Posted in autobiographies, fatherhood memoirs

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

the-glass-castle The Glass Castle: a Memoir, by Jeanette Wells. Originally published in 2005. 289 pages.

One of our daughters asked me about 6 months ago if I had ever read The Glass Castle. I answered in the negative, but assured her that I would get around to it. I hadn’t gotten around to it as of a month ago, either. So when our local library dropped it on my doorstep I knew immediately who had ordered it and that I needed to get reading. Obviously the book had impacted her enough that she wanted someone to share her thoughts on it with.

If you don’t want to sink, you’d better learn how to swim.

This well worn axiom, uttered by Jeanette Walls’ father while he “taught” her to swim jumped out at me for several reasons. The first was that it is the way my husband described his father’s parenting philosophy. Second, was that the Walls’ kids had better learn to swim because if they found themselves sinking, their parents were in no way equipped to throw them a life raft, even if they wanted to.

As I began reading this memoir I was hooked from the first page, finding myself pulled in to a dysfunctional and chaotic life that was just another day at the office for Jeanette Walls, her parents, and her three siblings. Her recounting was equal parts astonishing and heart rending, but I was horrified enough that neither of those emotions were able to take root as I continued to read the book.

Rex and Mary Walls were highly intelligent and gifted people who were also far too eccentric and self-centered to be good parents. On the one hand they educated their children much more effectively than any school they attended or could have attended. But what good was that when the children were dirty, the family often went without food, and the children were reduced to scavenging dumpsters for a bite to eat?

They taught their children to be strong and make their way in the world by refusing to be overprotective. However, their utter refusal to protect their children when it mattered most revealed that any self-sufficiency they acquired was a result of that sink or swim dynamic I opened this post with. It certainly wasn’t a calculated parenting strategy.

My thoughts on the overall presentation of the book are mixed. Quite frankly, I have a pretty big wall of skepticism when it comes to recounting early childhood memories in vivid detail the way Walls does in this book. Whether it was that skepticism or the utter disbelief I felt that such gifted people could be such terrible parents, I often found myself incredulous and looking at the book as if I were reading a novel rather than a memoir.

The chapters were short, snippets of moments which one can assume must be those things that left the greatest impression on the author. That the children were able to escape, with three of the four experiencing unexpected levels of success, is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Walls’ descriptions of her parents, despite their failings, are wrapped in the residual affection of a woman who as a young girl was awed by her father and fascinated with her mother. Her understanding of her parents’ clearly unbalanced nature softens the veracity with which she reveals the shortcomings which caused she and her siblings so much pain and instability throughout their childhoods.

Worth a read.

Grade:B-

Content advisory: Mental illness, domestic violence, alcoholism, instances of child sexual abuse (not at the hands of the parents)

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

El’s Rabbit Trails: Misinformation Overload 

A conversation had with my husband: 

Relative: “You all set to vote Trump?”

“I’ll have to sit this one out.”

Relative: “I thought you liked him. But you can vote for Hillary.”

“If I had to pick one of the two it would NOT be her. ”

Relative: “We can’t let him in there. He’s all mixed up with the KKK.”

“Yeah, because a rich New Yorker is way more likely to be mixed up with KKK than a woman whose husband grew up in an Arkansas trailer park.”

Posted in Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails

El’s Rabbit Trails: Sexy School Daze

Given the atmosphere in the public school system in general, we didn’t really need reason to confirm our choice to avoid public schools. However, this story is another thing that reiterates how many people in the system haven’t a clue about what an education is supposed to be about.

Before I go any further, I’ll put this on record. This chick? She has some killer curves, she hangs her dresses well, and I’m not going to hate on her since there was a day when I wouldn’t have thought twice about wearing a dress that was too tight or too short. This isn’t about my thoughts on her assets or my lack thereof.

She’s beautiful, and if she were going out on a date with her husband, or even to the club for those into the club scene, she should wear her dress and rock it all she wants. Not everyone subscribes to my Christian modesty standards, and I recognize that full well. But there are also places where she shouldn’t wear it. For example a funeral, a church service,  a job interview, or a class full of impressionable students.

With all that out of the way, the story that was featured on the daily mail about the young woman dubbed, “The sexiest teacher alive“:

An Atlanta fourth grade teacher has caused a heated debate online over her form-fitting work attire.

Patrice ‘Tricey’ Brown – now dubbed ‘#TeacherBae’ on Twitter – has been called the ‘sexiest teacher alive’, but she’s also caused an all-out social media war over what is appropriate garb for a grade school educator.

Brown, a paraprofessional for Atlanta Public Schools, posted several pictures of herself to her now-private Instagram account.

As much as I am sure the male staff and developing young boys enjoy the scenery, school is not the place for this. Maybe they need to make the teachers start wearing school uniforms too.

That way, like the students they teach they can avoid the struggle of having to figure what is and isn’t okay to wear when they go to work.

Posted in children's books, coming from where I'm from, novels

The Lion’s Paw

lions-paw-book

The Lion’s Paw, by Rob White. Published in 1946. 243 pages.

12-year-old Penny and her 9-year-old brother Nick live in an orphanage on the east coast of Florida. Nick doesn’t much remember living anywhere else and Penny just barely remembers a life before they came there. They hate it, and Nick dreams of running away, but his sister is terrified at the prospect. The orphanage doesn’t like it when kids run away and those who try are almost always caught and made an example of. She tries to talk Nick out of it, but he is determined.

Penny can’t let her little brother run off on his own of course so they escape together, running towards the ocean, hoping to find a boat in which sail away. They determined to start a new life away from the orphanage, which they referred to as the “eganahpro”, because they only ever saw the word written backwards through the wrought iron gates which held them captive.

After Penny and Nick make a run for it  and set off on their adventure, they have the good fortune of running into 15-year-old Ben on the wharf. Ben not only has the boat that he inherited from his father (an WWII Navy lieutenant  presumed dead after a year MIA), but life has thrown him a curve ball inspiring him to run away from his uncle’s as well. The three children set sail together on an adventure far too big for children of their age and station, yet rise to the occasion.

This is an obscure book which once enjoyed a passionate following among Florida readers and educators in the 1960’s and 70’s, and then was out of print for a very long time. I only encountered it because I was looking for books specifically about Florida and Old Florida life. Re-entering the market in 2004, The Lion’s Paw is again enjoying a resurgence among those who know enough to seek it out.

Make no mistake however, this touching, fast paced novel is good reading no matter where you live,where you’re from, or how old you are. C.S. Lewis’ admonition about the timelessness -and age defying quality- of a well told story certainly fits here. Rob White hits all the right notes as the children wrestle with trying to out run the adults searching the seas for their masterfully disguised boat, battle against nature, and grapple with their out fears and uncertainties about the future they face on a journey bigger than themselves.

If you have kids who might like a great story of children on an adventure at sea, you should try and get your hands on a copy of Robb White’s The Lion’s Paw. It might also be a great idea to print a map of Florida’s Okeechobee Waterway to track the kids’ trip from one side of the Florida peninsula to the other.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Mayhem and adventure on the high seas, but nothing the average 9-year old can’t handle. Lots of nautical terminology which provides a good opportunity for the kids to do some research on what it all means.

 

 

Posted in creative miscellany, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, quotable literary quotes

Yarn Over: It’s International Crochet Day!

crochet-day

I have to tell you…normally I find these obscure specialty holidays just so much silliness. They serve no purpose at all. Really, who cares? Very few, not even those who are fond of the craft, food, animal, season, sport, people, or disease being thrust into the spotlight of “awareness”.

I must confess that in our house, we have been known to cook one or two (or ten) of the foods listed on The Kitchn’s National Food Holidays list. That however, is just because we love any excuse to get together in the kitchen. If the aim is to prepare something new exotic or different, all the better. Still, given that the origin of the word holiday is built around the idea of celebrating Holy days, the “every day is a holiday” thing rubs me the wrong way.

When my daughter sent me the link to International Crochet DayInternational Crochet Day, the only reason it resonated at all is because our two youngest are currently planning and crocheting Christmas presents for numerous family members- in earnest. Yarn is center stage right now:

crochet1

crochet2

So…even though I still think the “every thing deserves a holiday” thing is kind of stupid, my kids found the fact that today is International Crochet Day  kind of neat. Because they’re kids.

Edited to add: I just remembered a quotable literary quote that well explains my acknowledging a silly holiday while simultaneously decrying silly holidays.

How quick come the reasons for approving what we like.-Jane Austen’s Persuasion

Tell me again why more people don’t spend copious amounts of time reading if they can?

Posted in quotable literary quotes

Quotable Literary Quotes #3

Wickedness is always wickedness, but folly is not always folly. – Emma, by Jane Austen

This has always been one of my favorite quotes, although I am not sure I could tell you why that is. It is partly because of my own life and history, although I dare not try to unravel here the tangled mess which are my thoughts on that subject.

Mostly however it stays with me as a reminder: That it would do us all well to keep our eyes on our own paper, endeavor to do good and not wickedness, and leave most others (not all as there are people in our charge), but most all others to decipher for themselves what is folly outside of general truisms.

What a disaster it would be to offer counsel from our vantage point which is a stark contrast to what is folly from theirs.

Posted in joy of reading, quotable literary quotes

Quotable Literary Quotes #2

“No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.”- C. S. Lewis

Several years ago I don’t know that I would have appreciated the truth of this statement. However right now  I am reading through Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind and the Willows at bedtime with my kids and enjoying it immensely. I am as riveted by the adventures of Rat, Mole, and Toad as my kids are, so I can relate to what Lewis said above.

What passes for children’s literature today is in large part the reason why many adults bypass children’s literature. However, Lewis Carroll is a far cry from Annie Barrows. The latter my girls enjoy reading, while I could not care less for the Ivy + Bean series as a source of personal reading pleasure. There are those books which at least get them reading, and then there are those books that stay with them for a lifetime.

After reading one children’s book out of curiosity about a regional author, and yet another in anticipation of the class I am teaching this fall (review forthcoming), I am finding that I am drawn to well written children’s writing as much if not more so than the classic literature written for adult audiences. The artistry, skill, and language of Kenneth Grahame is just as deep and rewarding as the writing of Charlotte Bronte. And I have to say that The Complete Tales of Winnie the Pooh, while unquestionably written with the young child in mind, is equally exciting to the little girl hidden in me.

If you don’t know quite what to read and are a bit burnt out on the current offerings, I strongly suggest that you all consider re-reading (or in many cases reading for the first time) some classic children’s literature.

We never really outgrow well written stories.