Book Review, Prairie Fires

Prairie Fires

Written by Caroline Fraser,  Prairie Fires is a biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder, her parents, grandparents and daughter couched in a history and discourse of the American frontier.

The biography finds purchase in the final third of the book, describing how the Little House books came about.

In most of the reviews I’ve read, Little House fans adored Prairie Fires. They cut their ‘reading teeth’ on Wilder’s books, many learning how to read from the Little House books along with how to accomplish many other frontier tasks. I don’t disagree that Wilder helped form the frontier conscience of our nation, but I think this was unwitting on her part.

Wilder was not my first read. In fact, my mother tried to get me to read the Little House books but I found the work tedious and too shiny. (Funnily enough, I found Prairie Fires tedious also.) I knew even at five and six years of age, that I was being forced to swallow the Pollyanna without much story. I just couldn’t find a footing in the books and if the books were bad the television series was deplorable. My tastes ran more to fantasy, which I knew wasn’t real and enjoyed it all the more for it. I mention all of this ‘me’ stuff because I am an unreliable reviewer for this book.

I admired Fraser’s research but became bored with her preaching about the sins of early American governments. This nation is an easy target and often exploited. But as a writer she is surely entitled to her own soap box. I just thought the book would have been a much better read without the discourse.

The other thing I took issue with was the pressure of the ‘truth.’ Wilder wrote rosy children’s books. I think it would be clear that she had help writing them and that she kept to the sunny-side of major tragedies. I see no reason to dive into Wilder’s past in order to state the obvious and be so exercised about it that countless references fill the book. Maybe this is unfair to Fraser who is a talented writer and remarkable scholar. Like I said, I am an unreliable reviewer.

So why read the book? If you are interested in the American frontier, read this book. Farser’s research is superb.

If you treasured Wilder’s series, read the last third of the book. It is a well detailed story, if a bit skewed against Rose. Perhaps Rose was a quarter bubble short of plumb. I am not so convinced in this telling, which seems to rely on Rose’s political views as much as other facts. But I did enjoy how Wilder developed her stories and her skills.

The final reason to read this book is to join the discussion which is full and rich and very American. Thanks for reading. Bev

Published also at Goodreads and http://www.justonebeggar.net/

In Memory of Lonny Gene Coots, 1

In Memory of Lonny Gene Coots

Advent 2018
December 2
My husband passed on November 15, 2018. He died in his sleep. I had gone to the other room. I was surly and tired. If I had known, I wouldn’t have left. I wonder two things: did God drive me from the room so He could take His beloved child, or did my husband drive me because he was so tired of living a half life? I do not know, but I believe as we often believe somewhere between the heart and the mind, in a bubble of hope, I believe it was God and my husband together. They had a deal and I wasn’t privy to a mystery which I could not keep.
The bubble of hope stumps me. In the middle of profound grief, I find myself smiling. Maybe God did do it. Maybe God sanctioned my husband’s leaving. I hope He did. I know He is with God, but to know further that God scooped my husband up according to God’s perfect plan, this is beyond me.
I have stories, memories I want to get down, some I almost lost but for friends recalling them. This Advent season I will post a few.
I begin with a recent story. Two weeks before he passed, I was struggling with how to serve him. He shouldn’t drive, not that he didn’t try, but he was too tired and his truck was in the shop, so my warrior, my pilot, my adventurer was stuck in front of the television with old re-runs and two lazy dogs. He ventured out only for dialysis three times a week and returned spent, still trying to feed me with a take out sandwich, trying to feed the dogs by buying dog food. It broke my heart. We had planned to travel. Maybe he would help me learn to fly, maybe he would finally teach me Karate. He was a cook when we were first married, maybe we could at least cook together teasing each other about what tasted good, and that, according to him, bologna was an excellent entree. Instead, he was a whisper a tangled thought maybe a thin mist of himself in a big chair with the volume on high.
I came in that afternoon, determined to do something right, determined to scoop him up myself, if for nothing more than a diversion  “Come on,” I said. “We’re going to go vote.”
“But it’s not election day.”
“I know but we’ll go early. Let’s go feel the power.”
He chuckled. “Let me get my shoes on.”
Was it then that I noticed his eyes, they were bigger, more childlike, happy for a small gift of time from his too frequently occupied wife. They shone like aquamarine, magnified and lightened in his glasses. He smiled, delighted. Oh that I would have done something for that smile a thousand times more often. But I had it that once and I wouldn’t waste it.
We went to the early voting station, but I couldn’t get into the close parking. We agreed he would be fine, that it would even be good for him to walk a little.
We walked slowly and though it was a rare cool day, the sun was pleasant away from the wind. I watched him walk bent and slow, holding on to the wall because he didn’t want me babying him. It didn’t matter. I wouldn’t have minded. I wanted to help. I wanted to scream. I wanted him whole and vital as much for his sake as mine. I prayed for a kidney, I prayed for strength in his legs to return, I prayed for that bubble of hope.
Inside we found friends. My former sister-in-law and her husband, kind people. We were delighted. They were delighted. We were all voting, exercising our rights and our minds, participating in life and civics and things that matter. We were part of a teaming mass. We were vital. It was a good day.
My husband cast his vote first, while I was still talking to my sister-in-law. My breath caught. He wasn’t confused, or disinterested. He had finished by the time I found him. His grin really did stretch from ear to ear.
“Have you already voted?”
“Oh yes. I’ve been finished for a while. Just waiting on you.”
I was breathless. It was a familiar joke and told in a familiar way. He had joked that I really was going to be late for my own wedding. My heart skipped. “You’re teasing me?” I could hardly get the words out for the laughter spilling from every thought. My husband, for this short time and in this short way, he is mine again, and he cherishes me. 
We might have bought sandwiches. We might have gone home and I made supper. I wish I could remember. So much, too much, is a blur. He was tired and slept in front of the television after we returned home.
But I remember his blue eyes, light and bright. They told me not to be so serious. They told me he loved me. They told me that just for a moment we were once again young and in love.

also published at justonebeggar.net

Summer Seminar, Joy Writers

Our Summer Seminar for Joy Writers begins tomorrow. If you are in the Roswell area and interested in honing your writing skills and enjoying good fellowship, come by the Roswell Public Library. We will begin at 9:00 in the Bondurant Room.

The seminar will be led by our fearless leader, Eva McCollaum. You can find her blog here. Speak with her if you would like to join us, or come by.

We read Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley as our novel for the seminar this year.

Set in Los Angeles in 1948, the young black man easy-going Easy Rawlings, tells his story first hand. Recently fired due to racism, Easy is anxious to pay the mortgage on his home. In the first scene Easy meets DeWitt Albright, a white man  with pale eyes and pale skin, wearing off-white linen. For me the first scene sets up the book in a memorable way. DeWitt continues to live in my memory after several years. He is menacing from the get-go.

Easy reluctantly accepts money from DeWitt to find a young woman, Daphne Monet who likes to associate with black people. The reader watches as Easy Rawlings tries not to take the job, then slowly becomes entangled in trouble. Two of his associates are killed and he is drug further into a complicated web of intrigue spun by Daphne and her would-be love.

One reviewer mentions a favorite character from the book, Mouse who appears about two-thirds of the way through the novel. Mouse is brutal and quixotic, but he twice saves Easy’s life. At the end of a passage where Easy and Mouse strike a deal to let Easy call the shots, Mouse says,” Whatever you say Easy, Maybe you gonna show me how a poor man can live wit’out blood.” It’s a telling line and describes how Mouse survives.

I recommend this book if your read noir detective fiction. Read it for the characters, Easy, Mouse, DeWitt and a host of other well drawn people, read it for the setting, Los Angeles in 1948, and finally read it for a study of racism then and now.

Enough for now. Bev

Also posted on justonebeggar.net

Fluffy not Stuffy

Blog post Fluffy not stuffyIn 1972, Three Musketeers released an add campaign for their candy bar claiming it was, ‘fluffy not stuffy.’ It was an unusual idea for a candy bar. I thought of this add campaign when I heard someone say that God must want her fluffy since most of her efforts at exercise were dashed before they could begin. I laughed and thinking I might claim the line for myself.  Later, I found myself trying to explain to an occasional believer and dear friend, why the line tickled me so.

My friend was appalled at the lengths many believers would go to blame God for our lack of will power, and remarked, “You people are so eager to give yourselves excuses.”

“No you see it’s only funny because of that very reason,” I began, but I smiled and shook my head. Before I could get far into the conversation, I realized that the comment was funny to me because it frivolously embodied several arguments/apologies, the fruits of the Spirit, free will and God’s will, and to some extent, false humility.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. The casual comment implied that God had not gifted the woman with that particular fruit. To my mind, that was a charming jumble of human-ness. While the fruits of the Spirit can be considered gifts of God, they are more closely the harvest in humans of a right relationship with God. In this passage in Galatians, Paul tells us what to expect as we humble ourselves before the Lord. He also tells us what we might look for in others to deepen our joy and quicken our hearts. Paul begins by calling us free, and gives us a discussion of the considerations of our free will, within God’s will. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm then and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery,” Galatians 5:1. He is speaking of being a slave to sin. In the comment about fluffy, we can see that we have sinned in so many ways, sinned by blaming God for our silliness, sinned by acts of the flesh which Paul lists, see Galatians 5:19-21, and sinned by using our free will to appease our appetites rather than seek a stronger relationship to God.

As for false humility, in claiming fluffiness, we are confessing our lack of perfection by the world’s standards. But fluffiness is a cute way to describe something ugly. We are confessing, but not really. In his book, Humility, Andrew Murray puts it this way. “The call to humility has been too little regarded in the Church because its true nature and importance has been too little apprehended. It is not something which we bring to God, or which He bestows; it is simply the sense of entire nothingness which comes when we see how truly God is all, and in which we make way for God to be all.” If God were truly all in our lives, our fluffiness would not be an issue because our self-ness would not be an issue. Whether we were fluffy of stuffy, would not be an issue.

For me, the over-arching point of Galatians 5 is that we are freed by Jesus. The Gospel message is true. Sometimes it is light as a fragrant Spring dawn. Free will in side of God’s will is a concept best explained empirically and demonstrated in the fruits of the Spirit. We are free, but our will is lessened as we grow closer to God. Our petulant demands to do what we want to do, become memories. Our rights inside of God’s will delight us. We are identified by our choices, good and bad and yet God loves us so, that He sent Jesus. We can make a joke at our own expense. We are free to laugh at ourselves knowing that what we mean is, God I long to do better and be better, but thank you Jesus for my freedom. Our gratitude overwhelms us.

(This is re-posted from justonebeggar.net)