Sunday, 6 May 2012

Nothing to do but stay

I actually purchased 'Nothing to do but stay' by Carrie Young after reading something gushing and enthusiastic about it. This was probably the middle of last year some time. I can't remember what or where it was. I confess I am a little underwhelmed. 

The book is the story mainly of her mother, though by extension her whole family, and the life they led as homesteaders in North Dakota. The book is humbling in it's description of the harshness of their life and the hard work required to exist in such an environment, and the sacrifices that her parents made to create a life for themselves and their children. But at the same time it seems to skate over the work and the deprivations, brushing them off in favour of detailing the cosy abundance of their Thanksgiving celebration. Or maybe it is just a feature of such an upbringing that you are so accepting that life is hard and don't make a big thing about it. Instead of being chronological she divides the book into aspects of life; the education of the children, the food, the farm, their extended family and whole chapters on communal celebrations. I found the book very matter of fact, unadorned by much in the way of poetic description of the landscape. It really tells the bare bones of their story. If you are more interested in atmosphere and characters then The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, though fictitious, is a better book. The best way to tell you much about the life, and her mother, is a nice long quote:

"It had always been incredible to me how fast my parents built up their farm, by their own sweat and paying for everything in cash from crops that were good one year and bad the next. By the time I, their sixth child, came along nine years later, they had established a farmstead that included a one-and-a-half storied house, a barn, a 375-foot drilled well with a windmill, a two-storied granary, a chicken house, a hog pen, a blacksmith shop, a garage, two windbreak groves of cottonwood trees, and miles of barbed-wire fence. Their farm equipment included three teams of draft horses, a plough, drill, harrow, mower, rake, binder, two hay wagons, a lumber wagon, a box sled, a cream separator, and a Model T touring car. They milked a dozen cows and fed a dozen steers and hogs, and kept two hundred chickens.
Much of those nine years my mother was pregnant. When I was born she was forty-four years old and by all odds - having borne five other children while building her share of the farmstead - she should have been worn out. Hardly. When I was six weeks old she bought me to church to be baptised in a long white gown, the lace of which she had found time to crochet herself; her other children were starched to the teeth, and after church she brought the minister and half the congregation home for Sunday dinner." (p.55-56)

You are left a little in awe of these women, their boundless energy, their creativity and their resilience. People nowadays express admiration that you can knit yourself a jumper, as if it is a feat of amazing skill, but really it's nothing compared to the multitude of skills that were needed for life on the windswept prairies of North Dakota.

1 comment:

  1. I'm currently reading this book. I'm 1/2 way through and it's lost its hold on me, becoming stagnant :(

    ReplyDelete

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