The Personal History Of Rachel DuPree
"She looked up at me, her coppery face frozen up with fear. The
wind gusted, and Liz flinched, her eyes slits. Isaac and our oldest
girl, Mary, stood side by side as they gripped the well handle. They
dug in their legs and pushed the handle up.
The rope jerked. Liz dropped a handful of inches. She sucked
in some air and then let out a sharp, piercing cry."
Rachel, narrator of Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of
Rachel DuPree, is describing lowering her terrified six-year-old
daughter into the family well on a makeshift sling. Liz is the only
one in the family old enough for the task and light enough for the
sling. Her job is to use a cup to fill as many buckets as possible
with water from the nearly dry well. The year is 1917; drought is
rampant. Family members and livestock depend on what she can deliver.
Even after the rain returns the family's life is precarious.
There is very little to eat and no money left in the bank. Winter
approaches with nothing to can and set by. Yet another baby is on the
way. But husband Isaac, who prides himself on being the lone black
rancher around, will not stop buying up the land of people who give
up. He also will not give up the face-saving pretences that keep
others from learning how dire his family's situation is.
Isaac assumes their children will follow in their hardscrabble
footsteps. The girls, he takes for granted, will be given over to
other ranchers needing helpmates, probably at very young ages.
"Isaac was talking about our children like they were cattle.
Their marriages would be bargains for land. Just like ours had
been...Grown up and married off that way, they wouldn't know the first
thing about courting, about sharing ice cream sodas or about going to
dances. They wouldn't know anything about falling hard in love and
how that made everything easier to bear."
Rachel wants more for her beloved children. But how can she
change their future?
On a personal note, one facet of this novel reminds me a lot of
today's world. You know how politicians scapegoat welfare recipients
and the other "undeserving" poor, even as they promote an economy that
dooms a lot of people to precarious existences. In the book you see
Native Americans who had had their land stolen demonized.
"...Agency Indians were worthless drunks; agency Indians were
bloodthirsty. They stood in line, their palms up, all too willing to
take government handouts. Agency Indians were the worst kind of
Indians, and I had two of them sitting on my porch."
A great big shout out goes out to all in perilous situations who
struggle to give their children better lives.
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