Wednesday, October 19, 2011

(Local and Good!) A Treasure in Paper Covers: GOOD LIVING REVIEW

"To see a world in a grain of sand ... And eternity in an hour," wrote the poet William Blake. My copy of Good Living Review, being published next week in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, is a great example of how the world of American life in the first half of the 1900s can be seen inside a paper cover.

This collection of thirty-three recollections -- some entirely factual, some fictionalized, all graced with detail and delight -- comes to us from an ongoing "memoir writing group" at the Good Living Senior Center, a project at one of the town's most spectacular and historic locations, St. Johnsbury House. Inspired by what filmmaker Ken Burns crafted in his public television series on World War II, the group of Vermont residents have put their personal stories on paper, full of humor, joy, and insight.

I giggled with the tiny girl that Barbara Bessette once was, as she recalled riding in a surrey, a beautiful wagon, behind a farting mare, to deliver dairy products in the French Canadian part of town. Born in 1929, this author experienced rides in a "one-horse open sleigh" too, and the rumble of home life next to an active railroad track near the river. "Skating at night in the moonlight was a blast, and in the field some of the grownups would come down and build a bonfire."

In that single sentence is captured a way of life that's almost incredible today: parents having fun with their children outdoors, without a wad of cash or any electronics or synthetic protections against the weather. "That's what's great in a small town," Bessette concludes: "There's always something to do, and never a dull moment."

And that's exactly what this wonderful collection brings, ranging from a drawing of a handmade periscope that Arthur Lord could use to see out of his foxhole during the war, to Rosalie Vear's reflections on the bombing of Pearl Harbor and later of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (as well as her thoughts on her gardens), to Betty Simpson Blake's tale of a ten-cents-a-week insurance policy in the Depression, and its results in a hardscrabble family where tragedy struck. I plan to read all of these many times -- already, I'm eager to take another look at Pat Horvatich's piece that begins, "My mother's psychic ability came into force just about mid-life."

These recollections and reflections of rural life -- whether on the farm, in town, or on the road -- create a treasured window into a world we've almost forgotten was so close to us. Thank goodness, the many writers in Good Living Review, with the skillful encouragement of memoirist Reeve Lindbergh, choose to remember and spill forth the details for us all. I love discovering the gems on each new page of this book. What a treat!

Obtain a copy through the local independent general bookstore, Boxcar & Caboose, and keep up with the authors and their book events at their own Facebook page. The stories may be from the past, but the storytellers are up-to-date and savvy, and ready to give a grin or a wink as they recall the fun they've had.

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