The Personal History of Rachel DuPree

I lit a kerosene lamp and got the book of fairy tales from the parlor. I admired the feel of the book. The cover on this one was worn…I opened the book and held it to each girl’s nose. I always believed that smelling the pages of a book took a person into the story.

When we meet Rachel she is a mother, a wife, a pioneer. She recounts the events that have led her and her husband to the Badlands, an area in South Dakota where families are staking claim and farming the land. She has struck a deal with Isaac DuPree, a man who has returned from military service. She will marry him for one year in return for her claim of 160 acres of land (Homestead Act of 1862) as a way to double Issac’s claim. One year turns into 14 and 8 births.

The whole idea behind the story is of a black pioneering family trying to make their way in the early 1900s. They will have to fight the land, stand in the face of racism, and manage the turmoil of unsettled territory and the baggage of history past and historical events to come. The idea itself seemed great initially, but the idea never really played out as thoroughly as I’d hoped. There were struggles both with the land, between the couple, and within Rachel herself. There are times when thirst and the possibility of running out of food and hope nearly overwhelm Rachel. There are times when the Badlands are not what Rachel or Isaac bargained for. There are times when Rachel just wants a taste of sweetness for her children. But Rachel and Issac both just seemed too quiet. It was like they were both following scripts of what someone might have said they did and might have said they thought. I could never exactly feel what it meant to be planted in the middle of hundreds of acres of land, the nearest neighbor 90 miles away. Loneliness and isolation are major themes here. Rachel often wishes for another woman to talk with, to invite over for tea. She wishes for playmates for her young children.

I expected to book to show me what it would have been like for a black couple during this time as I haven’t read about black pioneers much less black pioneering women. This was a story about any woman. The racial tension was uneasy but not really tense. There were no major run-ins, the biggest confrontation is when a group of white men deliver a stove. They are surprised but generally pleasant. Rachel and Isaac sometimes mention being black in their narratives but it seemed thin. It was like they were just reminding you of their race.

There is a moment in Rachel’s recollection of her previous life as a cook in a boarding house in which Ida B. Wells-Barnett has been invited to speak to a black women’s reading group. The women are beyond excited in anticipation of this event but when Mrs. Wells-Barnett arrives in less than tea time finery and wants to talk only about lynchings and action for the future, the women are appaled. Rachel greatly admires Mrs. Wells-Barnett and often remembers to think of how she would advise her to go on, holding up her head, hopeful.

On the porch, I looked north once again where the White River still had a trickle of water. I scanned the sky. It felt like a storm-the air was thick as if it held rain. I lifted my arms a little, my sides sticky. It might have felt like a storm, but that didn’t mean anything. The weather liked to tease. I remembered times when big splinters of lightening split open the sky, making the ground shake and roll from the thunder, sending the children crying to me. Curtains of rain would surround the ranch, and yet not a drop would come our way. Other times it would rain for days on end, making me and Isaac fret about the crops and root rot. Then from out of nowhere, right in the middle of a downpour, the sun would show itself, lifting our spirits, making us think that the crops might just be all right after all. But it would keep on raining, us worrying about root rot, the sky bright with a rainbow. All the same, the orange-tinted clouds off to the west raised my hopes.


Sewing Simplicity 4236

Posts this week will be devoted to some of the things I missed discussing during my blog absence.

This skirt was the first garment I have made for myself. Mom went with me to select fabric and pattern over the Independence Day Holiday and we spent that evening and into the night sewing, laughing, and talking.

There were a lot of skills to learn in this pattern. Apparently the ad “made easy” doesn’t exactly mean easy enough for a beginner. There was a set-in zipper, a waistband, tape for the hem and serged seems.

In future I will keep track of the fabric amounts and notes on construction and pattern reading. All in all I love this skirt and already have another project lined up!

Dispatches from the garden

It’s been awfully hot here, as I believe it’s been everywhere. The garden is hanging on with the help of pretty aggressive watering and fertilizing. We’ve had a couple of small bushels of string beans and a few cucumbers which made for tasty meals. The jalapenos are also doing well. This year we added hot banana pepper which has yielded a few fruit but is currently taking a beating from the sun. Tomatoes are also starting to come in, we have roma, some heirloom, and big boy hybrids. We just have to get to them before the birds. I’ve had to replant the herb garden as our vacation to the beach saw its demise. So, on the front step we now have again sweet and Thai basil, thyme, oregano, and rosemary. Other lovelies that we are waiting for are zucchini, squash, and new this year tomatillos. Yummm!

We’ve also had a run in with some yellow jackets who saw fit to make their home under one of the raised beds. After stings for each of us and a can of spray the garden is ours again…for now! There are also hungry little doe-eyed rabbits that like to congregate around the garden gate. I’m sure they are plotting a take-over.

Just outside the garden gate are an apple and peach tree. Only planted last year they are still very small. Only the peach tree produced a very small and fuzzy peach. We watched and watched that little peach, petting it and watering the tree only to come out one day and find the peach missing with no trace of its pit anywhere!

Wrightsville Beach

Posts this week and next will be devoted to some of the things I missed discussing during my blog absence.

In early June a schoolmate and I made a daytrip to Wrightsville Beach. Being only a few hours from home, I can’t believe I haven’t been many times over.
Our first stop was of course a wonderful lunch overlooking the ocean. Then we walked down the beach and splashed around.

Later in the day we drove into downtown Wilmington to see the sights…

…and happened upon Old Books on Front, a wonderful used bookshop with wall-to-wall books. There’s even a cafe filled with yummy goodies.

And look at the gems I found *gasp*

Catching up… bookclub reading

Posts this week and next will be devoted to some of the things I missed discussing during my blog absence.

These are selections that our bookclub has read over the last half-year or so.

Living, Loving and Lying Awake at Night – Sindiwe Magona
This is a cluster of short stories that explore women’s lives in South Africa. The first part is a series of interconnected stories that center around a group of black South African maids who work in the homes of whites. They keep their share of gossip and the to-dos of the families they work for. The stories are written in first person and the narrator is usually talking directly to another woman. It’s like you are sitting at the kitchen table with them, tongues wagging.
The second part takes place during Apartheid in South Africa. These stories were heavier than the stories of the maids. The story that I can still remember is of a young girl who discusses all the magic of Fridays including the end of school and trips to the market. The other that still lingers is of a mother who leaves her village and children behind with the idea that it is the only way she can be a good mother, a good provider.

I’ll Fly Away: Further Testimonies from the Women of York Prison – Editor, Wally Lamb
This is a collection of pieces written by women who take part in a writing workshop at York Prison in Connecticut lead by author Wally Lamb. It is the follow-up to Couldn’t Keep It to Myself: Wally Lamb and the Women of York Correctional Institution (Testimonies from our Imprisoned), which I have but have yet to read. The essays written by the women themselves tell various stories about their lives and families before and after entering prison, the turns their lives took that ended in prison, as well as efforts at recovery and finding purpose in life. I didn’t know what to expect before reading these and literally read them cover to cover. I think these essays truly speak to the healing power of writing and sharing stories both for the reader and the storyteller.

Impatient With Desire – Gabrielle Burton
Gabrielle Burton has researched the expedition of the Donner Party. Impatient With Desire is the imagined journal of Tamsen Donner, a woman who decides to pack up her family and move with her husband across the US to California. They travel with others by wagon train. After trying a new route called the Hastings Cutoff, the group becomes stranded in the mountains during winter loosing cattle, wagons, and running short on provisions.

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship – Ann Patchet
Ann writes about her friendship with Lucy Grealy, a woman who has lost much of her face and jaw to childhood cancer. Ann writes about her supportive role as Lucy’s friend, the ups and downs of their relationship, and Lucy’s amazing ability to appear strong even though she is very fragile. What I am not sure if others have picked up on is Ann’s almost disappearance in this memoir. She is at times as Lucy’s doormat, enabler, and fiercest supporter.

Girls Like Us: Fighting for a World Where Girls Are Not for Sale, an Activist Finds Her Calling and Heals Herself – Rachel LLoyd
Lloyd uses Girls Like Us as a place to expose the commercial sex trade of young girls in the US. At times she intertwines the stories of the girls she’s met in her work with GEMS with her own story of abuse and sex work. What I think most people will find eye opening is that these are very young girls who either have been kidnapped or seduced into sex work and that there is limited help for them. Lloyd chronicles the struggles her organization has had with getting law passed to view these girls as victims instead of prosecuting them as prostitutes.

Congratulations Verity and Ken!

In celebration of Verity’s wedding day!

High Wages by Dorothy Whipple

A Whipple so we know it has to be good…

Jane lands a job as an assistant in a draper’s shop. A very poor girl, she has an extravagant imagination and even better taste. She is always innovative and on top of, really ahead of the latest fashion trends. She is willing to take chances in suggesting fabrics and items to clients, dressing windows, and soon works up a reputation with customers in the shop. Soon she is negotiating her way to more accounts and more wages, but when she finds there is a ceiling she makes a way around. Of course there is a love component and a bit of a twist.

Esperanza Rising

Esperanza is a 13 year old girl living in Mexico when her father is suddenly killed during a civil uprising. When his brother takes over the estate and steals their fortune, the remaining family is forced to flee to the United States. The members of the once well off family are now working as laborers on a farm in California. Confronting racisim and poverty Esperanza must find humility and hope. Excellent for young readers and adults as well.

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

Another that I read in between classes last August to escape for just a moment. It is the 30s and Cassandra writes about her adventures and her family and all that happens in their giant but run down estate on the English countryside. Her notebook only has a few pages but her story is expansive and lushly detailed. Her father, now a widower, once wrote a successful novel but has produced nothing more and the family must survive on hardly anything. He has remarried a remarkably beautiful model of sorts from London named Topaz who sort of floats through the house. She can not manage to get him to write either. Most of the furniture has been sold but the home still has great character and somehow they manage. Cassandra’s sister Rose dreams of new dresses and suitors. Cassandra thinks this is all a waste of time, of course until a pair of strangers arrive at the door. The story is sweet and entertaining, filled with the eccentric characters of course but also first loves and the pain of love not returned.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim

I remember this one clearly, August of last year sitting on the steps of the School of Public Health (that is, before classes took over and reading for fun vanished). I would take this book out of my bag and read in gulps beneath the sunshine. Elizabeth is renovating the gardens on her husband’s estate. It is a wonderful little tale of her thoughts and day-to-day comings and goings in the garden. Her children make an appearance and so do visitors but it is clear that she prefers the garden. Her frustration about defending her ideas is very witty and a sign of the times in which the book was written. She does not garden herself but orders seeedlings and such to be placed about. It is as if she is the decorator.