Angel on the Square

After he left, I wailed to Mama, “He’ll be killed in a war like my papa and his papa were.”

“Nonsense,” Mama said, trying to comfort me. “There are no wars for soldiers to fight these days. Countries are too sensible for such things.”

— from Angel on the Square, Gloria Whelan, 2001

This older-aged children’s book is about the Russian Revolution. The narrator, a young girl named Katya, is an aristocrat going to live with the Russian tsar and his family. Her cousin Misha, a strong-willed boy being sent to military school, is a supporter of the Revolution. The history comes alive in this story, as do the attitudes of the common people, the aristocrats, and the revolutionaries. Katya’s attitude, torn between her own tenderheartedness for the mistreated peasants and her loyalty to her royal friends, strengthens as her country weakens and eventually falls into the evil hands of Lenin.

The quote above struck a warning chord with my own naivete. Like Katya’s mother, I would like to believe in peaceful, sensible countries. But also, like Katya, I know that wars will happen, countries and their people will fall, governments will be overthrown and changed, and that is how the world works. Sometimes God chooses to build His kingdom through the crumbling of earthly kingdoms. Like Katya, God’s people rise from a war in changed circumstances but with stronger hearts.

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The Rooks Have Returned

The Rooks Have Returned, Aleksey Savrasov, 1871
The Rooks Have Returned, Aleksey Savrasov, 1871

When I think of Russia, I think of long winters. Winters long enough and cold enough to keep a person inside so he can finish writing War and Peace or some other thick volume. I have found myself thinking about Russian winters and comparing them to this particularly cold Wisconsin winter. Look at all the posts I wrote this winter! I’ve been feeling Tolstoy-ish. And now I’m ready to be Savrasov-ish. In his country, the return of the rooks were a sure sign of spring. His “mood landscape” shows the hope he has despite bitter winters and dark days. (And, according to my research, this particular painting was painted after Savrasov’s daughter died and he spent a period of time trying to escape his grief by wandering the outdoors.)

So let the rooks return to Russia, let the snow fort in my yard melt away, and let the noisy birds nest above all thirty-one of my windows. Spring will come at last.

A Wilder Rose

I didn’t consider my work for Mama Bess to be the same thing as my ghostwriting for Lowell Thomas. She was my mother and I was obliged to help her–and I wasn’t getting paid. But if Marion Fiery had any idea how much I was involved, she might consider it ghostwriting. She might just toss off a mention in an editorial meeting: “Oh, by the way, Mrs. Wilder’s book is being ghostwritten by Rose Lane, so there won’t be a lot of editorial work to be done on it.” Word would get around, and I didn’t want that. 

Would I have felt differently if I had known that this one book was only the first of an eight-book series? Would I have asked for recognition and a share of the royalties if I had known that each book would take two or three months away from my writing projects and sap whatever meager store of energy I might have for my own work?

Perhaps.

— from A Wilder Rose, Susan Wittig Albert, 2013

This novel has permanently changed my view of the Little House series. Having grown up with the books and the TV series, Laura Ingalls Wilder is a household name. Rose Wilder Lane was not. Maybe in the past ten years I had somehow acquired the knowledge that Rose was Laura’s daughter, but it didn’t mean much to me. I had no idea Rose was the professional writer in the family, the one who took her mother’s orange composition notebooks filled with her anecdotes and created the books that sit on many, many bookshelves today. But the really interesting story lies in the strained relationship between Laura and Rose. And then, place an already tense family situation into the volatile time period of the 1930s and early 40s. The Little House books might be about brave pioneers surviving difficult trials, but between the lines hides the ghost of the books: the daughter who inherited the stories, built the storyline, supported her parents, but whose independence led her through an entirely different journey.

The Hailstorm

The Hailstorm, Thomas Hart Benton, 1940
The Hailstorm, Thomas Hart Benton, 1940

I’ve been doing some thinking about the 1930s and 40s, FDR, and the New Deal. I don’t normally find myself in a political frame of mind, so when a political idea pops into it, I take notice. It seems to me the people of the United States suffered under the bureaucracy and regulations of the New Deal. Less freedom, more government. The US political scene has changed since then, but now I see many of the same things in our current federal government. More government control, less free market. Well, when you see a bad thing coming, you run for cover or you get hit, right? I’m wondering if there are safe places in running distance, or if the storm will be so bad it completely changes the landscape.

Report on my third book reading

My third book reading was held this morning at Ripon Public Library in a lovely room with old tables, chairs, rocking chairs, lamps, pictures of old Ripon, and a video camera. I was recorded and will be on the local Ripon cable channel at some point in the future. When the librarian asked me if I would like to be recorded, I initially thought, “No way. Not going to happen.” I often have initial reactions like that, and then someone or something changes my mind. In this case it was my husband who changed my mind. When I told him about the cable channel recording (speaking in a rather sarcastic manner because I thought it wouldn’t ever happen) he began to cheer and shout and stomp his feet. He considers himself my marketing expert, and I do vaguely recall him once saying, “If only we could get you on television…” So. I was recorded this morning. It went well, although I had no visitors. The librarian and the video recording man were my audience. They both bought a book!

This was my last planned reading event. I am not opposed to doing future readings, but I am also content to let this be the last one. The grand excitement of being a published author has simmered down to a pleased knowledge of accomplishment. And I also feel the challenge to keep writing. After all, a writer is a person who writes.

The Time Is Noon

She was making her life, shaping it about the children. One had to take life and make it, gather it from here and there–yellow curtains, carrots, a bed for a little boy, milk for a sick baby, sheets of music to write, her unfinished child, a house–out of such and everything she would make her life. And underneath was the strong sustaining web of love unspoken. What if it were unspoken and unreturned? A phrase came flying out of her childhood, her father, from the pulpit, reading, “And underneath us are the everlasting arms.” She had caught the phrase then because it was lovely, listening to him idly in the careless fullness of her childhood. But now when all childhood was gone she could take the beautiful words, like an empty cup, and fill them to the brim with her own meaning, her own secret meaning.

— from The Time Is Noon, Pearl S. Buck, 1966

I wasn’t going to write about this book. I loved it, but I wasn’t going to admit that publicly. You see, the book is about Joan, a pastor’s daughter, and the beginning of her adulthood. Though her relationship with her devout father grows, even beyond his death, her relationship with God stops. She denies there is a God. She chooses to change the meanings of spiritual things to suit herself. The problem with all this… I sympathize a great deal with Joan. And that makes me uneasy because I do not deny God. I don’t know if I ought to admire and relate to Joan so much.

And yet, the book has its charms, drawing me into the story, into Joan’s life and her family. Perhaps I can take the story, like an empty cup, and fill it to the brim with my own meaning. I don’t have to remain true to the unfaithful spirit of the book. I can bring my own faith to the story and see how despite trials and deaths and unwise choices, my story differs from Joan’s. My triumph is everlasting, while her triumph is something lovely but fleeting.

Michelangelo’s Moses

Moses, Michelangelo, 1515
Moses, Michelangelo, 1515

When I look at a Michelangelo sculpture, I see the great energy he used to chip the image out of the stone. How he must have needed to sculpt! Look at this Moses figure, larger than life, designed for the tomb of Pope Julius II. He is seated, and yet he appears grand, muscular, forceful, important. The physical aspects of the marble met their human match. And I mean that as a double entendre. Sometimes I wonder if Michelangelo imagined Moses to be quite like himself.