Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quite Possibly the Best Book I've Ever Read

A Lantern In Her Hand by Bess Streeter Aldrich

This book moved me, pulled me in, made me think, made me feel differently, validated my goals, and I loved it!

First published in 1928, Aldrich tells the life story of one Abbie Mackenzie.  As a young woman she dreams of music, art, and a life filled with the finer things.  She is sure she won't have the pioneer life she was born into. 

But love comes to her in the quiet Will Deal; and her dreams change.  Together they live a challenging life homesteading in Nebraska territory where the prairies stretched as far as the eye could see, and only the strongest survived for long. 

As I first opened this book I (a life long lover of all things.. books and shows... Little House of the Prairie) thought I might like this story.  But as I read the beautiful descriptions of the land and the life of Abbie Mackenzie in that land I felt like I didn't want the beautiful story to end. 

I found myself turning over the corners of the pages so that I could remember to go back and reread them.  Parts of the story Aldrich was able to say in words exactly how I felt.  Even though it was written back in 1928 and took place in the late 1800's I went through some of the same emotions as this character; felt some of the same things, took pride in what she did, and let my goals shift to my career being my children.  Oh how I loved this book... do you want to borrow it? 

Here are some of my favorite parts:

I loved how much she loved her husband she knew and met as a young boy.  I knew Scott as a young boy as well so reading this felt like home to my heart...

Only one thing gave her strength for the parting.  Only one thing gave her courage to make the long journey to the raw new state.  Her love for Will.  Abbie's love for her husband had retained its sweetness and its ardor.  And in her heart she has knew that as much as she cared for her people, as dear as were her mother and sisters and the old settlement to her, they did not outweigh her love for her him. 

And when she welcomed a second child...

And now, Abbie's love was divided between two babies,.  No, that is not true.  There is no division nor subtraction in the heart-arithmetic of a good mother.  There are only addition and multiplication. 

Reminding me that my mood is often the whole mood in the house...

She turned to the children.  They were all around the table looking at a little picture Margaret had drawn, Margaret was always drawing.  Abbie ran to them, closed warm maternal arms around all three, and bumped them together in a return of girlish spirits, so that they laughed at her unusual playfulness, their faces sparkling because Mother was full of fun.  How readily they responded to all her moods.  And how careful she must be with those childish impressions.

How we live to make the lives of our children just a little bit more... (I can remember my Grandmother explaining that to my once years ago how each generation wants to give a little more to their children than they had.  Although I can't imagine a childhood more wonderful than mine I sure do try to give my girls so much) 

Abbie was forty-six now.  The gray streaks in the red brown hair were prominent.  There was a noticeable slumping of the lithe shoulders, a thickening of the hips.  The peasant body of the O'Conners was coming into its ow.  In all these years Abbie Deal had not done anything with her voice, and she had not painted.  but as every good mother lives again in her children, her personal disappointments were assuaged by Isabelle giver great promise in her music, and Margaret improving in every canvas she did. 

Oh Will, I am so disappointed... I can only fell those things, not do them.  Isn't motherhood, itself an accomplishment?  She knew that she made her own sense, and yet it gave her a sense of satisfaction and peace... yes it gave her a sense of peace and comfort. 

Oh, and this description of having children is just how I feel.  As Abbie's daughter tells her mother that she doesn't want to have children...

But Isabelle, if people waited to be rich to have children.  If we!  ... Oh Isabelle!  .... You'd make me laugh if I didn't feel so like crying.  'Can't afford it?'  How can you afford to miss it... little children... their soft warm bodies and their little clinging hands.. their cunning ways... miss motherhood?

When her daughter Grace wants her mother to travel and tells her her life is narrow, Abbie responds...

You know Grace, it's queer, but I don't feel narrow.  I feel broad.  how can I explain it to you, so that you would understand?  I've seen everything... and I've hardly been away from this yard.... I've been married.. and borne children and looked into the face of death.  Is childbirth narrow, Grace?  Or marriage?  When you've experienced all those things, Grace, the spirit has traveled although the body has been confined.  i thin travel is a rare privilege and I'm glad you can have it.  But not every one who stays at home is narrow and not every one who travels is broad. 

Abbie tries to explain love to her granddaughter

You can't describe love, Kathie and you can't define it.  Only it goes with you all your life.  I think that love is more like a light that you carry.  At first childish happiness keeps it lighted and after that romance.  Then motherhood lights it and then duty.

Thank you to Sarah for recommending it. 

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