Friday, November 1, 2013

#16 Lamb in his Bosom

When I first read this book, I was extremely pregnant and confined to my bed. Cean, the main character, is a supreme force of womanhood in every possible sense of the phrase. Reading about this busy and industrious mother-of-many while laying flat on my back made me feel supremely lazy. The level of energy and labor it takes to run a rural household is not for the faint of heart. Despite being a big fan of all the shiny appliances of modern convenience, I was definitely intrigued by the mundane details of her day to day existence. The process of watching a big girl turn into a little woman with a home of her own was fascinating. Imagine a world without Wal-Mart or Target where every piece of your household has to be furnished from scratch and often needs to planned months ahead of time to keep everyone properly clothed and fed. Never mind the tedium of washing clothes by hand; She had to MAKE the clothes too. Most would be crushed by the pressure but her motivation against procrastination was... death.
If she didn't keep soap made and salve on hand, someone could die of an infection. If she didn't think ahead to preserve the right foods in the right quantities, her family would never survive a bad season. If she didn't keep her vegetable garden in top shape, malnourishment would be soon to follow. Animals must be tended if they are to be expected to provide milk and meat in the future. Let the fire embers go out? The baby might freeze to death in the night. (And because no one is perfect and no one can control everything, some people in her family did indeed die) Even her own health had to be preserved so that she could birth babies and nurse them from her breast... all while still keeping up with everything else that needed doing!

No wonder obesity is such an issue today. Not only are we doing so much less, we are eating absolute rubbish. On her best days, her dishes were hearty, wholesome, and nourishing. Loads of healthy fats from healthy animals kept her hardworking family energized through their long days. I have a lot of Crunchy-Granola-Mama friends who would absolutely adore this book to the level of possibly considering it pornography. The satisfaction I got from seeing the fruits of Cean's labor was out of this world. She made me desperately want to be a better mother and provider.

Her strong-bodied husband was another interesting character altogether. His commitment to his wife, family, and land was inspiring but also terrifying. Seeing the burden of responsibility was frightening at times. Especially during the horrific moments when his dedication and resilience simply weren't enough to keep everyone safe and healthy. Considering the harsh realities of rural farming life, it seems obvious why he and other father figures of his sort (like Wang Lung in "The Good Earth") seemed cold at times to their wife and children. With death always being one step behind you, there wasn't much time for warmth and coddling. Especially over a tiny infant who might not even make it through the night. If you want to show your children you love them, show them strength and provide for them. Leave the mushy love for fairy tales. That isn't to say that Lonzo didn't love his family. He did. Passionately and ferociously. The author made that very clear. But his primary responsibility was simply to never die, which as we know, is a ridiculous goal.

Now don't misunderstand me. This book was not only about housework and farming. There is a very worthwhile and surprising plot woven into this backdrop. I can honestly say I would have enjoyed the story just as much without the added interest of the family life. Plot twists, turmoil, drama, all that jazz that makes up a nice juicy story. Oh, and as an added bonus for the historian in me, this family is also a non-slave owning white family living on the cusp of the civil war. Come on. That is interesting! Everyone has written entire libraries full of books about slave owners and slaves from that time period. For once it was nice to read about the actual people who made up the majority of the antebellum south.

Please, please, please, make this one of the books from this damned depressing Pulitzer list that you actually hunt down and read. You won't be disappointed. And you will never take your local supermarket for granted ever again.

1 comment:

Maria said...

This novel definitely made me want to work on my "handmade" skills. I was thinking, "I need to try canning food," and "I should try making soap - or candles," and "I need to finish that quilt!" So many of what were necessary survival skills are now considered hobbies.