I am a big time fan of Ruth White's novels for children. Her
ability to create a vivid sense of time and place and make characters
most of us would see as merely underprivileged come to complex and
often contradictory life is nothing short of amazing. In Little
Audrey she gives us a rare and fascinating glimpse into her own
childhood, retelling her family history through the voice of older
sister Audrey who was going on twelve, "nearabout grown up", in 1948.
Audrey lived in the Appalachians, a part of America that was
left far behind while much of the country enjoyed post war
prosperity. Jewell Valley was a camp that provided housing for coal
miners and their families. Each family had at least one member in
that backbreaking and dangerous line of work. Her description of
shift change is quite poignant.
"...They don't talk. They carry their dinner pails and walk
slow 'cause they are wore out...You can't tell one from the other
'cause they are covered with coal dust from head to toe. Their black-
rimmed eyes squint in the sunlight."
Audrey idolized her teacher, a ray of sun in a rather dim
landscape. She agonized over her plainness in comparison to the
younger sisters she awould allude to as the three little pigs, her
glasses, and her thinness caused by a bout of scarlet fever. She
perceived that a close friend probably was ditching her in favor of a
girl she didn't even like. A couple of bullies did their best to make
her life miserable. Her mom was often physically present but
emotionally inaccessible, caught up in sorrow caused by the death of
her baby girl. Her father often spent his pay on alcohol rather than
food and could be a pretty ugly drunk.
That someone could go through these experiences and come out
writing with tenderness and empathy rather than trying to put it all
behind her gives a new meaning to the word resilience.
On a personal note, to use an expression Audrey would probably have
been familiar with, I am as keyed up as a long tailed cat in a room
full of rocking chairs. Veazie is doing a written vote on the school
budget. The number the town council has on the ballot is far too
little. One of two things can happen. The voters can vote it down,
giving us (School Committee) a chance to come up with something
better. Or the voters can approve a figure that would start a death
spiral for not only the school, but the town itself.
A great big shout goes out to all the people who are voting in the
school and children's best interests.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod