Bess Streeter Aldrich’s “A Lantern In Her Hand”

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #46
BESS STREETER ALDRICH’S A LANTERN IN HER HAND
November 4, 2015

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I take our book selection seriously, believing as I do that life offers us all too few opportunities to read books worth remembering. After all, if we read a book a week, starting at the age of five, at the age of 75, we’d only have read 3,600 books out of the millions one could choose from.

Thus I gave a lot of thought to our 46th book selection. During a recent fall colors trip we took with Bob and Lucy Earp in Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina, I took four potential candidates for the November book along. Aldrich’s book won out. It was my second reading of Aldrich’s masterpiece, and it impressed me even more the second time than it did the first (rarely is this true).

Would you like to become an authority of sorts on life on the Great Plains during the pivotal post Civil War years? Travel in a wagon train, live in a sod house (mostly underground), live with droughts, torrential rains, prairie fires, blizzards, grasshopper plagues, claim jumpers, primitive medical conditions, unrelenting winds, marauding Indians, financial depressions, isolation, wars, epidemics, early death, and ever so much more. Live through it as retold by one whose parents lived through it herself. The early events in the book were lived by Aldrich’s parents; the later events she experienced herself.

As a reader, you are there with the storyteller, Bess Streeter Aldrich. Once you board that covered wagon that is pulled west into Nebraska, vicariously you live as pioneers lived, enter into their minds, hearts, and souls.

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“All along, you will be amazed at the sheer number of insights into life back then that are relevant to life today. So what if overnight our power grid was hacked and we were forced to start all over again as pioneers? Just as Abbie and Will did. What if we had to put our own dreams on hold so that our children might live a better life than we had? What if we had nothing to pass on to our children but our dreams and a precious few bygone evidences that we weren’t always poor? The following excerpt movingly portrays this:

        “Abbie walked over to the small-paned half-window set in the sod, and looked out at the gray twilight coming across the prairie. The winds that were never still blew past the house in their unending flight.

“How queer people were. All the folks in the new country were hoarding things, hanging on to old heirlooms. They became symbols of refinement and culture. “Sarah Lutz had a painting that drew your eyes to it the minute you opened the door. Oscar Lutz’s wife had a pink quilted bedspread that she kept rolled up in newspapers. Even Christine Reinmueller had a bright blue vase with magenta-colored roses on it, standing up on top of the cupboard. They stood for something besides the land and the corn and the cattle. They must hang onto them, never lose them out of their lives, for if lost, everything was lost. She must hang onto the pearls and everything they stood for; Sarah must keep her painting; Martha Lutz, her bedspread; Christine, her blue vase. Else what was there in the future for the children?” (P. 108).

But the true measure of a book is whether or not it has the power to change you, inspire you, elevate you, broaden you, make you think deep thoughts—so that when you reluctantly read that last page, you are a different person from what you were when you read that first page—This is just such a book.

Bess Streeter Aldrich (1881 – 1954) was one of Nebraska’s most widely read and loved authors. Her writing career spanned forty-some years, during which she published over 160 short stories and articles, nine novels, one novella, two books of short stories, and one omnibus. In her work, she emphasized family values and recorded accurately Midwest pioneering history. She became one of the highest-paid authors of her time.

Her work appeared regularly in such magazines as The American, Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, Collier’s, Cosmopolitan, and McCall’s.

Following is a listing of her best-known works:

1924 – Mother Mason
1925 – The Rim of the Prairie
1926 – The Cutters
1928 – A Lantern in Her Hand
1931 – A White Bird Flying
1933 – Miss Bishop
1935 – Spring Came on Forever
1936 – The Man Who Caught the Weather
1939 – Song of Years
1941 – The Drum Goes Dead
1942 – The Lieutenant’s Lady
1949 – Journey into Christmas
1950 – The Bess Streeter Aldrich Reader

And so Abbie Deal went happily about her work, one baby in her arms and the other at her skirts, courage her lode-star and love her guide,—a song upon her lips and a lantern in her hand. (P. 70)

* * * * *

Aldrich was originally published by D. Appleton & Company. If at all possible, secure a first edition hardback with dust jacket. She has also been published by Dutton Signet and Appleton Century Crofts.

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Greed Attacks Thanksgiving

BLOG #47, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
GREED ATTACKS THANKSGIVING

November 19, 2014

In case you haven’t noticed, the forces of Greed and Secularism appear determined to obliterate all remnants of the spiritual dimensions of America’s holidays: they’ve been all too successful with Easter, and even more successful with Halloween. For several generations now they’ve been attacking Christmas from every possible direction.

Now, they appear determined to bulldoze Thanksgiving (morphing Thanksgiving into Black Thursday) off the calendar. Abraham Lincoln founded Thanksgiving as a profoundly spiritual day. It remained so for over a hundred years. But not so today.

If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly urge you to track down Drew Harwell’s Nov. 17 Washington Post article, “Thanksgiving Day Shopping: Retailers vs. Black Thursday.”

Harwell quotes Peter Foley of Bloomberg News: “Shoppers rush through the doors at a Macy’s store in New York on Thanksgiving. Not long ago, the practice of a store staying closed on the holiday was simply a given, but now a core of retailers is pushing back, vowing to stay closed.”

Harwell’s lead paragraph is in the same vein: “Not so long ago, the practice of a store staying closed on Thanksgiving was simply a given; one more holiday in which workers assumed they’d get some time off. Then, amid the corporate tug-of-war over Black Friday crowds, retailers began eying the juicy hours of Turkey Day as the best time to kick off their crucial holiday shopping seasons. The move drew both sales and backlash from shoppers, who worried the sacred day was being plowed beneath the tough work schedules of Black Friday creep.”

What far too few of us appear to realize is this: every time Christians cave in to secular forces determined to destroy all Christian institutions and holidays, they simultaneously erode the remaining few opportunities families have of maintaining ties with each other. Requiring workers to work on religious days and holidays results in the attendant dismantling of the family structure and Judeo-Christian values.

Result: this year, 45% of Americans plan to shop on Thanksgiving, up from 38% last Thanksgiving.

Walmart, the nation’s biggest private employer, plans to be open all day. J.C. Penney, Best Buy, and Toys R Us will munificently wait until 5:00 p.m.; Kohl’s, Macy’s Sears, and Target, tiptoe in an hour later.

But we all know what that means: their employees will be forced to leave the Thanksgiving dinner table early, or miss it entirely, in order to get to the store in time to get ready for the crowds. Some of the stores will stay open all night and marathon into Black Friday.

A big question well worth serious thought is this: Every time Christians or strong believers in family values and togetherness votes with their feet by shopping on Thanksgiving, they are betraying their own core values.

Not all is lost, however. Harwell notes that “The stores refusing to open on the holiday, however, may feel the moral capital they gain from looking like the good guys could mean more for their brand in the long run. A study last month by retail site RichRelevance found more than 60% of Americans said they disliked that stories opened on Thanksgiving, and only 12% said they liked the trend. The movement is gaining steam: A ‘Boycott Black Thursday’ Facebook page has more than 79,000 likes.

It is indeed time for each of us to stand up and be counted on this issue. Next time you shop in stores that remain closed on Thanksgiving, take the time to speak to the managers personally and thank them. Do more: in gratitude for their stand—patronize them. Among those who this year put families and those who work them first, valuing them more than profits, are the likes of American Girl, Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Burlington Coat Factory, Costco [Costco is renowned for putting its employees first], Crate and Barrel, Dillard’s, DSW, GameStop, Hobby Lobby, HomeGoods, Home Depot, Jo Ann Fabrics, Lowe’s, Mardel’s, Marshall’s, Nordstrom, Patagonia, Petco, Pier 1, Publix, and REI.

What a statement it would make to all these purveyors of greed if Americans would unitedly rise in support of the “Good Guys,” and put teeth in this act by boycotting the “Bad Guys!”

Well, might it be possible….if we all get angry at once and say, Enough is Enough!

Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club #33 – Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”

BLOG #35, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #33
LOIS LOWRY’S THE GIVER
THE BOOK AND THE MOVIE
August 27, 2014

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In the case of this book, I put the cart before the horse. Connie and I were invited to see an exclusive advanced screening of the upcoming movie, The Giver at the Carefree Cinema in Colorado Springs on the evening of July 31, 2014.

Neither of us had read the book. All we knew was that the book was first published in 1993, and became a Newberry Award winner in 1994. The book has been required reading in a host of schools–especially middle schools–across the country for many years now. Colleges too.

We went into the movie blind since it had not yet been released; not even movie reviews were available yet. We did know, however, that the movie had a stellar cast, including Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Taylor Swift, Katie Holmes, Brenton Thwaites, Odeya Rush, and Alexander Skarsgard.

We did know it would be a futuristic movie.

Our hostess was the genial Jane Terry, who explained why each of us had been forbidden to bring any recording devices into the theater. Nor were we to divulge the contents of the film to anyone prior to the movie’s release, or review it before the release date.

Then, the movie rolled. In somber black and white. It took us some time to understand just what it was that we were watching. And what might be significant about the upcoming twelfth birthdays of a group of good friends. At which time, each would be assigned a life profession, hopefully compatible with each individual’s primary interests.

The first jar had to do with the age: they most certainly didn’t look like twelve-year-olds, but rather eighteen-year-old high school graduates! What gives here? But the story-line was so mesmerizing that most of us did willing-suspension-of-disbelief and watched the story-line unroll.

It didn’t take me long to discover we were watching a dystopia, a subject area I was already very familiar with, having written my masters in English thesis at Sacramento State University on utopian and dystopian books. My wife, not having been herself immersed in the genre earlier on, was forced to fly blind into the movie.

Nor did it take me long to realize how eerily prophetic the story line was: too much appeared to either be already reality in contemporary society or be approaching it. Then the story grew darker. But it was still a long time before either the young protagonists or the audience were aware that something awful was happening.

In the movie discussion afterwards, it was noted that the author, back in 1993, had predicted it might become reality in fifty years from then. I declared that it might very well become reality in twenty from now.

But later, I purchased a copy of the book and read it through. I was fascinated. When the movie was released I eagerly read the reviews to see what their take on the movie might be.

REVIEWS

Raymond Flynn (August 15 Wall Street Journal) titled his review “‘The Giver’ and the ‘Totalitarian Instinct.’” Included in his insightful commentary are passages such as this: “As the lights came up after the screening…, my thoughts were on Poland and communism, but soon turned to the broader subject of totalitarian regimes robbing individuals of their God-given rights. So often, one of the first jobs of the totalitarian is to declare that God is dead and that government is the final authority on truth and justice–we see it now in North Korea…. In the movie, we are in a world where all human misery has been eliminated. There is no rage, no war, no wealth and no poverty. But at a cost. There is also no music, no art, no literature, no beauty. And no memory. Just to be safe, all memories are the possession of a lone individual.”

In the August 16-17 Wall Street Journal, Alexandra Wolfe’s review of Jeff Bridges’ role quotes Bridges as saying, “I think it’s an impulse for human beings to want to suffer less, and we’re kind of addicted to comfort at all costs–at least I am. And of course comfort has a price. So the film is asking…what’s the true cost of our comfort, and what are we willing to pay?”

Lisa Kennedy, in the August 15 Denver Post labels the film “a gentle, chilling dystopian primer,” and notes that both recent films Divergent and The Hunger Games owe much to Lois Lowry’s earlier book. The movie “is a class act, the kind of respectable rendering of a literary source we’ve come to expect from Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media, the indie force behind ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ ‘Holes,’ and other engaging family fare.”

MY OWN TAKE

My mind is still at sea with Lois Lowry’s unique approach to the utopian and dystopian genres. George Orwell paints his Stalinist world in bleak gray. Both Freedom and Family are dirty words. Love is an obscenity. Aldous Huxley’s world is closer to ours: Give the world all the sex, sensations, and pleasure it wants–and few will even care that World Controllers make all the really significant decisions, what’s left is meaningless, which is whatever sensation, pleasure, high, or pill one wishes to turn to. Free sex is so ubiquitous it no longer has any meaning, nor do any of the standard building blocks to a great society: God, Love, Marriage, Fidelity, Commitment, Honor, Patriotism, Empathy, Faith, Integrity, Courage, Dependability, Longing, etc.

Lowry’s world is also gray, and is just as totalitarian as Orwell’s and Huxley’s, even though it appears to be benign. All the highs and lows of life have been eliminated. Sex does not even exist, no small thanks to injections and pills. The power of making individual choices is not even an option, not even in careers. Marriage is a travesty, as is “family,” but is instead a mockery of the real thing: catbird egg children (not your own), and celibate “parents” who are not permitted to really love anyone. Puberty is not even permitted to happen. Children happen somewhere off-stage via women who somehow churn out babies from no one is permitted to know where or how. The only learning is standardized meaningless pap. Big Brother–or in Meryl Streep’s case, Big Sister, is omnipresent. Even thought-crime is punishable by death. Unwanted babies disappear. Same with unwanted retirees. All is placid–yet terrifying. All human knowledge is housed in one room, guarded by one person only. No one else must have any access to it–ever.

Nevertheless, I personally predict that society is drifting into Lowry’s orbit: In America, spiritual faith–unless it is of the East or mystical–is routinely ridiculed and disparaged. Marriage (commitment for life) is being reduced to live-in relationships, one-night stands, and meaningless “hook-ups.” Children all too often are merely frisbees tossed between one household to another, with no real home to call their own. Porn of all kind (a la Huxley) is so addictive that real marital commitment cannot even compete. Virtual reality is replacing real reality. The very concept of faithfulness is mocked. The gay lifestyle is all too often replacing the heterosexual; result: androgynous individuals without clearly defined sexual differences. Why spend years studying and learning when you can escape into substance abuse and virtual reality? Boys especially, lacking traditional fatherhood role-models, are bailing out of education at an ever earlier age. College and university degrees are becoming worthless: substituting amorphous masses of meaningless observations for the traditional building blocks of western culture: history, biography, geography; great art, great music, great literature. More and more, one can earn doctorates in areas such as history without taking any history classes. Patriotism is continually ridiculed and downgraded, and is no longer taught in most of our schools. Our democratic way of life is being rapidly subverted by corporations and big money determining election results rather than people-driven elections. Since people are discouraged from reading, elections are now being decided by vicious below-the-belt attack ads that result in more and more cynicism, most terrifying–even in children and teenagers. Big Government is taking over more and more of the decisions parents used to make. Big Governments the world over are discouraging all rural life in favor of megacities that can be more easily manipulated and coerced.

When you add all this up, who is to stop totalitarian systems such as Lowry’s from obliterating what is left of freedom in our world?

That is why everyone–young or old–ought to read Lowry’s book and see the movie…so that course-corrections can be implemented before it is too late. Especially should tweens and teens read the book and see the movie.

The book can be found everywhere. The movie version was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014; the original (1993) was published by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. Find a copy and read it.