Books

I’ve been busy. And looking into the next week, I will remain busy still. So when handed a couple of books to borrow when visiting folks around Thanksgiving, I found myself reading both last night in one continuous slog.

My sister’s boyfriend handed me a copy of “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy when he mentioned wanting to see the movie and I said I had no idea what that was. He said Viggo Mortenson and a post-apocalyptic future. I looked at the cover and saw Viggo has a beard again, and I was in. The two characters are never named, just the boy and the man, as they travel down roads to get south, slowly starve, meet others, protect themselves and try to survive a bleak, lifeless world.

And I was at my girlfriend’s as we were debating what bar to go out to in her neck of the woods, and on her coffee table was “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls, which she said she couldn’t finish, it was too disturbing. It’s a memoir of a family where the parents chose to pursue other interests rather than the main one of supporting and providing for their four children. The family frequently went without food, indoor plumbing and heat, and never accepted public aid of any sort. The children were the ones who ultimately pulled the family through all their travails. The children were also of course of above average intelligence, and excelled at school. The author Jeannette was the second oldest child, and it was through her dilligence and planning that had all four of the children escaped to New York City to pursue a variety of options none of them would have had if they had stayed living with their parents. The parents, in turn, followed them to New York, where they eventually chose to live homeless. It was interesting reading the book, since many of the things that Jeannette mentioned were memories and experiences I could relate to from my childhood. The parents, for example,  had philosophies about children being allowed to play outside until the street lights came on, and my parents had pretty much the same belief. There were other attitudes and thoughts expressed that resonated with me and some of my experiences growing up that had our family close ranks against outsiders. It was school, just like it was for Jeannette, that opened my eyes to my family’s apparent non-conformity. This made me curious as to exactly what years Ms. Walls was growing up, and finally, when she mentioned watching the Watergate hearings on a black and white TV, did I know she is about the same age as my older brother. And I am sure, just as it would be for my family, that each of the children had a totally different experience of what it was like to grow up in those circumstances. Like for my brother, we grew up poor. He now acts as the banker for my sister and I, as he is reliable about earning more than enough income to handle any emergency, including when we need just a little to borrow to make ends meet when our cars break down or a paycheck doesn’t arrive on time. For me, we weren’t poor, but frugal with a budget and those lessons sunk in deep. For my sister, we weren’t religious despite saying our prayers every night, grace at dinner and attending Sunday school and church. So a very important component of my sister’s adult life has been searching for a belief system compatable with her own. These days she appears to be Wiccan, but the turn of the Millenium had her and her daughter being confirmed in a Catholic church. And when in high school and she returned home from attending a boarding school in India, she had adopted the principles and practices of being Hindu. Spirituality is important to my sister, money and being comfortable with a back up plan is important to my brother, and me?

I am sure that to my siblings, there is something that I took on from my childhood that has me equally determinedly following a specific course of action to make up for what I feel I didn’t get enough of as a child. I couldn’t tell you what that is, and I’m sure it is obvious to others.

And another thing I was left wondering, was how much of the outspoken attitudes of Jeannette’s parents were just part of the zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s in the United States, since some of them sounded so familiar to me, and not peculiar at all, even from my not particularly radical parents who never failed to provide for us? What my parents and her parents shared was a strong desire to not be driven by conformity, and what the Joneses did were what the Joneses did and had no bearing on our family activities. Getting into debt, extravagent spending, concern for appearances, drinking and partying to excess were all what other people may have done, but we didn’t need to. And certainly not because the neighbors did.

So, I read two very different books last night, while I was cold and bundled in blankets because it is cold, and the furnace for the steam heat in my building will not be turned on until this weekend. But unlike the characters in the two books, who also suffered from the effects of the elements, I knew I will have heat come Friday, and there was food in my belly, and all is well (definitely by comparison!) in my world.

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