Becky had certainly grown up and made her contribution to activities at the college. After reading the account, even his mother had been impressed, and that was no easy task.
He raked a hand through his dark hair and resumed his pacing.
Matt Haynes, Becky’s brother, made his way toward Rob. The tall, lanky cowboy had captured his sister Caroline’s heart, but he seemed in no hurry to court her.
Matt stretched out his hand in greeting. “I see you’ve decided to join us in welcoming Becky. She’ll be glad to see you.”
“I hope so, but she hasn’t written to me much this past year, so perhaps she’s forgotten her friends here.”
Matt laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. She was probably busy with all those things the paper said she did at Wellesley. You know our Becky. When she’s involved in something, she gives it all she’s got.”
Yes, he did know, and that was one of the things Rob loved about her. Back in their school days here, she had always been a leader and one to speak her mind and do things her own way. She could ride and herd cattle as well as any man on the ranch, but then could appear as a beautiful young lady on Sundays at church.
“She is really someone special.” He sighed. “I hope your father thinks I’m good enough for her.”
With hands on his hips, Matt chuckled. “You won’t have any problem there. You’re gaining a fine reputation in the law firm.”
Rob couldn’t be so sure about that. What with all the run-ins his mother had with Becky’s mother, the Haynes family might not be so interested in letting him become a member, good reputation or not. As the mayor’s wife, his mother may think it her duty to set high social standards and be particular about the people with whom her children associated, but he didn’t intend to let her run his life.
In the distance a train whistle sounded, and Matt nodded toward his family. “Come on over and join us. Be a part of our welcoming party.”
Rob grinned. “Think I’d like that.” He followed Matt back to the group. In the next half hour he’d know whether he still had a chance with Becky. If not, then he’d spend day and night winning her love no matter what anyone may say or do.
Monday, November 01, 2010
Speaking of hard work... have you started your novel? It's November 1st which means National Novel Writing Month kicks off. The goal? Throw your inhibitions to the wind and write 50,000 words in the month of November. Check it out here.
Once again I'll be participating. I'll have a word count widget up on my blog shortly. This will be my fifth year. I've never "won" yet, which means writing 50k in November. It just never seems to sync with my writing calendar or my life. But it's such a good incentive to get words down on paper along with lots of other folks, so it feels a lot more like a giant party than writer's block. So join on in. What do you have to lose?
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
***Special thanks to Anna Coelho Silva | Publicity Coordinator, Book Group | Strang Communications for sending me a review copy.***
Stephen Mansfield is the New York Times best-selling author of The Faith of George W. Bush, The Faith of Barack Obama, Benedict XVI: His Life and Mission, and Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill, among other works of history and biography. Founder of both The Mansfield Group, a consulting and communications firm, and Chartwell Literary Group, which creates and manages literary projects, Stephen is also in wide demand as a lecturer and speaker.
Visit the Stephen's website.
David A. Holland is an author, speaker, media consultant, and award-winning copywriter who writes the popular blog BlatherWinceRepeat.com and the satirical ChrisMatthewsLeg.com. He is the co-author of Paul Harvey’s America, as well as numerous articles, essays, and opinion pieces. David makes his home with his wife and daughters in Dallas, Texas.
Visit the David's blog.
List Price: $22.99
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Frontline Pub Inc (September 21, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Do not handicap your children by making their lives easy.1
—Robert A. Heinlein
It is a warm summer day in June of 1964, and at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in Richland, Washington, a tender moment is unfolding. A small group of the faithful has gathered before a candled altar and a patiently waiting priest. Though the church is spare, it is transformed into regal splendor by the color of deep green evidenced in the vestments of the priest and in the cloth that adorns the altar. This is the color that the Christian church has used for centuries to signify the liturgical season of Pentecost, in which the coming of God’s Spirit is celebrated, in which refreshing and new birth are the themes. It is a fitting symbolism for today’s event, for a child is soon to be baptized. When all are settled, the priest steps to the fore and nods his head to a young family. They move, solemnly, to the baptismal font—a father, a mother, a two-year-old boy, a one-year-old girl, and the infant who is the object of today’s attention. “Peace be with you,” the good priest begins.“And also with you,” those gathered respond.“And what is the child’s name?” the priest asks. “Sarah Louise Heath,” comes the answer.
“And what is your name?” the priest asks the parents.
The answer comes, but it is obvious to all that the energetic part of that answer, the one filled with eagerness and faith, has come from the child’s mother. She is a striking figure. Slightly taller than her husband, she is lean and feminine, possessing a sinewy strength that is unusual for a mother of three. Her eyes are intelligent, slightly wearied but quick to flash into joy. Her mouth is wise, reflecting a sense of the irony in the world and yet disarmingly sweet.
It is her voice, though, that her children and her friends will comment upon most throughout her life. It has a musical lilt that rises and falls with meaning and emotion. It makes the most mundane statement a song, transforming a book read to children before bed or a prayer said before a family meal into a work of art.
This young mother was born Sally Ann Sheeran in 1940 and so took her place in a large, proud, well-educated Irish Catholic family in Utah. As would become the pattern of her life, she would not be there long. When she was three, her family moved to Richland, Washington. Her father, known to friends as Clem, had taken a job as a labor relations manager at the Washington branch of the Manhattan Project, whose task it was to perfect the atomic bomb sure to be needed before the Second World War, then well underway, was over. From her father, Sally acquired a passion for doing things well, a love of sports, and unswerving devotion to Notre Dame, a loyalty questioned in the Sheeran home only at great peril.
It was Sally’s mother, Helen, who taught her the domestic skills and devotion to community that would become her mainstays in the years ahead. Helen was widely known as a genius with a sewing machine and made clothes not only for her own family but also for dozens of others in her town. She also had an uncanny ability to upholster furniture. Neighbors remember the astonishing quality of her work and how she refused payment, though her fingers were often swollen and bleeding from the hours she spent stretching leather over wooden frames or forcing brass tacks into hardened surfaces. Helen taught her children the joy of the simple task done well, that the workbench and the desk are also altars of God not too unlike the altar at the Catholic church they attended every week.
Sally came of age, then, in a raucous, busy family of overachievers. There were piano lessons and sports and pep squads and sock hops. Achievement was emphasized. All the Sheeran children did well. Sally’s brother even earned a doctorate degree and became a judge. Sally herself finished high school and then began training as a dental assistant at Columbia Basin College.
“What are you asking of God’s church?” the priest intones from the ancient Latin text.
“Faith,” respond the child’s parents.
“What does faith hold out to you?” he asks.
“Everlasting life,” they answer.
“If, then, you wish to inherit everlasting life, keep the commandments, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’”
At this moment the priest leans over young Sarah, still in her mother’s arms, and breathes upon her three times. “Depart from her, unclean spirit, and give place to the Holy Spirit, the Advocate.” It is then that he traces the sign of the cross upon the child’s forehead and prays, “Lord, if it please you, hear our prayer, and by your inexhaustible power protect your chosen one, Sarah, now marked with the sign of our Savior’s holy cross. Let her treasure this first sharing of your sovereign glory, and by keeping your commandments deserve to attain the glory of heaven to which those born anew are destined; through Christ our Lord.”
At these words, some who have gathered shift their eyes to the young father of the child being baptized. His name is Chuck. He is a good man, all agree, and he loves his family, but he is only tolerant of his wife’s faith. He does not share it. He keeps a distance from formal religion, and those who know his story understand why.
He was born in the Los Angeles of 1938 to a photographer father and a schoolteacher mother. His father, it seems, had gained some notoriety for his work, and there are photographs of young Chuck with luminaries of the Hollywood smart set and even with sports stars like boxer Joe Louis. Something went wrong, though—this is the first of several unexplained secrets in the Heath story—and when Chuck was ten, his father moved the family to Hope, Idaho. His mother taught school again, and his father drove a bus and freelanced.
As often happens after a move to a new place, the Heath family was thrown in upon itself. And here is where the tensions likely arose. Chuck’s mother was a devoted Christian Scientist. She believed that sin and sickness and even death were manifestations of the mind. If one simply learned to perceive the world through the Divine Mind, one would live free from such mortal forces. It likely seemed foolishness to a teenaged Chuck, who was not only discovering the great outdoors and finding it the only church he would ever need but also discovering his own gift for science, for decoding the wonders of nature. There was tension in the home, then, between this budding naturalist and his mystic mother. Arguments were frequent, and from this point on, young Chuck seemed intent upon escaping his parent’s presence as much as possible.
He soon discovered his athletic gifts too, and, though his parents thought such pursuits were a waste of time, he chose to ride the bus fifteen miles every day to Sandpoint High School and then hitchhike home again just so he could play nearly every sport his school offered. He found gridiron glory as a fullback behind later Green Bay Packers legend Jerry Kramer.
These were agonizing years, though. He routinely slept on friends’ couches when he just couldn’t face hitchhiking home. He was nearly adopted by several families of his fellow players. Everyone knew his home life was torturous and tried to help, but for a boy in high school to have no meaningful place to belong, no parents who loved him for who he was without demanding a faith he could not accept—it was, as Sarah Palin herself later wrote, “painful and lonely.”
After graduation from high school and a brief season in the Army, Chuck enrolled in Columbia Basin College. Now he could give himself fully to learning the ways of nature, long his passion and his hope. He collected rocks and bones, found the insides of animals and plants a fascinating other world, and thrilled to his newly acquired knowledge of geology and the life of a cell. He was a geek, but a handsome, athletic geek whom girls liked. It was during this time that he enrolled in a college biology lab and found himself paired with that lanky beauty Sally Sheeran.
“Almighty, everlasting God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the minister implores, “look with favor on your servant, Sarah, whom it has pleased you to call to this first step in the faith. Rid her of all inward blindness. Sever all snares of Satan, which heretofore bound her. Open wide for her, Lord, the door to your fatherly love. May the seal of your wisdom so penetrate her as to cast out all tainted and foul inclinations, and let in the fragrance of your lofty teachings. Thus shall she serve you gladly in your church and grow daily more perfect through Christ our Lord.”
It says a great deal about Chuck and Sally Heath that after they had married—after they had brought three children into the world and begun working in their professions and coached sports and enjoyed their outdoor, adventurous lives—there was still something missing. Sandpoint simply wasn’t enough. Chuck, ever the romantic, had begun reading the works of Jack London—The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and The Sea Wolf—and through these the great land in the north—Alaska—began calling to him. As a neighbor later reported, “The call of the wild got to him.” This neighbor did not mean the London novel, but rather that mysterious draw to the raw and untamed that has lured men to Alaska for centuries. It did not hurt that Alaska was in desperate need of science teachers like Chuck, and that the school systems there were offering $6,000 a year, twice what Chuck was making in Sandpoint. With a growing family and dreams that Idaho could not contain, Chuck Heath turned to his wife and said, “Let’s try it for one year and see what happens.” Sally should have known better. They would never come back to Idaho again. Alaska was the land of Chuck’s dreams and always would be.
It also says a great deal about Chuck and Sally Heath that they ventured north to Alaska just days after the state had been rocked by one of the worst earthquakes in history. On March 27, 1964, what became known as the Good Friday Earthquake shook Alaska at a 9.2 Richter scale magnitude for nearly five minutes. The quake was felt as far away as eight hundred miles from the epicenter.2 Experts compared it to the 1812 New Madrid earthquake that was so powerful it caused the Mississippi River to run backward, stampeded buffalo on the prairie, and awakened President James Madison from a sound sleep in the White House. The Good Friday Earthquake did hundreds of millions dollars in damage, cost dozens of lives, and vanquished entire communities in Alaska, but even this devastation could not keep the Heath family away.
They would live first in Skagway, then in Anchorage, and finally they would be able to afford their own home in the little valley town of Wasilla. Chuck would teach sciences and coach, and Sally would do whatever paid—work in the cafeteria, serve as the school secretary, even coach some of the athletic teams.
This is what they did. Who they were is the more interesting tale.
The Heaths were determined to create an outpost of love, learning, and adventure in their snowy valley in the north. Their lives were very nearly a frontier existence, as we shall see, but their learning and their hunger to explore lifted them from mere survival. Chuck found Alaska an Elysium for scientific inquiry, and as he hunted and served as a trail guide, he collected. The Heath children would grow up in a home that might elsewhere have passed for a small natural history museum. Years after first arriving in Alaska, when their famous daughter had forced their lives into the international spotlight, the Heaths would welcome reporters who sat at their kitchen counter and marveled at the skins and pelts and mounts—dozens of them—that adorned the house. There were fossils and stuffed alligators and hoofs from some long-ago-killed game and samples of rock formations and Eskimo artifacts. The reporters had been warned. In the front yard of the Heath house stood a fifteen-foot-tall mountain of antlers, most all from game shot by Chuck Heath.
Yet what distinguished the Heath home was its elevated vision, its expectations for character and knowledge. There would come a day when Sally’s spiritual search would lead her in a different direction than her husband had chosen—his conflicts with his Christian Science mother distancing him from traditional faith—and this would have to be managed. But there was complete agreement about the other essentials. Work was sacred. Everyone was expected to labor for the good of the family. Knowledge was paramount. Theirs was a home filled with books, and nearly each one was read aloud more than once. Since both Chuck and Sally were teachers, dinner-times were often occasions of debate or discussion, which Chuck frequently began by reading from a Paul Harvey newspaper column or by quoting from a radio broadcast he had heard during the day. So intent upon the primacy of learning were Chuck and Sally that when a television finally did make its way into their home, it lived in a room over the unheated garage where a potential viewer had to have a death wish to brave the cold. Rather than what Chuck and Sally called the boob tube, in the warmth of the house were the poetry of Ogden Nash and Robert Service, the works of C. S. Lewis, and most of the great books of the American experience.
There was also love. It was deep, transforming, and infectious in the Heath home. When friends of the Heath children missed their school bus home, they routinely made their way to the Heaths’ house. Their parents knew and understood. It was the place where strangers were always welcome, where a story was always being told, and where you merged seamlessly into the family mayhem the moment you stepped through the door. Some of those friends of the Heath children, now adults, recall that the closest thing they ever experienced to a healthy family was in Chuck and Sally’s home.
And so the Heaths did it. They carved out the life they had dreamed in the frozen wilds of Alaska. They took the best of their family lines and, refusing the worst, built a family culture of courage and learning and industry and joy. And this was the family soil from which Sarah Palin grew.
Thus, the reverend father comes to an end:
Holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, source of light and truth, I appeal to your sacred and boundless compassion on behalf of this servant of yours, Sarah. Be pleased to enlighten her by the light of your eternal wisdom. Cleanse, sanctify, and endow her with truth and knowledge. For thus will she be made ready for your grace and ever remain steadfast, never losing hope, never faltering in duty, never straying from sacred truth, through Christ our Lord.3
The service concluded, the Heath family and their near relatives walk out into the northwestern sun. It is June 7. Already there are tears, and they are not tears of joy. The Heaths’ presence in Richland is not just for the sake of the baptism. They have come to say good-bye. Alaska calls to them, and they will leave in a few short days to make the nineteen-hundred-mile drive to their new home in the land of the north. Their relatives grieve, but the Heaths, particularly Chuck, cannot hide their joy at the looming adventure. Nor can they hide the sense that they will be changed by their new land, that somehow they will become one with it, and that it will become mystically intertwined with their destiny in ways they could never imagine.
In a matter of few days then, attended by the tears of their loved ones, the Heath family step toward the great land of their dreams.
Monday, October 18, 2010
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
Jennifer Erin Valent is the 2007 winner of the Christian Writers Guild's Operation First Novel contest. A lifelong resident of the South, her surroundings help to color the scenes and characters she writes. In fact, the childhood memory of a dilapidated Ku Klux Klan billboard inspired her portrayal of Depression-era racial prejudice in Fireflies in December. She has spent the past 15 years working as a nanny and has dabbled in freelance, writing articles for various Christian women's magazines. She still resides in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (September 20, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Folks in my parts liked to call it “lynching,” as if by calling it another word they could keep from feeling like murderers. Sometimes when they string a man up, they gather around like vultures looking for the next meal, staring at the cockeyed neck, the sagging limbs, their lips turning up at the corners when they should be turning down. For some people, time has a way of blurring the good and the bad, spitting out that thing called conscience and replacing it with a twisted sort of logic that makes right out of wrong.
Our small town of Calloway, Virginia, had that sort of logic in spades, and after the trouble it had caused my family over the years, I knew that better than most. But the violence had long since faded away, and my best friend Gemma would often tell me that made it okay—her being kept separate from white folks. “Long as my bein’ with your family don’t bring danger down on your heads, I’ll keep my peace and be thankful,” she’d say.
But I didn’t feel so calm about it all as Gemma did. Part of that was my stubborn temperament, but most of it was my intuition. I’d been eyeball to eyeball with pure hate more than once in my eighteen years, and I could smell it, like rotting flesh. Hate is a type of blindness that divides a man from his good sense. I’d seen it in the eyes of a Klansman the day he tried to choke the life out of me and in the eyes of the men who hunted down a dear friend who’d been wrongly accused of murder.
And, at times, I’d caught glimpses of it in my own heart.
The passage of time had done nothing to lessen its stench. And despite the relative peace, I knew full well that hearts poisoned by hateful thinking can only simmer for so long before boiling over.
In May of that year, 1938, that pot started bubbling.
I was on the front porch shucking corn when I saw three colored men turn up our walk, all linked up in a row like the Three Musketeers. I stood up, let the corn silk slip from my apron, and called over my shoulder. “Gemma! Come on out here.”
She must have been nearby because the screen door squealed open almost two seconds after my last words drifted in through the screen. “What is it?”
“Company. Only don’t look too good.” I walked to the top of the steps and shielded my eyes from the sun. “Malachi Jarvis! You got yourself into trouble again?”
The man in the middle, propped up like a scarecrow, lifted his chin wearily but managed to flash a smile that revealed bloodied teeth. “Depends on how you define trouble.”
Gemma gasped at the sight of him and flew down the steps, letting the door slam so loud the porch boards shook. “What in the name of all goodness have you been up to? You got some sort of death wish?”
A man I’d never seen before had his arm wound tightly beneath Malachi’s arms, blood smeared across his shirt front. Malachi’s younger brother, Noah, was on his other side, struggling against the weight, and Gemma came in between them to help.
“He ain’t got the good sense to keep his mouth shut, is all,” Noah said breathlessly.
I went inside to grab Momma’s first aid box, and by the time I got back out, Gemma had Malachi seated in the rocker.
Gemma gave him the once-over and shook her head so hard I thought it might fly off. “I swear, if you ain’t a one to push a body into an early grave. Your poor momma’s gonna lose her ever-lovin’ mind.”
Along with his younger brother and sister, Malachi lived down by the tracks with his widowed momma—as the man of the house, so to speak. He’d taken up being friends with Luke Talley some two years back when they’d both worked for the tobacco plant, and they’d remained close even though Luke had struck out on his own building furniture. Malachi was never one to keep his peace, a fact Gemma had no patience for, and she made it good and clear many a time. Today would be no exception.
“Goin’ around stirrin’ up trouble every which way,” she murmured as she pulled fixings out of the first aid box. “It’s one thing to pick fights with your own kind. Can’t say as though you wouldn’t benefit by a poundin’ or two every now and again. But this foolin’ around with white folks’ll get you into more’n you’re bargainin’ for.”
The man who’d helped Noah shoulder the burden of Malachi reached out to take the gauze from Gemma. “Why don’t you let me get that?”
Gemma didn’t much like being told what to do, and she glared at him. “I can clean up cuts and scrapes. I worked for a doctor past two years.”
Malachi nodded towards the man. “This here man is a doctor.”
I was putting iodine on a piece of cotton, and I near about dropped it on the floor when I heard that. Never in all my born days had I seen a colored man claiming to be a doctor. Neither had Gemma by the looks of her.
“A doctor?” she murmured. “You sure?”
He laughed and extended his hand to her. “Last I checked. Tal Pritchett. Just got into town yesterday. Gonna set up shop down by the tracks.”
Gemma handed the gauze over to him, still dumbfounded.
“What d’you think about that?” Malachi grinned and then grimaced the minute his split lip made its presence known. “A colored doc in Calloway. Shoo-whee. There’s gonna be talkin’ about this!”
The doctor went to work cleaning up Malachi’s wounds. “I ain’t here to start no revolution. I’m just aimin’ to help the colored folks get the help they deserve.”
“Well, you’re goin’ to start a revolution whether you want to or not.” Malachi shut his eyes and gritted his teeth the minute the iodine set to burning. “Folks in these parts don’t much like colored folk settin’ themselves up as smart or nothin’.”
Gemma watched Tal Pritchett like she was analyzing his every move, finding out for herself if he was a doctor or not. I stood by and let her assist him as she’d been accustomed to doing for Doc Mabley until he passed on two months ago. After he’d bandaged up Malachi’s right hand, she seemed satisfied that he was who he said.
Noah slumped down into the other rocker and watched. “It’s one thing to get yourself an education and stand for your right to make somethin’ of yourself. It’s another to go stirrin’ up trouble for the sake of stirrin’ up trouble.”
“I ain’t doin’ it for the sake of stirrin’ up trouble. I done told you that!” Malachi flexed his left hand to test how well his swollen fingers moved. Ain’t no colored man ever goin’ to be free in this here county . . . in this here state . . . in this here world unless somebody starts fightin’ for freedom.”
“Slaves was freed decades ago,” Noah said sharply. “We ain’t in shackles no more.”
“But we ain’t free to live our lives as we choose, neither. You think colored people are ever gonna be more’n house help and field help so long as we let ourselves be treated like less than white people? No sir. We’re less than human to them white folks. They don’t think nothin’ about killin’ so long as who they’re killin’ is colored.”
“Don’t you go bunchin’ all white people together, Malachi Jarvis,” I argued. “Ain’t all white folk got bad feelin’s about coloreds.”
Malachi waved me off in exasperation. “You know I ain’t talkin’ about you, Jessilyn.”
Noah had his hands tightly knotted in his lap and was staring at them like they held all the answers to the world’s problems. “All’s you’re doin’ is gettin’ yourself kicked around.” He looked up at me pleadingly. “This here’s the second time in a week he’s come home banged up.”
I put a hand on Noah’s shoulder and set my eyes on Malachi. “Who did it?”
He put his bandaged right hand into the air, palm up. “Who knows? Some white boys. You get surrounded by enough of ‘em, they all just blend in together like a vanilla milkshake.”
“How’s it you didn’t see them? They jump you or somethin’?”
“Don’t ask me, Jessie. I was just mindin’ my own business in town and then on my way home, they start hasslin’ me.”
“What he was doin’,” Noah corrected, “was tryin’ to get into the whites-only bar.”
Gemma sniffed in disgust. “Shouldn’t have been in no bar in the first place. There’s your first mistake.”
“Whites-only, too.” Noah kicked his foot against the porch rail and then looked up at me quickly. “Sorry.”
I smiled at him and turned my attention back to Malachi. “It’s a good thing Luke ain’t here to see this. He don’t like you drinkin’ and you know it.”
His eyeballs rolled between swollen lids. “I don’t know why he gets his trousers in a knot over it anyhow. Ain’t like there’s prohibition no more. And he’s been known to take a swig or two himself.”
“Luke says you’re a nasty drunk.”
“He is.” Noah knotted his hands back in his lap. “And he’s been at the bottle more often than not of late.”
“Quit tellin’ tales!” his brother barked.
“I ain’t tellin’ tales; I’m tellin’ truth. They can ask anybody at home how late you come in, and how you come in all topsy turvy. He comes home in the middle of the mornin’ and sleeps in till all hours the next day.”
“What about your job at the plant?” Gemma asked.
Malachi closed his eyes and waved her off, but his brother provided the answer for him. “Lost it!” He loosened his grip on his hands and snapped his fingers. “Like that. There’s goes his income.”
“I said I’ll get another job.”
“Oh, like there’s jobs aplenty around these parts for colored folk. And anyways, if you find one, how you gonna’ keep that one?”
Gemma had her hands on her hips, and I knew what that meant. I leaned back against the house and waited for the lecture to commence.
“You talk a fine talk about colored folks needin’ to stand up for equality, but you ain’t doin’ it in any way that’s right and good. You’re goin’ about town gettin’ people’s goat, and tryin’ to get in where you ain’t wanted, and gettin’ yourself all liquored up and useless. Now your family ain’t got the money they depend on you for, and why? Because you walk around livin’ like you ain’t got to do nothin’ for nobody but yourself.”
“I’m standin’ up for the rights of colored folks everywhere.” Malachi was angry now, pink patches spreading on his busted-up cheeks. “You see anyone else in this town willin’ to go toe to toe with the white boys in this county?”
“Don’t put a noble face on bein’ an upstart.”
Malachi pushed Tal’s hand away and sat up tall. “You call standin’ up to white folks bein’ an upstart?”
Doc Pritchett tried to dress the wound on Malachi’s temple, but Malachi pushed his hand away again. That was when the doctor had enough, and he smacked his hands on his thighs and stood up tall and determined in front of Malachi. “I ain’t Abraham Lincoln. I’m just Doc Pritchett tryin’ to fix up an ornery patient, and I ain’t got all day to do it. So I’m goin’ to settle this argument once and for all.” He pointed at Gemma. “She’s right. There ain’t no fightin’ nonsense with more nonsense, and all’s you’re doin’ by gettin’ in the faces of white folks with your smart attitude is bein’ as bad as they’re bein’.” Then he pointed at Malachi. “And he’s right, too. There ain’t never a change brought about that should be brought about without people standin’ up for such change. And sometimes that means bein’ willin’ to fight for what’s right.”
Gemma swallowed hard and didn’t even try to argue. My eyes must have bugged out of my head at the sight of her being tamed so easily.
“Now, I’m all for civil uprisin’,” Tal continued. “I don’t see nothin’ wrong with colored folk sayin’ they won’t be walked on no more. I don’t see nothin’ wrong with wantin’ to use the same bathroom as white folks or sit in the same chairs as white folks. Way I see it, none of that’s goin’ to change unless someone says it has to.” He squatted down in front of Malachi again and stared him down nose to nose. “But all this hot-shottin’ and show-boatin’ ain’t goin’ to do nothin’ but get your rear end kicked. Or worse. You aim to stand tall for somethin’? Fine. Stand tall for it. But don’t you go around thinkin’ these battle scars say somethin’ for you. You ain’t got them by bein’ noble; you got them by bein’ stupid. All’s these scars say is you’re an idiot.”
It was one of the best speeches I’d heard from anyone outside my daddy, and if I’d ever thought for two seconds put together to see a colored man run for governor, I figured Tal Pritchett would be the man for the job. As it was, I knew he was the best man for the job he had now. Sure enough, being a colored doc in Calloway would be a challenge. But I figured he was up for it.
Regardless, he shut Malachi up, and for the next five minutes we all watched him finish his job with skill and finesse. When he’d fixed the last of Malachi’s face, he stood up and clapped his hands. “Suppose that should do it. Don’t see need for any stitchin’ up today. Let’s hope there’s no cause for it in future.” Then he looked at me. “You got someplace out here where I can wash up?”
I held my hand out toward the front door. “Bathroom’s upstairs.”
He hesitated. “I’d just as soon wash up out here.”
I caught the reason for his hesitation but didn’t know what to say. As usual, Gemma did.
“I done lived in this here house for six years now, and I’m just as brown as you. You can feel free to go on up to the bathroom, you hear?”
He looked from Gemma to me, then back to Gemma before nodding. “Yes’m.” And then he disappeared inside.
“Ma’am,” Gemma muttered under her breath. “Ain’t old enough to be called ma’am, least of all by a man no more’n a few years older’n me.”
“You know what happens once you start gettin’ them crows feet . . .”
Gemma whirled about and gave Malachi the evil eye. “Don’t go thinkin’ I won’t hurt you just because you’re all bandaged up.”
Noah got up and paced the porch until Tal came back outside. “Doc, you have any problem gettin’ your schoolin’?”
Tal shrugged and leaned against the porch rail. “No more’n most, I guess. There’s a lot to learn. Why? You thinkin’ about goin’ to college?”
You could have heard a pin drop on that front porch. Never, and I mean never, in all the days Calloway had been on the map, had there ever been a single person, white or black, to step foot at a college. The very idea of that mark being made by a colored boy was a surefire way to start war.
And Noah knew it.
He looked at his feet and kicked the heel of one shoe against the toe of another. “Ain’t possible. I was just wonderin’ aloud, is all.”
“What do you mean it ain’t possible? All’s you’ve got to do is work hard. You can get scholarships and things.”
But Noah took a look at his brother, whose face was hard and tight-lipped, and nodded off toward the road. “Nah, there ain’t no use talkin’ over it. We’d best get home anyhow.”
Tal didn’t push the subject. He just picked his hat up off the porch swing and plopped it on his head. “Miss Jessie. Miss Gemma. It was a fine pleasure to meet you, and a kindness for you to give us a hand.”
“You should stop by sometime and meet my parents,” I said. “They’re off visitin’, but I’m sure they’d be right happy to know you.”
“I’m sure I’d be right happy to know them, too.” He turned his attention to Gemma. “You said you worked for a doctor?”
“I worked for Doc Mabley. He was a white doctor. Died some two months ago.”
“He let you assist?”
“Only with the colored patients. Doc Mabley was kind enough to help some of them out when they needed it. Otherwise I kept his records, kept up his stock.”
“Well, I’ll tell you, Miss Gemma, I could sure use some help if you’d be obliged. An assistant would be a good set of extra hands, and I could use someone known around here to make my introductions.”
Gemma eyed him up before slowly nodding her head. “Reckon I could.”
“Wouldn’t be much pay, now, you know. Ain’t likely to get much in the way of fees from the patients I’ll be treatin’.”
“Don’t matter so long as I have good work to put my hands to.”
“That it would be. My office is right across the street from the Jarvis house.”
Malachi snorted. “Shack’s more like it.”
“Room enough for me,” Tal said. Then to Gemma, “You think you could stop in sometime this week to talk it over?”
“I can come day after tomorrow if that suits.”
“Nine o’clock too early?”
“No, sir! I’ve kept farm hours all my life.”
He grinned at her. “Nine o’clock then?”
Malachi watched the two of them with his swollen eyes, a look of disgust growing more evident on his face. He’d made no secret over the past year about his admiration for Gemma, and the unmistakable attraction that was growing between her and Tal was clearly turning his stomach.
“Mind if we go home?” he muttered. “Before I fall down dead or somethin’?”
Gemma tore her eyes away from Tal to roll them at Malachi. “Would serve you right if you did.”
“And on that cheery note . . .” Malachi groaned on his way down the steps. “I’ll bid you ladies a fine evenin’.”
I gave Noah a playful whack to the head, but he ducked so it only clipped the top. “Luke will be back home tomorrow evenin’. He’ll be itchin’ to see you, I’m sure.”
“I’m itchin’ to see him.” He took the steps in one leap, tossing dust up when he landed. “You tell him to come on by and see us real soon.”
“And tell him to bring his cards,” Malachi added. “He owes me a poker rematch.”
I squinted at him suspiciously. “Only if you play for beans.”
“I hate beans.”
Malachi leaned on Tal for support and Noah scurried to catch up and help. I watched them go, but I wasn’t thinking much about them. I was thinking about Luke. It had been two months since he’d left to collect customers for his furniture-making business, and every day had seemed like an eternity.
The very thought of him got my stomach butterflies to fluttering, but one look at Gemma told me it was another man who had stolen her attention. “That
Doc Pritchett’s a fine man.” I looked at her sideways with a smirk. “Looks about twenty-five or so.”
“Good marryin’ age.”
She crossed her arms defiantly. “Jessilyn Lassiter, what’s that got to do with anythin’?”
“Only what I said. I’m only statin’ fact.”
“Mm-hm. I hear ya. You’d be better off keepin’ your facts to yourself.”
She grabbed the first aid box and headed inside, but the sound of that door slamming told me I’d got to her.
It told me Tal Pritchett had got to her, too.
Friday, October 15, 2010
As a history buff, I love historical novels, but even if that's not your typical cup of tea, Susan does such a wonderful job of weaving the past with present and making the past feel so real that you forget you're reading about historical events.
The parallel in Lady in Waiting between present day Jane and her issues of happiness and self-determination become more poignant when cast against the light of historical Jane and her struggles. Pick this book up, you'll be glad you did. Scroll down for a first taste.
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
Susan Meissner has spent her lifetime as a writer, starting with her first poem at the age of four. She is the award-winning author of The Shape of Mercy, White Picket Fences, and many other novels. When she’s not writing, she directs the small groups and connection ministries at her San Diego church. She and her pastor husband are the parents of four young adults.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: WaterBrook Press; Original edition (September 7, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Upper West Side, Manhattan
The mantle clock was exquisite even though its hands rested in silence at twenty minutes past two.
Carved—near as I could tell—from a single piece of mahogany, its glimmering patina looked warm to the touch. Rosebuds etched into the swirls of wood grain flanked the sides like two bronzed bridal bouquets. The clock’s top was rounded and smooth like the draped head of a Madonna. I ran my palm across the polished surface and it was like touching warm water.
Legend was this clock originally belonged to the young wife of a Southampton doctor and that it stopped keeping time in 1912, the very moment the Titanic sank and its owner became a widow. The grieving woman’s only consolation was the clock’s apparent prescience of her husband’s horrible fate and its kinship with the pain that left her inert in sorrow. She never remarried and she never had the clock fixed.
I bought it sight unseen for my great aunt’s antique store, like so many of the items I’d found for the display cases. In the year and half I’d been in charge of the inventory, the best pieces had come from the obscure estate sales that my British friend Emma Downing came upon while tooling around the southeast of England looking for oddities for her costume shop. She found the clock at an estate sale in Felixstowe and the auctioneer, so she told me, had been unimpressed with the clock’s sad history. Emma said he’d read the accompanying note about the clock as if reading the rules for rugby.
My mother watched now as I positioned the clock on the lacquered black mantle that rose above a marble fireplace. She held a lead crystal vase of silk daffodils in her hands.
“It should be ticking.” She frowned. “People will wonder why it’s not ticking.” She set the vase down on the hearth and stepped back. Her heels made a clicking sound on the parquet floor beneath our feet. “You know, you probably would’ve sold it by now if it was working. Did Wilson even look at it? You told me he could fix anything.”
I flicked a wisp of fuzz off the clock’s face. I hadn’t asked the shop’s resident and unofficial repairman to fix it. “It wouldn’t be the same clock if it was fixed.”
“It would be a clock that did what it was supposed to do.” My mother leaned in and straightened one of the daffodil blooms.
“This isn’t just any clock, Mom.” I took a step back too.
My mother folded her arms across the front of her Ann Taylor suit. Pale blue, the color of baby blankets and robins’ eggs. Her signature color. “Look, I get all that about the Titanic and the young widow, but you can’t prove any of it, Jane,” she said. “You could never sell it on that story.”
A flicker of sadness wobbled inside me at the thought of parting with the clock. This happens when you work in retail. Sometimes you have a hard time selling what you bought to sell.
“I’m thinking maybe I’ll keep it.”
“You don’t make a profit by hanging onto the inventory.” My mother whispered this, but I heard her. She intended for me to hear her. This was her way of saying what she wanted to about her aunt’s shop—which she’d inherit when Great Aunt Thea passed—without coming across as interfering.
My mother thinks she tries very hard not to interfere. But it is one of her talents. Interfering when she thinks she’s not. It drives my younger sister Leslie nuts.
“Do you want me to take it back to the store?” I asked.
“No! It’s perfect for this place. I just wish it were ticking.” She nearly pouted.
I reached for the box at my feet that I brought the clock in along with a set of Shakespeare’s works, a pair of pewter candlesticks, and a Wedgwood vase. “You could always get a CD of sound effects and run a loop of a ticking clock,” I joked.
She turned to me, childlike determination in her eyes. “I wonder how hard it would be to find a CD like that!”
“I was kidding, Mom! Look what you have to work with.” I pointed to the simulated stereo system she’d placed into a polished entertainment center behind us. My mother never used real electronics in the houses she staged, although with the clientele she usually worked with—affluent real estate brokers and equally well-off buyers and sellers—she certainly could.
“So I’ll bring in a portable player and hide it in the hearth pillows.” She shrugged and then turned to the adjoining dining room. A gleaming black dining table had been set with white bone china, pale yellow linen napkins, and mounds of fake chicken salad, mauvey rubber grapes, and plastic croissants and petit fours. An arrangement of pussy willows graced the center of the table. “Do you think the pussy willows are too rustic?” she asked.
She wanted me to say yes so I did.
“I think so, too,” she said. “I think we should swap these out for that vase of Gerbera daisies you have on that escritoire in the shop’s front window. I don’t know what I was thinking when I brought these.” She reached for the unlucky pussy willows. “We can put these on the entry table with our business cards.”
She turned to me. “You did bring yours this time, didn’t you? It’s silly for you to go to all this work and then not get any customers out of it.” My mother made her way to the entryway with the pussy willows in her hands and intention in her step. I followed her.
This was only the second house I’d helped her stage, and I didn’t bring business cards the first time because she hadn’t invited me to until we were about to leave. She’d promptly told me then to never go anywhere without business cards. Not even to the ladies room. She’d said it and then waited, like she expected me to take out my BlackBerry and make a note of it.
“I have them right here.” I reached into the front pocket of my capris and pulled out a handful of glossy business cards emblazoned with Amsterdam Avenue Antiques and its logo—three As entwined like a Celtic eternity knot. I handed them to her and she placed them in a silver dish next to her own. Sophia Keller Interior Design and Home Staging. The pussy willows actually looked wonderful against the tall jute-colored wall.
“There. That looks better!” she exclaimed as if reading my thoughts. She turned to survey the main floor of the townhouse. The owners had relocated to the Hamptons and were selling off their Manhattan properties to fund a cushy retirement. Half the décor—the books, the vases, the prints—were on loan from Aunt Thea’s shop. My mother, who’d been staging real estate for two years, brought me in a few months earlier when she discovered a stately home filled with charming and authentic antiques sold faster than the same home filled with reproductions.
“You and Brad should get out of that teensy apartment on the West Side and buy this place. The owners are practically giving it away.”
Her tone suggested she didn’t expect me to respond. I easily let the comment evaporate into the sunbeams caressing us. It was a comment for which I had had no response.
My mother’s gaze swept across the two large rooms she’d furnished and she frowned when her eyes reached the mantle and the silent clock.
“Well, I’ll just have to come back later today,” she spoke into the silence. “It’s being shown first thing in the morning.” She swung back around. “Come on. I’ll take you back.”
We stepped out into the April sunshine and to her Lexus parked across the street along a line of townhouses just like the one we’d left. As we began to drive away, the stillness in the car thickened, and I fished my cell phone out of my purse to see if I’d missed any calls while we were finishing the house. On the drive over I had a purposeful conversation with Emma about a box of old books she found at a jumble sale in Oxfordshire. That lengthy conversation filled the entire commute from the store on the seven-hundred block of Amsterdam to the townhouse on East Ninth, and I found myself wishing I could somehow repeat that providential circumstance. My mother would ask about Brad if the silence continued. There was no missed call, and I started to probe my brain for something to talk about. I suddenly remembered I hadn’t told my mother I’d found a new assistant. I opened my mouth to tell her about Stacy but I was too late.
“So what do you hear from Brad?” she asked cheerfully.
“He’s doing fine.” The answer flew out of my mouth as if I’d rehearsed it. She looked away from the traffic ahead, blinked at me, and then turned her attention back to the road. A taxi pulled in front of her, and she laid on the horn, pronouncing a curse on all taxi drivers.
“Idiot.” She turned to me. “How much longer do you think he will stay in New Hampshire?” Her brow was creased. “You aren’t going to try to keep two households going forever, are you?”
I exhaled heavily. “It’s a really good job, Mom. And he likes the change of pace and the new responsibilities. It’s only been two months.”
“Yes, but the inconvenience has to be wearing on you both. It must be quite a hassle maintaining two residences, not to mention the expense, and then all that time away from each other.” She paused but only for a moment. “I just don’t see why he couldn’t have found something similar right here in New York. I mean, don’t all big hospitals have the same jobs in radiology? That’s what your father told me. And he should know.”
“Just because there are similar jobs doesn’t mean there are similar vacancies, Mom.”
She tapped the steering wheel. “Yes, but your father said . . .”
“I know Dad thinks he might’ve been able to help Brad find something on Long Island but Brad wanted this job. And no offense, Mom, but the head of environmental services doesn’t hire radiologists.”
She bristled. I shouldn’t have said it. She would repeat that comment to my dad, not to hurt him but to vent her frustration at not having been able to convince me she was right and I was wrong. But it would hurt him anyway.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” I added. “Don’t tell him I said that, okay? I just really don’t want to rehash this again.”
But she wasn’t done. “Your father has been at that hospital for twenty-seven years. He knows a lot of people.” She emphasized the last four words with a pointed stare in my direction.
“I know he does. That’s really not what I meant. It’s just Brad has always wanted this kind of job. He’s working with cancer patients. This really matters to him.”
“But the job’s in New Hampshire!”
“Well, Connor is in New Hampshire!” It sounded irrelevant even to me to mention the current location of Brad’s and my college-age son. Connor had nothing to do with any of this. And he was an hour away from where Brad was anyway.
“And you are here,” my mother said evenly. “If Brad wanted out of the city, there are plenty of quieter hospitals right around here. And plenty of sick people for that matter.”
There was an undercurrent in her tone, subtle and yet obvious, that assured me we really weren’t talking about sick people and hospitals and the miles between Manhattan and Manchester. It was as if she’d guessed what I’d tried to keep from my parents the last eight weeks.
My husband didn’t want out of the city.
He just wanted out.