Archives for posts with tag: books

Mark Twain and Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in Missouri.  He was born there, she died there.  They both wrote fiction based on their childhood.  Last week I visited both of their homes and came home with a renewed fascination with these two remarkable people.

I had been to Hannibal 15 years ago with my son.  He was working with an improv comedy group in college and I told him he needed to learn more about one of the greatest stand up comedians, Mark Twain.  We spent an afternoon in Hannibal, listening to Hal Holbrook’s tape on the way back to school, a couple of hours away.

Nothing much had changed at Mark Twain’s boyhood home since I had been there, which is a good thing.  The night we arrived, I sat on a bench at twilight in front of his home and looked down the street at the Mississippi River while I ate huckleberry ice cream.  It seemed like the perfect way to start the visit.  The white picket fence had a bucket with brushes tied to it so you could take your picture while pretending to whitewash the famous fence.  Last time I visited, the fence had extended further, but they’ve built a lovely garden on what was an empty lot.

DSC_0075The house is well preserved.  I saw pictures around town of Mark Twain standing in front of the house on his last visit to Hannibal in 1902.  He’d come a long way from his days as young Sam Clemens.  My favorite picture was of the photographers and reporters taking pictures of him as he visited, while young boys and townspeople looked on.  He was a rock star in his time.mt hannibal visit boyhood home I had strolled up and down the streets and the river, taking it all in once again.  The mighty Mississippi that I first learned about through his books spread out before me.  The hill where Tom and Huck played to my left, the building where young Clemens first worked for a printer in front of me, his father’s courtroom beside me.

In the morning, I took the tour of the house again, picking out the window he climbed out, as described in Tom Sawyer.  Before you go through the house, there is a nice interpretive center that gives a timeline of his life and gives the background on what in his books is taken from his life, which people he used for the characters.

We visited the other museum downtown with its nice interactive area that would appeal to children and its collection of first editions and copies of Twain’s books in many languages.  My favorite is the collection of the Norman Rockwell paintings that were the illustrations for one of the reprints of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  What a match of two great artists with their sense of humor and small town living.  I only wish they also had some of the originals of another Missouri artist who illustrated the books at another time, Thomas Hart Benton.IMG_4969

This trip, I took the riverboat cruise to get the feel of being on the Mississippi.  It’s a strong, wide body of water and there is a peace about floating along its waters.  I must admit that I was thinking of kids on rafts being in the middle of this current.  I shook my head at the dangers.  Later, I captured a photo of this little town on the river from Lovers Leap bluff with the riverboat coming in and a train rolling by. I could live easily with the sound of the boats and the trains.  DSC_0133Before I left town, I looked up the street towards the statue of Tom and Huck, the first statue dedicated to fictional characters in the United States, and the hill where Sam Clemens played.  Even with the hardships his family endured, his childhood was idyllic in his memory.  I took a graduate level class on Twain in college, but my travels through the places he wrote about, Hannibal, Virginia City, San Francisco, and more, bring him to life just as he brought those places to life for all those who delight in his writing.DSC_0144

On my way home from this trip to Missouri and Kentucky, I found that we would pass by Mansfield, MO, where the Laura Ingalls Wilder home and museum are located.  I came to her books later in life when my oldest daughter was reading them.  I picked one up, read the whole series and searched for more.  I found a biography of what her real life was like, much harsher than the books in childhood.  Mansfield is where she and her husband, Almanzo, her precious Manley as she called him, and her remarkable daughter, Rose, settled.  Once again, the museum was a delight, filled with so many actual items from their lives along with a timeline of both Laura and Rose’s lives.  DSC_0344The family that got out of the van next to our car in the parking lot looked like they had stepped out of Laura’s time, but they were Amish, a family paying tribute.  Other little girls scampered around the grounds, wearing sunbonnets and long dresses, playing Laura from the books and television series.DSC_0346I was reminded that Laura didn’t start writing the books until she was 65, when the stock market crash had wiped Laura and Almanzo out of their investments in their retirement.  Then she wrote one about every two years, writing into her 80s.  Once again, the museum helped sort out fact from the written memoirs, bringing new dimensions to the stories.  And I gained new knowledge and appreciation for the accomplishments of the remarkable Rose Wilder Lane, Laura and Almanzo’s only surviving child, herself a renowned author, journalist, and political activist.

Our guide through the farm house and the little rock house that Rose built for her parents was a delight, an older woman who had actually known Laura and brought so much life to the tours.  She was all that I love about small towns and Missourians with her openness, friendliness and sense of humor.  I love the fact that Almanzo built the entire farmhouse in stages, using materials from the farm, taking 18 years to complete it.  I love that the counters and cabinets in the kitchen were designed for his small wife, who was only 4’11”.  He was only 5’4″, so everything was to scale.  No wonder she was nicknamed “Half Pint” by her Pa.  He built much of the furniture, including chairs that were low to the ground.  I felt I knew Laura after seeing her favorite collections of china and the things she treasured around her, including her beloved library.  I love the fact that she only got a refrigerator a year before she died.  We take such things for granted.  It’s typical that Rose bought the refrigerator, always wanting to bring her parents into the modern world. DSC_0348The little rock house that was a Christmas gift from Rose to her parents was built from a Sears & Roebuck plan using rocks from the property, supervised by Almanzo.  This is the house where Laura actually wrote her first four books in the Little House series, marching up the hill to the farmhouse to discuss them with Rose, who helped with editing and shaping these stories for publication.  DSC_0353I would love to have listened to these two strong willed women argue over the drafts of the books, each fighting for one change or another. And Almanzo, walking with his cane since his stroke early in their marriage, walked down the rock stairs to the field below to milk the goats and carry the milk to the other end of the field to store in the spring house.  I also love that Rose bought them a car in 1923 and they loved it, using it to take trips to California and Minnesota and nearby Springfield whenever they felt like getting out.  Almanzo and Laura were the true story of how our country grew.  Unknown

I hadn’t planned to visit both places when I left home, but they made nice bookends to the trip.  Two of my favorites when I read their works and even more beloved now that I can see them in their homes and know so much more about them as real people who looked back on their childhoods, discarded the worst memories and transformed the best into stories that continue to inspire readers of all ages today, teaching us about the strength of human nature, the joy in relationships, and the humor in mankind.  Classics in every sense of the word.

These quiet winter months have given me a chance to read more and I’ve met some interesting people between the pages – including electronic as well as paper pages.  I’ve been reading biographies the last few weeks and, as always happens in my case, I start looking for more information on the subjects I’ve met.  By coincidence, I’ve been reading about men and found that the women who shared their lives are every bit as fascinating, maybe more so.  You hear about the women behind the men, but I’ve learned that these women almost always are right there beside them, often through thick or thin in the every interpretation of that phrase from their wedding vows.

The first biography I finished was Steve Jobs.  Using his incredible creations made me more interested in the man with all the quirkiness and brilliance we have heard about.  I didn’t even know he was married, which was my ignorance but also due to his desire to keep his personal life private.  Laurene Powell Jobs is a remarkable woman who totally understood her husband.  He must have been hell to live with, but she accepted all sides of who he was and together they raised a lovely family.  She was also the philanthropic member of the family, giving her time and resources to educational interests of hers.  No matter what conclusion I had come to about them as a couple, the most touching thing I read was a description of the last meeting of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, when Jobs knew he was dying.  One of their topics was how lucky they both were to find wives that understood them so well.  Thanks that they recognize it!  I don’t think there are biographies of Laurene, but all who marvel over Jobs and his Apple products in our lives should also be thanking the stars for this beautiful, strong woman who stood right beside him.  They were a unique and modern love story.

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The second biography I read was The Hearsts, which I had purchased right after visiting Hearst Castle last summer.  While touring that incredible home, I was as intrigued by William Randolph Hearst’s parents as I was by him.  George Hearst was an uneducated genius at mining who lived in the right time and was in the right place – much as Steve Jobs was.  He became one of the richest men in the world through common sense and hard work.  One of his greatest decisions, at the age of 41, was to return to his hometown in Missouri to find a wife and come back with 19 year old Phoebe Apperson, a girl of some education and some teaching background.  Maybe his skills at mining taught him to spot something valuable in this young girl or maybe he just got lucky.  Her accomplishments influence us today as much as either her husband or her only son and her influence on both of them made them the men they became.  She did it all through the ups and downs of health and wealth.  We should all know her story without thinking as she helped bring us kindergartens and the PTA.  She was instrumental in helping the University of California develop and grow, and marched for women’s votes when she was seventy.  Essentially also a private person, she lived a large public life in a marriage that was based on love and respect, if not too many shared interests.  Who would have ever suspected all that this midwestern girl would become?  Another unconventional love story for the ages.

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The next book I read was The Aviator’s Wife, a novel about Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  I’ve read many of Anne’s books and diaries and consider A Gift from the Sea to be a must read for all women.  Once again, the husband was a man larger than life and the wife was a young girl who loved her privacy.  If we think that the media hounds political or other public celebrities today, we have to look at the horror that was the life of Charles Lindbergh and his family as they dodged the press.  The handsome aviator was a rigid, demanding man who could not be wrong and that is the worst to live with.  Fortunately, Anne also loved him and was willing to meet the challenging demands he made of her.  She became the first woman to receive a first class glider pilot’s license and learned to navigate for her husband on their world wide flights.  Nobody could imagine what the kidnapping and murder of their first child would do to the world’s most glamorous couple.  It contributed to making him colder and more withdrawn and her stronger, for sure.  They persevered and held together, with Anne truly into her own when she wrote A Gift from the Sea and became a recognized author, all while raising their five children.  This was not an easy man to be married to, but Anne stood beside him to the end, becoming truer to her own dreams.  I’m not sure his star would still have shined as brightly to the end, even with his accomplishments, without her.  Even with his hidden families, I do believe he knew she was always there.

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After reading these books, I was also remembering Mary Montgomery Borglum, the wife of Gutzon Borglum, sculptor of Mt. Rushmore.  I saw a horrible show on him on the History Channel this week which only skimmed the information I had learned from a stack of books I read about them after visiting Mt. Rushmore.  Once again, this quiet wife stood beside this giant genius man and kept life sane in his larger than life quest for his art.  There are days I’m very glad I wasn’t married to a creative genius!  Hugs to these women who stick with that life.

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There are so many of these women, some standing beside men who wish they would step back, while others were proud to have them there.  The message of the stories of the famous should be to look around us at the women we know who do the same.  I know women have come a long way, but most of us still take our responsibilities as wives and mothers seriously.  Most of us give little thought to prioritizing our lives with family first.  What I’ve found, like the women in these stories, is that having that as a priority often brings us knowledge and opportunities that we use to become even stronger women than we would have without that husband and children.

The joy of discovery is that one inquisitive thought leads to a discovery that uncovers new information which leads to new insights.  Thank you to all the women I continually discover who have inspired me throughout my life.  Today, I salute Laurene, Phoebe, Anne and Mary!  There are so many more…

Watching the world on a 24/7 news cycle, reality shows and documentaries and the internet sprinkled into the mix, we have a unique view of the behavior of people around the world.  You begin to search for the nice stories, the feel-good realities that restore your hope for mankind.  Otherwise, it’s pretty horrifying to watch what people say to each other, do to each other.

Listening to people justify guns and violence, hate and hurt, I have to go back to the most basic lesson of all…the Golden Rule.  It’s so simple and so basic that we tend to forget its power.

A couple of years ago, I found this little book…

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It contains versions of the Golden Rule from all religions and cultures, going back thousands of years.  It’s so simple that every group of people on the planet has it in their beliefs or literature.  There are versions from Confucius, Native Americans, African tribes, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Torah, Babylonia, Plato, St. Thomas Aquinas, Muhammad, Martin Luther, Matthew, Luke and others.  Pick your prophet or your spokesman – they all have the same message.

I gave a copy of this book to my eight grandchildren for Christmas one year.  It’s small enough to carry with them through life.

The way things are going, I’m going to order some more copies and send to some of our leaders.  Please…it’s so simple.

My first instinct is to ignore the fact that my son died two years ago today, but people keep telling me they’re thinking of me and I feel obligated to share.  I wasn’t dreading this day, wasn’t even thinking about it, but here it is.  You know the things people say when they don’t know what to say…it’s not natural to lose your child, he was too young, he had so much more to do.  We all say them, but living them is a little different.

I was a little less in shock when Clay died because I had already lost my husband.  I guess I can thank him for giving me experience in the loss of a loved one to help me through.  It’s still a shock and it hurts.  It’s another splintering of your heart, another mending with scars growing to keep your heart functioning.  But, we keep on going.  Or not.  Those are the choices.  Last night I saw a character on a tv show ask another one how she was able to smile when she had lost several members of her family.  The one with the losses said she chooses to smile.  So do I.

One of my wisdoms of life is that we are never ready to lose those we love.  It doesn’t matter if it is a sudden death or after a long illness or a long life…we’re never ready.  We can be told that the person will die in the next five minutes and we’re still totally unprepared for the shock of them being here and then they’re not.  Where are they?  They were just here…where did they go?  Your beliefs may help you, but it’s still a shock.  I know this for sure!

Every person deals with loss differently.  Here’s what I do.  First, when you lose a loved one, you feel like the whole world has gone on while your world has stopped.  When you crawl out of your immediate grief, you find that you aren’t alone.  At my son’s service, I was struck by how many people I know who have lost a child.  For a bit, it seemed like everyone I saw had lost a child and all I could think was how ill prepared I was to relate to them at the time of their loss.  There were children lost to accidents, murder, disease, car wrecks, suicides…all manner of horrible losses, all the same pain for the parents.  We all have loss in our lives…death is part of life.  With children, we are always lucky to have them for as long as we do.  I’m amazed that we don’t lose more of them when they’re little because we can’t watch them every minute, no matter how hard we try.  It doesn’t matter if we lose a child as a baby, toddler, child, teen or adult…we don’t want to lose them ever.  They grow within us or we bring them into our lives in another way and they attach themselves to our hearts.  It seems like every day is a challenge to keep them here with us as we struggle with our parental responsibilities.  We grieve when our children die for what we will miss with them and for what others will miss.  We wanted them to live longer than we will because they were the way that our selves would continue after we are gone.  It doesn’t always work that way even if we want to believe it.

Life is a cycle.  I’ve learned to contemplate this truth, helped by the fact that the deaths I’ve endured have been balanced by the joy of life.  When my husband died, we had three brand new grandsons to help me through.  It was hard to grieve the loss of one life when you needed to rejoice at the new ones.  When my son died, we had his 15 month old daughter to keep us balanced.  She didn’t understand the enormity of her loss and her joy of life keeps a smile on our faces even when we think of all he and she will miss together.  Who knows anyway…she seems to know he’s with her in ways we can’t even comprehend.

None of us know how long our life will be or how long anyone we know will live.  I just saw a statistic that there are now 7 billion people on the earth, up a billion from not too long ago.  Even with people dying, we have more people.  We can’t all live to be old – we’re just like other animals and plants and everything else on the planet.  We have a life cycle of our own and our only job is to try and make the best of the time we have, however long that may be.  I know that I’ve had loss and will have other losses, which I dread, but I will try to keep them all in the universal perspective.

I’m a photo nut and have been since I was a little girl.  I like any kind of photo and love that they capture a moment, a look, a thought, a place.  When my husband died, I remember looking for photos, knowing that there would be no more.  I gathered all I could, getting a picture of his life and it was comforting to know it had been a complete one, even if it ended before I wanted it to – or before he wanted it to.  With my son, I have an album of pictures of his life on my computer – I’ve shared it before.  It’s my screen saver, so I see a slide show of pieces of his life every time my computer is winding down.  It’s comforting for me because the images bring back memories of a sweet impish funny caring little boy who was always uniquely himself and carried those traits throughout his life, enriching the lives of those who knew him.  And new pictures surface here and there, little surprises, that add another moment to the hours I wasn’t with him or teach me something new about him.  I smile a lot.

A couple of months after Clay died, a friend lost her son in a car wreck.  She gave me a book that she was given, a little book, “Healing After Loss” by Martha Whitmore Hickman.  It’s a book of daily devotions written by an author who lost her 12 year old daughter years ago.  I say she is Christian, but it’s a book I would give to anyone because she uses quotes from all religions and thoughts that anyone can relate to.  She writes to people, not based on your beliefs or lack of them.  A page a day.  I read it just about every day and go back to read the ones I missed if I’ve forgotten.  I’m on my second or third round.  It’s amazingly relevant for life in general.  I’ve been given and read lots of poems, books, etc on loss and grief.  This one is my favorite.  I have it on my iPad and iPhone – I’ve given away several copies of the paperback.  It’s not for everyone, but it might help someone.

So another anniversary has come and they’re never as bad for me as just some random memory.  I still flinch at the sound of ambulances and jump when the phone rings and have flashbacks at odd times that I have to push away from.  Holidays aren’t so bad because I’m surrounded by family and we laugh and share funny stories.  I’m lucky that my loss of my son is softened by having his daughter near.  I feel the huge responsibility to her and my other grandchildren to keep on living as healthy a life as I can so I can share stories with them and give them a sense of the family they won’t get to know.  For my son’s daughter, I have a box of stories about her father, copies of photos and videos for her to understand a little bit about who he was and what his life meant to all of us.  I collect the funny things his friends write about him and the things I find.  Someday, she can go through and read them all.  At three, she is beginning to look at stories of “baby Daddy” and relate to the fact that he was once little like she is.  I gave her a necklace with a picture of them together and she told me it is “bootiful.”  My heart melts.

I had a memory of Clay a couple of weeks ago that came out of nowhere.  He had just gotten back home after his treatment for cancer in Seattle.  The radiation hadn’t begun to change his ability to talk and eat yet and he was feeling grateful for having been able to have this new treatment.  When we were at the hospital in Seattle, he told me how much seeing the little children with cancer affected him.  One of the first things he did when he got home was go to the hospital and volunteer to help by visiting other cancer patients.  They loved him there as he was one of their youngest volunteers.  Even as a volunteer myself, I thought it was remarkable that he could give back in that way.  I’m not sure I would have wanted to go near the hospital, but he didn’t think about himself.  The internet was somewhat new in 2001, at least in our home.  He went online and found a community of people with the same rare cancer he had and reached out to them.  I thought he was finding out more for himself, but I happened to see some of his exchanges since we shared the computer.  He was comforting them, helping them through it.

I don’t know why that memory popped into my mind, but it’s one of the things that helps.  This boy of mine lived a complete life for the time he had on this earth.  He lived and laughed and loved for all his days.  May we all do so well with the time we are given.

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When I was a little girl, I read all the time.  I read stacks of books from the library…fairy tales, mythology, mysteries, the OZ books (yes, there is an entire series).   If you’re old enough to remember the little orange bound biographies for kids in the library, you’ll remember checking those out to read the stories of Davy Crockett, George Washington, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, et al.  We had the My Book House set, and I read those over and over and over.  I lived in a magical world of make-believe.

Among my favorites were the Mary Poppins books.  The Disney movie was released when I was in high school and I absolutely adored it.  Last night, I took my 11 year old granddaughter, Caroline, to see the musical based on the book and the movie.  It was charming, but it made me think.  I related to the story from the books and then the movie.  My granddaughter had only seen the movie.  I’m going to get her the books because she needs to know those stories, but what a difference in our lives and our reading.

When I was doing all my reading as a child, we had movies and very little television at first.  Today’s kids have so many ways to get a story with 24/7 television, 3D movies, iPads and, yes, books, electronic and paper.  I’m not against the new ways, I love my iBooks, but there is something so innocent about children with books.  Actually, I guess that Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series aren’t any more frightening than the things I read, especially with the other things kids see on the news.  I’d like to think it would be nicer if we didn’t have to subject them to the real world at such early ages, but I’m not sure it did us much good to be so protected.

Life is life and we are all nostalgic for what we think was the innocence of our childhood.  Actually, there were bad things happening back then, too.  We try to shelter our children as much as we can from the harsher aspects of life, but there will always be ugliness and evil as long as there are people.  Reading is one way to escape and/or prepare yourself for dealing with the dragons and ogres in the real world.

But, oh my, wouldn’t it be nice if we all had a Mary Poppins to come bring order to our lives?  Spit, spot!

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