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)

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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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TIME OUT FOR ZANE GREY

BLOG #20, SERIES 6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
TIME OUT FOR ZANE GREY
May 20, 2015

Forty years ago, when I completed my Vanderbilt doctorate, I mistakenly assumed that I could now put the frontier writer, Zane Grey (the subject of my dissertation), behind and resume my private life. In a way, I could; in another way, I could not. As I explained to one Associated Press reporter, when you are the foremost authority on something, or someone, you become prisoner of that knowledge and expertise. It’s sort of like the old Russian proverb, “He that dances with a bear doesn’t quit just because he gets tired.”

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I ought to know: In around a month from now, I’ll be giving my 33rd consecutive keynote address to the members of the Zane Grey’s West Society, this one in Arizona.

Several times during the forty years, I felt the time had finally come to write a biography having to do with the life and times of Zane and Dolly Grey. Each time, for one reason or another, the project failed to jell. But now, my long-time agent, Greg Johnson, has urged me to make one last try.

So I’m structuring a new proposal, in harmony with current biographical trends. In order to do this, I’ve had to sideline several other deadlines. But I’m serious about it, for I strongly feel that if I don’t do it this time, in all likelihood, I never will.

Well, back to work.

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know if a contract results from all this.