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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IOWA CAUCUS – REBIRTH? OR ABERRATION?

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IOWA CAUCUS

REBIRTH?  OR ABERRATION?

 

Dec. 21, 2011

 

As a historian of ideas, I’ve always been fascinated by sudden turning points.  Case in point: During the last year, we’ve seen, one after another, the emergence of democracy all across North Africa and the Middle East.  Even totalitarian Russia now feels the open scorn of its people.

 

In the daily news, we’ve seen Europe reeling from one economic seismic shock after another.  For decades, Europe has been a poster child for a template that appeared to have staying power: one currency for all, fiscal stability, no closed borders between nations, cradle to the grave welfare for all, more than generous retirement benefits, vacations galore (it often seemed that the population of the entire continent could be found on beaches every August), and millions of tourists flooding the continent the icing on the cake.  But no longer: Europe’s template has cracked right down the middle.  And nobody knows how to fix it.

 

In the U.S., things are little better than in Europe.  Only the fact that the spotlight of the world has been fixated on Europe rather than us has enabled us to escape the world’s scrutiny.  But that cannot long last.  Our status quo is unrelentingly grim.

But in Iowa, on the eve of the last debate before the Caucus, something electric happened.  Gingrich may well be right in declaring that we haven’t had anything this substantive in our political arena since the Lincoln-Douglas debates a century and a half ago.  But first, I must admit that, though I’m a registered Republican, I’m a centrist and vote accordingly.  Like most Americans, in recent years I’ve been disillusioned time after time by the G.O.P.  All too often it has seemed as if our Republican leaders were determined to out-dumb each other.  “”Naive’ and “uninformed” way too inadequate to describe their condition, their evident ignorance of current events and national and world history off the charts of probability; their voting out of offices the informed and intelligent moderates who would work together for the good of the country –  instead they elected, all too often, individuals so close-minded they’d stampede the nation off a cliff rather than work together.

However, on Dec. 15, there took place a rational debate between presidential candidates who, for once, did themselves and their party proud.  Same for the moderators.  Such an impact did this make on me that I was unable to sleep afterwards; in fact, at 2:30 a.m. next morning, I got up and wrote until 5:00 a.m.

 

But even now, I find myself incapable of really making sense of all I heard that night.  I’m mightily muddled.  But even so, permit me to muddle through these swirling unconnected thoughts.  Stream-of-consciousness disorganized because I can’t yet make sense of them:

 

It’s like, on the eve of Dec. 15, the proverbial straw broke the camel’s back.  The candidates and the concerned audience fed on each other, together rising to unexpected heights:

 

Rather than merely ramble on unstructured I am bullet-pointing the concerns that generated that eve of Dec. 15:

 

 

  • Government gridlock
  • Out-of-control spending
  • Massive unemployment – worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, for third year in a row
  • Epidemic of bankruptcies
  • Millions of lives shattered by foreclosures and being evicted from their homes.  Almost half owe more than they could get by selling their homes.
  • The middle class shrinking so dramatically that the gap between rich and poor has yawned so wide we risk revolution from the disenfranchised.
  • The collusion between government and Big Banks
  • The breakdown of our protective agencies
  • The federal out-of-control spending taking a terrible toll on the finances, education, social programs, infrastructure, and public services of individual states, resulting in a devastating implosion
  • The revolving door between government and lobbyists
  • Government office being restricted to self-made millionaires or billionaires or those who sell their souls to special interest groups
  • The decline of a literate electorate.  With elections decided by electronic sound-bytes rather than thoughtful reading of newspapers, magazines, and books
  • The political campaigns degenerating into attack ads and character assassination orchestrated by unknown sources or people
  • Vote fraud
  • The staggering economic toll taken by multiple foreign wars
  • Retirees losing all they’d saved for their retirement years
  • Graduates unable to find well-paying jobs
  • Manufacturing continuing to be sent overseas
  • The perceived failure of so many of our schools and colleges
  • The courts becoming ever more hostile to all public expressions of religion or belief in a higher power
  • Marriage discredited by secular forces; so much so that the nuclear family (man, woman, child) is for the first time ceasing to be the norm.  Out-of-wedlock births are skyrocketing to such an extent that it is said that one-third of all American children are effectively being raised by their grandparents.  Sexuality today trumps lifetime commitment.
  • A media apparently determined to so ridicule religion and those who attempt to live by biblical principles that they will discredit those people into irrelevancy.
  • Widespread attempts to strip religious holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving of their spiritual significance
  • The replacement of time-honored concepts of Good and Evil and Right and Wrong with psychiatric terminology divorced from a Higher Power.  Result: lying under oath no longer means much to all those who don’t believe in God (however they may perceive Him).  Neither do cheating or stealing seem wrong.
  • Deconstruction of history strips our erstwhile national heroes of whatever noble qualities were once attributed to them.
  • Thoughtful parents so terrified of societal forces hostile to their children (bullying, hazing, pedophilia, rape, substance abuse, sexuality without commitment, ridicule of their beliefs, etc.) that they are pulling their children out of public schools and homeschooling them

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

All these variables swirled around during the memorable two-hour debate (meaningful because moderators asked searching thoughtful questions of the candidates, zeroing in on issues where candidates were perceived to be on thin ice).  Furthermore, moderators permitted candidates to respond and defend their actions and words.  Unlike so many meaningless public debates of recent years, where no real substantive dialogue took place, this debate was very real—indeed it was so gripping I felt it to be high drama!

 

Significantly, the Dec. 15 growing consensus appeared to be: our template is broken beyond repair; it almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with cutting politicians’ salaries in half, moving back to citizen governance with half-time government service and half time work in the real world.  Frugality once again.  Pay as we go: don’t spend any money we don’t have.  Create jobs rather than parasitically siphoning off the life blood of those who are working hard to create a newer and better society.  Bring God back—, more to the point: bring us back to God.  Respect right to life.  Bring back a society based on the twin bedrocks of God and country.

 

Frankly, I’m less than optimistic that what I felt in the auditorium on Dec. 15 will blossom into a much needed cultural revolution.  For both parties—not just the G.O.P.

 

However, in the darkest days of history, God has summoned great men and women to selfless service—Moses, Daniel, St. Paul, St. Nicholas, St. Francis, Luther, the Wesleys, Washington, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Churchill, Mother Teresa.

 

Why could not God do it again?